Sunday, February 29, 2004

Education Policy Conversation -- Northfield Alternative Learning Center
 

On Monday, March 1, at 10:00 a.m.,

Rep. Mindy Greiling

and Rep. Connie Bernardy, both on the House Education Policy and Education Finance Committees, will come to the Alternative Learning Center to discuss education policy with interested Northfielders. They will tour the ALC and meet with people working in education and interested in education to learn what we think about the current direction of education in Minnesota and to let us know their legislative priorities this year.

In a recent article from the Duluth News Tribune it was reported:

The Legislative Auditor -- an office that does evaluations at the Legislature's request -- used a simulation to project that even under the best academic scenarios, 80 percent of the schools would fall short if no changes are made to the law. The auditor predicted that all of Minneapolis and St. Paul schools will miss achievement goals. . . More than 80 percent of Minnesota's elementary schools will be considered underperforming in the next decade under the guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to an independent analysis.

It is also "quite possible" that the state will spend more money implementing that law than it will receive from the federal government, the state's Legislative Auditor office concluded.

Pawlenty's education commissioner, Cheri Pierson Yecke, attacked the report as one built on faulty assumptions, primarily that the law and funding levels will remain unchanged over the next 10 years. The law is due for reauthorization in 2008.

"The report paints a false perception," Yecke said. "This perpetuates some myths."

But critics of the law said it makes their case for distancing the state from the law. Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said Minnesota can't count on federal officials to make changes.

"It's my opinion that their goal is to prove that schools are failing so we can go to vouchers that you and President Bush support," Greiling told Yecke at a House committee hearing.


 




Tuesday is Precinct Caucus Night!
 
Also, mark your calendars, put up a note on your computer screen -- Tuesday is caucus night!

Remember to attend your precinct caucuses, Tuesday, March 2nd at 7pm. The caucus is the first step in becoming involved in party politics on the state and federal level. You will have the opportunity to vote on your preference for a candidate in the Presidential race, and can become a delegate to the County and Senate District conventions. A delegate can advance to the district and state conventions and will have the chance to choose state house and congressional district candidates.

25b DFL voters in Precincts and Townships in Rice County will convene their 7pm caucus at the Northfield Middle School, except for those voters in Wheeling and Shieldsville Township, who will meet at the Faribault Sr. High.

Those 25b DFL voters in Scott County (Belle Plaine City, and Belle Plaine, Cedar Lake and Helena Townships) will convene at the Belle Plaine Sr. High. They will hold their county unit convention on March 6th at the Belle Plaine Pubic Library.

The Rice County Convention is scheduled for Saturday, March 20th at the Northfield Sr. High at 10:30 am. The Senate District 25 endorsing convention, both 25A and 25B, is scheduled for Tuesday, March 30th in Le Sueur. I will post more information about these events later in the month, but put it on the calendar today!.

Check the DFL website for more information.


 



Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Paul Gruchow May 23, 1947 - February 22, 2004
 

The wild geese fly over in the hundreds twice a year in western Minnesota and add to the strange haunting beauty of the prairie. I spent my first two years as a public school teacher in Milan, Minnesota, a railroad stop on the westward expansion. I remember those crisp fall mornings driving down the long driveway watching row after row of geese take off with the sound of my six cylinder wagon. I half expected the power of their wings to lift me into the air with them.

Milan is twenty miles from the birthplace of Paul Gruchow, who passed away Sunday in his Duluth home. Friends of the prairie, wilderness, land use and land stewardship lost a great voice with Paul's passing. He and his family spent a brief time in Northfield. I remember when they moved to town, because the moving truck driver stopped at my house to ask directions and I took him to the soon to be Gruchow home across the street and down the block. I worked with his daughter Laura in a couple of plays. I was sad to see them leave town, their wit and intelligent discourse was a wonderful asset that meant so much to me.

Paul had a wonderful way of blending the curiosity of the writer and the awe of the naturalist to inspire and interest young people to describe what they see and feel. We often had brief conversations while he walked his black dogs past my house. He and Nancy talked openly about his struggle with depression and his struggle to hold on. There is something about his love of his environment, an appreciation for what is all around us and what it points to -- a glowing transcendance that is present and yet which lies beyond what we see.

Startribune: 'Empty Places' author Paul Gruchow dead at 56

Paul was a thoughtful, caring person, in fact his friend, photographer Jim Brandenburg described him as an "intense man who cared very deeply about his art and the environment. I think he felt too much, knew too much and tried to express it too much. . . It was eating him alive. I could see it. He was trying to make sense of the world.''

Here are some of Gruchow's observations:

"The same people in the Congress who are busy kicking holes in the social safety net are also those who would sell off the nation's forests for a song, give away its national parks, and trash its wilderness preserves; there is a connection between the two impulses."
(Boundary Waters)

"To spend resources to produce food which you then threw out merely because you could not make a profit on it, that to him was waste, a kind of blasphemy." (Grass Roots).

"Maybe 50 percent of farmers, some people tell me, will go out of business this time around. And it's inconceivable to argue that those are farmers who just are not very good at what they do. This is a group of farmers who really are - who've survived. The average age of farmers is pretty old. They're people who have survived all the previous crises, they're pretty good, and they know what they're doing. " PAUL GRUCHOW


In an article titled 'Son of the Soil,' Kris Davis and Alexander M. Jacobs quote him saying:

"We still think that if you own the land you can do whatever you want with it. . . If we don't treat the land with ethical restraint, we won't survive in the long run." His concern is not just pragmatic. Gruchow believed there is a God-given relationship between humans and the land that we need to recover, rediscover.

He said his father and farmers like him never abused the soil. That's partly because farming techniques were far less sophisticated, he admits. But far more important, "They also understood that soil is where we come from. They never knew anything but a sacred respect for the land."

In contrast, Gruchow said modern agriculture mistreats the soil. "It's one thing, despite our cleverness, that we can't make," he points out. "Nobody has ever made an inch of fertile topsoil. We come from the land. It's who we are. To have healthy land is to be well."


from, "A Minnesota voice, depression's din" bySarah T. Williams And Jon Tevlin, Star Tribune:
"Paul was a genius, one of America's best essayists," said St. Paul writer Carol Bly. "The rest of the country just hadn't realized it yet. Had he lived long enough, they would have. . . A lot of people settle for a sense of place, but Paul always wanted people to feel more deeply than they were feeling."


I will miss Paul's voice as one that gave me hope for the future that could embrace a timelessness beyond the beauty of the past.

Corn is Not Eternal
Paul Gruchow
Excerpted from Grass Roots.

Snails Have Faces
Paul Gruchow
Excerpted from Grass Roots.

The Summit
Paul Gruchow
Excerpted from The Necessity of Empty Places.

Heron rookeries are raucous places.
By Paul Gruchow

What the Prairie Teaches Us
Paul Gruchow
Excerpted from Grass Roots.

In memoriam: A memorial reading with Carol Bly, Bill Holm, Jan Zita Grover and Emilie Buchwald, 7 p.m. Friday at Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., Minneapolis.


 



Monday, February 23, 2004

MAAP Conference -- Feb. 18 - 20, 2004
 


Have you ever wondered what schools would look like if we started over and designed them without thinking about Thorndike, Skinner, industrialization, and the assembly line? what would schools look like if we could structure them with consideration for variation in student learning and individualizing programs and how the brain worked and students learn?

This past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I attended the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs annual conference. On Friday, we heard

Joe Graba, former teacher, legislator and Senior Policy Fellow at Hamline University, talk about his efforts to encourage policy makers to make room for schools that work for students, as opposed to forcing students to fit into a system that may not work for them.

Thursday, two keynote speakers, Kimberly Marciniak and Wayne Jennings, inspired us to think about the direction that NCLB is taking us, and the educational future we should be pursuing.

Kimberly Marciniak is a high school student from Texas who is boycotting the state tests as part of a moral position she has taken to point out the unfairness and wrong-headedness of the tests. She told a heartfelt and inspiring story of her courage and resolve to take a stand for something she believed in. The other keynote speaker,

Wayne Jennings, founder of Designs for Learning is one of the early pioneers of progressive education in Minnesota and has a national reputation as someone working for and developing school reform that works. He is the chair of the board of directors of the International Association for Learning Alternatives (IALA),
an association I helped form in 2000.

The MAAP conference has consistently been one of the state's best education conferences over the past twenty years, offering an array of presentations by alternative educators and Minnesota Dept. of Ed. specialists. This year, I gave four presentations, one was a panel discussion on IALA and how we define alternative education, another on the importance of identifying core values and operating assumptions in developing and maintaining high quality programs. I also conducted an education legislative issues discussion and my fourth was a group participation discussion on the uses of poetry in life and the classroom. All of the presentations were very well attended by an enthusiastic audience.

This year's award for 'Exemplary Contributions to Alternative Education' was presented to Don Glines, the founder of the Mankato Wilson School, one of the country's most innovative K-12 schools. Don has been active in school reform most of his adult life. He's authored several books on the subject and is an honory member of he IALA Board.

Many of the Alternative educators at the conference expressed concern about the effect of NCLB legislation and the rigid rules and standards that it mandates that limit innovation and, for us specifically, the ability of teachers in alternative programs to create learning experiences that meet the needs of students. Alternative education has a different purpose and fulfills different needs than traditional education, and the NCLB does not recognize these differences or provide a distinct means of evaluating these schools, and under NCLB criteria, alternative education cannot ever "measure up." We focused much of the discussion about efforts to develop alternate methods of assessment and data gathering (you can find most of this information online in the most recent MAAP newsletter) that reflect the success of our programs and that show the importance of supporting an array of choices to meet the diverse needs of our students. MAAP's newly elected President,

Terry Lydell is an expert on this, and is helping many programs develop methods of data gathering and producing an 'Annual Report,' which helps them communicate to others how they are doing.

Next year the conference moves to Duluth Entertainment Civic Center (DECC), Feb. 9th through the 11th, 2005.

 



Wednesday, February 18, 2004

FBI special agent Coleen Rowley on the Patriot Act
 
Sunday afternoon in Wabasha, The River Cities Alliance for Peace invited FBI special agent
Coleen Rowley to speak about the Patriot Act at the Wabasha Mittel Schole. She focused her comments on a paper she had written last May, seeking "a better balance between our protection from further acts of terroroism and our Constitutional rights to privacy."

She has, due to her background, a narrow legal approach to these issues, about which my legal counsel had a lot of comments and concerns for the way this plays out. Rowley has a lot of practical experience from her career as an FBI agent and trainer on constitutional issues, and was well versed in the protections observed by the FBI and the limitations of the Patriot Act, and although no fan of the Patriot Act, she acknowledges that some opposed to it have made exaggerated claims about its provisions and some promoting it gloss over some of the broad powers conferred.

One important part of the Patriot Act that Ms. Rowley stressed was that of the definition of "Domestic Terrorism," which is, paraphrased and set out in clauses:
Acts dangerous to human life
in violation of state and federal laws
that appear to be intended to influence government.

She believes that the final clause, particularly the "appear to be intended" phrase, would be interpreted very broadly, so she doesn't address it. The second clause is generally self-evident, and it is the first clause that contains the primary limiting factor in the application of the Patriot Act -- that it must be an act "dangerous to human life." Rowley also made an argument for adding "economic damage" to this definition, because much of the impact of domestic terrorism is economic damage.

The protections offered are primarily evidentiary, that if the limitations on the government's power are not heeded, evidence gathered illegally cannot be used at trial. The problem with this is that there is little other motivation not to push those limits. As Rowley noted, the ratio of investigations to actual prosecutions is high, and few are prosecuted. That makes me wonder, because when that investigation happens, it is intrusive and a person is inconvenienced or their life is forever altered or somewhere in between, there is little that can be done to undo that damage. Imagine you are arrested illegally and detained, as so many have been since September 11, what is your recourse? If the government doesn't stop at reading just your "to" and "from" lines of your email, and reads the content and uses it, just because it cannot be used as evidence does not mean that use by the government will have no impact on you. Should there be compensatory and punitive actions for illegal searches, detention, investigations that could keep the government in check? If government tramples over citizens in an investigation, there isn't much a person can do.

This is an area I don't know much about, and I'm glad to have had this look into the mechanics of investigations and the powers of law enforcement.

Rowley had three books to recommend:

"War of Numbers" by Sam Adams

"War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" by Chris Hedges

"The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead" by David Callahan


Coleen Rowley's Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller

New York Times May 25, 2002
Critic Is Described as Scrupulous and Determined
By Jim Yardley

Colleen Rowley Letter to FBI Director
Letter | Minneapolis Star Tribune
Published March 6, 2003

The FBI's high-stakes makeover
Bureau will put 500 agents on counterterrorism and have 'super squads' at HQ. Critics call for deeper changes.

FBI agent says bureaucracy hurt war on terrorism
Last Updated Fri, 07 Jun 2002 11:26:55

FBI WISTLE-BLOWER COLLEEN ROWLEY
Nobody knew anything about Ms. Rowley when her remarkably angry letter to her boss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, became public a few weeks ago. This week, she appeared on live TV, testifying about her charges before a congressional committee. The in-house counsel for the Minneapolis FBI office, who accused her own agency of both blowing its best chance to stop 9/11 and then trying to cover up its failure seemed truly Minnesotan: polite, cheerful, plainly dressed and utterly merciless. As to how she came to write the single-most damning document produced within the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover, she credited her typing class in high school.

TODAY: interminable screediness about The Whistleblower & Free Speach.

LILEKS HAS A MAJOR BURR UNDER HIS SADDLE AND IS WIELDING THE CLUEBAT WITH HIS USUAL PRECISION:

CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES
Bill Moyers - NOW - on Patriot act


 



Sunday, February 15, 2004

Charter Schools and Public Schools - Proper Funding is Essential for Success
 
Representative Cox blogged about a recent Star Tribune article that mentions Northfield's three Charter Schools, which raised the positive aspects of Charter schools and also concerns that traditional educators have about them. This is especially important in the present mood to under-fund traditional education and the difficulty public schools face, given lack of funding, in their efforts to present a full array of 'choices' for students.
StarTribune: School leaders have mixed feelings about adding charter schools

In Minneapolis, dramatic and sudden changes are proposed, in part to recapture the interest of parents and students going elsewhere for education:

Interim Supt. Jennings said he is also trying to change programs to make public schools more attractive to parents who are choosing to send their children to charter schools or suburban schools.

StarTribune: Minneapolis May Close 10 Schools

It's happening in St. Paul too:
StarTribune: St. Paul Ponders Closing Wilson Junior High This Fall
The other $4 million in program trims is due to district revenues -- primarily from the state -- not keeping pace with expenses, said Lois Rockney, the district's director of budget and finance.


I found some of Rep. Cox's comments disturbing, especially considering the efforts he has made in his blog and in public presentations to convince teachers, school administrators, and school board members that he is on their side and believes that schools need more funding. He says:
Some people, including many in the Legislature, don't like charter schools. Those same people are the ones that support "business as usual" for most school issues. Our traditional school system is a good one, but I do think it needs to be encouraged to look at new directions and ideas. Charters will help do that.

I hope everyone always remembers that the purpose of our education system is to provide students with the best educational system and opportunities possible within reasonable funding limits. The goal isn't to employ the most people. . .


What a statement! Who would believe that is what traditional schools try to do? Does he think that traditional schools waste tax payer money on excessive employment? What is he saying?

As an alternative educator, I support charter schools and the choices they offer students, but I don't agree with the Republican philosophy of 'improving things' through competition in a climate of scarcity. All you do is create winners and losers, not 'improvement.'

Rep. Cox recognizes the necessity of having enough money to do the job, that 'proper funding' creates winners:
If the charter school idea is a good one and has student and parent support, with proper state funding support, it should be successful.


That proper funding creates winners also means that 'proper funding' of the public schools would create winners, and that improper funding creates losers. That doesn't seem to bother Rep. Cox as he supports 'freedom to fail':
In America, we allow individuals and businesses to be as successful as possible, and also to fail at will. I think schools need to look at some of that same modeling. Charter schools do that. If the charter school idea is a good one and has student and parent support, with proper state funding support, it should be successful. The converse applies also...if the charter plan is not a good one, then it should be allowed to close.


Does he think only Charter Schools deserve 'proper funding?' What do his votes reveal about his beliefs about funding the public schools?

Jennings' proposal to the Minneapolis School Board plainly and unequivocally states that the school system is not adequately funded:
Inadequate federal and state funding makes a difficult situation worse.

The district's general fund has always filled the gap that exists between the referendum funds and the actual costs of paying for small class sizes. However, years of inadequate funding from the state and federal government for mandated services, leaves insufficient general fund dollars to supplement the cost of reduced class size.

The so-called 'lower class size' that the Minneapolis Public Schools are trying to maintain is the 'current levels of:
K-3 = 22 students; 4-8 = 28 students; 9-12 = 30 students (average).'


Inadequate funding is not only a problem in Minneapolis; it is a problem in Northfield. Rep. Ray Cox recently shared the results of a House Republican Caucus he had distributed to the teachers in Northfield's public schools, to the school board with his summary. He asked what teachers felt their biggest obstacle or challenge in the classroom was. The primary obstacle or challenge identified by the highest number of teachers was the 'lack of resources and materials.' 34% of the teachers in Northfield surveyed reported this to be a problem. And for some reason, Rep. Cox did not mention this answer, either in his written report or in his oral presentation to the Board.

He did mention the next highest response, 22% (students not following through on home work), which he combined with the 19% of teachers who felt that lack of parent involvement was a sign of the importance of family life to student performance. But no mention of the primary concern of teachers - that 34% have a difficult time doing their job due to lack of resources and materials -- inadequate funding. If we think about how to reach those students whose families struggle it is difficult to intervene without spending more funds.

When Rep. Ray Cox supports 'proper state funding support' for charter schools, does he also support 'proper state funding' for traditional public schools?

When Rep. Ray Cox says:
In America, we allow individuals and businesses to be as successful as possible, and also to fail at will. I think schools need to look at some of that same modeling. Charter schools do that. If the charter school idea is a good one and has student and parent support, with proper state funding support, it should be successful. The converse applies also...if the charter plan is not a good one, then it should be allowed to close.


Does he also mean that he will assure proper state funding support for the public schools so that they can be successful? Let's look at his votes and find out.

Rep. Ray Cox did not author or coauthor a single bill to "assure proper state funding support" for the public schools.

I would put adequate funding of public schools as my highest legislative priority. There is no excuse for the recent and predicted funding cuts to the school districts that have already 'trimmed the fat' and which are now forced to surgically remove their vital organs. How many levy referendums were held last November to replace the state funding now that responsibility has been transferred from the state to local governments? How many succeeded? How many failed? How many school districts will be successful? How many will fail? How many can now afford to offer 'choices' that parents and students want if they are struggling to maintain merely basic services? Where 'proper state funding' is, as Rep. Cox notes, a key element to a successful educational program, it looks like the state has instituted planned failure for the public school system.

How do charter schools fit into the mix? The StarTribune article goes on to quote Ben Kanninen, superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district.
"The more you create or expand on charters, the harder it is for them to find their market niche," Kanninen is concerned that there might be a limit to the needs that charters could serve. If the state or other sponsors are not careful in approving schools, their failure could have widespread effects. "That lack of success is paid for by the students, both in the regular system and those within the charter school," he said.


Ray may not be aware of the effects of charter school failure on students and staff. As a teacher, I have dealt first hand with students who were displaced by the closing of PEAKS Charter School in Dundas, and I know how difficult it can be for students after their schools fail. Failure of a venture of this kind is devastating, even in the world of business or the "little free-market guy" Ray describes himself, as it is devastating to see your dreams fail.

All this makes me wonder how much of an advocate Rep. Cox can be for public schools. I will be curious to see what he does to increase school funding for quality public education, what he will do to help schools be successful. Will he fight against his Governor and his party to increase education expenditures when the Republicans are forcing the cuts? The Governor's so-called 'new ideas' will do nothing to help fund schools. They are tricks and gimmicks meant to distract voters from the real problems schools face - they do not address the primary problem of lack of funding.

I believe in the public school system and would work hard to assure the state provides funding to the schools so that they can succeed, and funding for the students in our schools so that they can succeed. The public schools should be supported by the state, not rely on the districts and local governments with their vastly varying resources. Equitable funding of our schools is my highest legislative priority.

 



Tuesday, February 10, 2004


 
I am running for the House of Representatives for District 25B, the seat currently held by Ray Cox. In the last election, he won by 20 votes, 44 in the recount, and that close vote is hardly a mandate. In this election, I will work for a decisive win that shows the commitment of this District to make Minnesota better. I am running for the state legislature because I want the Minnesota I've grown up with, with the promise and opportunities this state has offered to me, to be available for our children and grandchildren.

As we look to the future and a vision of what can be, we must look, as the early settlers of our great state did, beyond the here and now to the generations to come. If sacrifice is called for, as it is now, it should be spread equally so that it is bearable, and not foisted on one group or another. Instead, we are witnessing, both on the federal and state level, a dismantling of the social safety net that benefited the poor and the middle class at a time when that safety net is more important that it has been for sometime. Over the last thirty years, I have been drawn to work with those young people whom others had given up on, because I believe that while on the grand scale the answers to the world's problems seem insurmountable, on the human level, person to person, we can, by seeing each other, find a future for us all. This means that we need to be challenged not only to overcome financial poverty, but we must overcome our own poverty of spirit that cripples us and pits us against each other.

I believe that I can make a difference to assure that the children who need a hand before they start school will get it, so that our schools can be the best they can be for everyone because children are ready to learn. To do that, we must invest in education and return control of those schools to local school boards. We must make sure that counties, cities and townships have what they need to provide the vital services to all citizens, that the care that senior citizens require will be provided, and that we all have the opportunity to prosper, not an invitation to fail. We must fight for a living wage and respect for all workers so that all can benefit from an invigorated economy. Tax cuts and the trimming or destruction of the safety net will only hurt us in the long run as it will push financial burdens on to our children and grandchildren. If we believe in a future that benefits all, we must move beyond a vision that only benefits a few.

Leadership requires setting an agenda founded on principles, being clear about where you are headed and what you intend to accomplish. This clarity about our mission, strategy and purpose is the first step to reaching our goals and sets up the criteria by which we will be judged and held accountable. That's democracy, transparent actions based on citizen input, all in the public interest. I'm a different sort of leader, practicing not leadership of flash, smoke and mirrors, but substantive leadership, quietly determined step-by-step progress towards a goal, able to do the hard research to thoroughly understand the issues, and most importantly, bringing together those who may not see eye to eye or even have the same vision, to take a project to fruition in a collaborative process.

That's also the kind of leadership that is the essence of the legislative process. This is why I'm running for office. I look forward to a lively campaign.


 



Monday, February 09, 2004

Wellstone Action
 


Last Thursday evening I attended the Wellstone Action meeting at
River City Books to discuss former Senator Paul Wellstone's book
"The Conscience of a Liberal". It was a sparsely attended meeting, but the discussion was vigorous. I was unfortunately late, having attended a meeting with folks from the DFL House Caucus about my campaign. I was a little surprised to see my counterpart, Rep. Ray Cox, at the meeting. As I entered the room, Tom Swift, the moderator, was talking about conditions of many workers today and cited the book 'Nickled and Dimed' by Barbara Ehrenreich as a good explanation of how hard some people have to work to just barely make it.


There was an effort to talk about Paul the man beyond the party partisan, perhaps to include Ray in the discussion, which lead to an expression of disappointment that the school board did not approve a request to name the new Middle School after Paul and Sheila Wellstone. There was some explanation offered about the process of naming a building, and Ray mentioned that as there was only one Middle School so that there is not a need to name it as there is with the multiple elementary schools.

Some asked what Wellstone Action hoped to accomplish, and if it was indeed nonpartisan. Tom indicated he believed it was nonpartisan. I added having been to a Wellstone training camp that that was my experience but that it seemed to be an effort to carry on the legacy that Wellstone began as a teacher. That legacy is offering his students hands-on experience in helping people become empowered through the political process and improving their lives for the better. Wellstone trained many students in this way who have gone to carry out this work. Much of it outlined in another book of his 'How the Rural Poor Got Power' that is a case history of Organization for a Better Rice County.
Patti Fritz, running for House District 26b is prominent in that book and a great example of living politics.

As the meeting closed the participants encouraged Tom to arrange for another meeting and have the topic be Health Care Reform.
In the meantime, there will be another meeting held by a different group on Monday night. Per Bill McGrath's posting today, Betsy and Brian McMahon, PPG members who live in Faribault, are facilitating the discussion in the Buckham Memorial Library in downtown Faribault. It begins at 7 p.m.

 



Saturday, February 07, 2004

Legislative Watchdogs
 

If you want to keep an eye on certain issues as they move through the legislative session there are some great tools out there. The Center of the American Experiment has developed a very easy to use website that provides readable brief descriptions of every bill, floor amendment, and roll call vote in the
Introduced to the Minnesota legislature, Senate and House. You can search by bill, legislator, or issue, and includes graphic display of vote tallies on some bills. The website,
MINNESOTAVOTES.ORG should prove to be a useful tool to anyone wanting a quick look at what is happening. Questions can be addressed to the Director of MinnesotaVotes.org, Chris Tiedeman, at chris.tiedeman@amexp.org.

If you're interested in the environment ME3's Legislative Watch is the best energy related website around.

Here are two other sites by Joan Spiczka, a former township supervisor from Foley, MN. She includes her commentary and admits at times her partisan view comes through.
Legislative watchdog.

I like this quote from Lincoln she displays on her site:
The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all or cannot do so well, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. -- Abraham Lincoln

Joan's non-partisan site: Joan on Government.

Labor interests may want to check IAMA site.


Here are a couple with a federal scope:
FAIRNESS & ACCURACY IN REPORTING (FAIR):



HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH


If you have some sites you look turn to keep an eye on government, let me know what they are, and I'll add them to my list. We have to know what they're doing to hold them accountable.

 



Tuesday, February 03, 2004

No Child Left Behind Salon
 
Last Friday I had the pleasure of joining a Salon discussion at Molly and Bill Woerlin's house about the 'No Child Left Behind' Legislation. It was a wonderful evening talking about a full range of educational topics. Many of the participants had been teachers and professors themselves with many years of experience and their perspective on this new legislation was very interesting and well-thought out. I was surprised that in thinking of the impacts of this federal legislation, and also state standards, many of them were brought back to their experiences not only as teachers, but as students too. As they thought about what these new rules, they expressed their concerns about what a rigid 'one shoe fits all' approach in education can do to someone struggling to find their way through the maze of education. One participant expressed concern for a young man with Asperger syndrome and how his needs might be met (Asperger syndrome is a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills). Several commented on the number of young people they knew who blossomed after they graduated from high school and how detrimental it is to label kids and schools as failing when they may well be misjudged.

Bill Woehrlin recalled the magnet school he went to in Brooklyn and mentioned that its reputation exceeded that of many of the private schools because students had to perform in order to maintain their spot there. The school did not have to educate every student because students chose to attend but the school did not have to accept them. He also said because of the high number of students, discipline was very important and they implemented a practice of one way traffic in the halls to cut down on problems with traffic flow. Of course this meant you were forced to travel a great distance sometimes just to get to a class that might be next door to the one you attended but in the wrong direction.

Another recalled that at one time Minnesota had a state curriculum, and everyone took state tests. They had to be able to identify certain lines of poetry and who wrote them. He said in dismay that they were taught to memorize those lines without ever having read the actual poems they came from. He agreed this approach could do little more than assure students would have no more than cursory understanding of what was taught. This is what some feel about the new Social Studies Standards. St. Olaf History Professor Robert Entenmann who has been critical of the standards feels this is a problem with even the most recent version. I noticed that Rep. Cox had indicated that Professor Entenmann was pleased with the changes to the standards and asked him about it. "Yeah, they are much improved but Ray misunderstood me. They went from being dreadful to being mediocre."

I was intrigued by their intense personal interest that drew from their breadth of experience as teachers and learners. It was a stimulating conversation that covered the influence of brain research, the frustrations of school reform, and how we go about assuring that all students are learning. The inequality that wealth creates and how that is borne out in our schools is an important factor. They appreciate the positive influence of early childhood programs and the importance of reading to children at an early age. They have thought about the purpose of education and how one can show that children are learning and assure parents and taxpayers that a good job is being done in the schools.

Some questions were asked about Minnesota's struggles with assessment, ranging from the Profile of Learning to the new standards, as well as some of Governor Pawlenty's proposals for 'improving' education. Rep. Mindy Greiling's comments printed in the Star Tribune offers a good assessment of his proposals:

But even if all of the governor's recent education proposals become law, it won't reverse the backward direction in which Minnesota schools are heading. At root, these are Band-Aid measures that get the governor on TV and in the newspaper looking like he cares about education. But in the end, they are feel-good gimmicks that do not address the core problems in our schools. If all of them become law, class sizes will continue to increase, fees will go up, more teachers will lose their jobs and more kids will be left behind.

Achieving a high-quality education system is not rocket science. Anyone familiar with the situation in our schools knows what works: small class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, parental involvement, safe and secure school buildings, strong early childhood programs, adequate access to computers and technology. For generations Minnesotans have maintained our commitment to good schools by accepting the basic premise that to have these things, we must pay for them.


There are many resources related to the President's No Child Left Behind initiative, many of them have appeared in this blog. One of the more recent and comprehensive available appeared online this month from the American Prospect.

And this from the Washington Post article by Bruce Fuller:
NCLB tells states that all teachers must be credentialed by the start of the 2005 school year, a requirement for which states must foot the bill. Boosting teacher quality is certainly key, and the administration's intentions in this regard are virtuous. But Bush's education chief wants to upgrade the skills of young teachers via Web-based courses or quick-and-dirty weekend programs, despite little evidence that these strategies work. Instead, Washington should fund university-based training with lots of time inside real classrooms. And it should help states distribute strong teachers equitably among rich and poor communities.

Then there's the matter of carrots and sticks. No private business would try to raise productivity by stigmatizing and flogging its employees. But Bush's program tacitly banks on a Calvinist theory of motivation: praise rarely, punish often. Though conservatives have for years urged merit pay for effective teachers, NCLB offers no incentives of any kind. But it should.

Perhaps most troubling in the long run is how Bush's top-down dictates have deflated the earlier enthusiasm of the nation's governors. After the first President Bush assembled all 50 of them in his 1989 education summit in Charlottesville, the states led the way in crafting more demanding curriculums, raising achievement standards and teacher salaries, and rigorously tracking student progress. In turn, children's learning curves rose in many states throughout the 1990s. Now, Thomas Jefferson's nightmare is unfolding: Federal agents bypass governors and local school boards to pass judgment on each and every local school. Parents are increasingly befuddled because duplicative federal and state accountability systems pass conflicting judgments on the same neighborhood school. Washington could set simple, challenging standards, and then negotiate with states to ensure careful tracking of achievement and that no student subgroup is left behind.


Another issue we did not get to at the Woehrlin's Salon, but which has been at times a covert part of the discussion of what is wrong with American Schools is the subtext of the role of teacher unions.. There has been intense criticism of teachers unions, claims that they limit flexibility of the districts, that they prevent more creative staffing solutions that are necessary given budget shortfalls. I came upon an article from Deborah Meier on the subject of unions that I thought a good response to much of the criticism. Here are a few quotes:

Although there are many folks out there who have a stake in good public schools, the only organized and experienced allies, committed over time and with the necessary expertise and resources, are the teachers' unions. Parents come and go, and given the incredibly busy lives of the women who once led parents' organizations (especially in those communities where the need is greatest), sustaining their political power is almost impossible. They have been effectively weakened-even more than teachers-and are rarely represented on state or national task forces, think tanks, or school boards.

The balance of power in contemporary America is way off, and threatens to get worse, not better. Redressing this imbalance-with the social power of numbers versus resources-has been one of the central functions of trade unions since their inception. They have been the dependable ally of the least advantaged for a hundred years when it comes to issues of wages, safety, health care, retirement, subsidized housing, public transportation, and on and on. Even on issues of racial equality, the unions, although often mirroring the racism of the larger society, have been allies in political fights to expand civil rights for at least half a century. And on issues more removed from everyday working life-issues of civil liberties, prison reform, abortion rights-unions have historically been the allies of reformers. In the current climate, the tenuous and fragile balance that has existed since the New Deal has been decisively shifted, if not altogether shattered. Until it is restored, it isn't just good schooling, but the good life for vast numbers of our fellow citizens that is in jeopardy.

Thus, there are still many reasons why teachers and parents, and their friends and relatives, need to be the allies of their local teacher unions, even on those days when the unions make foolish mistakes, act with the same short-range self-interest as their opponents, and so on. The kind of support that is needed is not uncritical; it is not a matter of falling into line behind union leaders. But first and foremost, it means putting to rest the inaccurate idea that unions are to blame for the difficulties of school reform. Reforms are not always good, and change is not always in the interest of better learning. Healthy resistance is sometimes what we most need, side by side with thoughtful proposals for change-and this is what we will sorely miss if teachers' unions are defeated by the relentless hostility of their many opponents.


Deborah Meier founded the Central Park East schools in New York City and the Mission Hill School in Boston. She is author of The Power of Their Ideas, Will Standards Save Public Education?, and In Schools We Trust.

 



Sunday, February 01, 2004

Rock Your Party: Finding Our Voice in the DFL
 

Saturday I attended the Minnesota Young DFL event, "Rock Your Party: Finding Our Voice in the DFL" at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The morning Keynote speaker was Gregory Gray, who, MDFL notes, was the "6th African American to ever serve in the Minnesota legislature (1999-2002), and the 2nd African American to receive the endorsement from the DFL for a statewide race. He is currently a consultant to the Minneapolis Urban League and is president of the Minneapolis Library Board."

The late afternoon keynote speaker was Pakou Hang, who lives politics as a "doctoral student at University of Minnesota in the Political Science department studying political identity and the electoral process." She also was a "research assistant with the Center for Citizenship and Democracy and was a community and political organizer with Progressive Minnesota. In 2002, Pakou worked as a deputy political director on the Wellstone for Senate campaign and was the campaign manager for Eastsiders for Mee Moua," Minnesota, and the nation's first Hmong legislator.

In the afternoon, Brian Elliott fought technical problems and made it to the conference for his breakout session on Clean Water and the Environment. Brian is on the board of Progressive Minnesota.
http://www.progressivemn.org/

I ran into Rep. Mike Nelson and Sen. Steve Kelley mixing with the young DFLers, Mike hosted a booth with information about the Carpenter's Union and their political action group. A couple months ago, Rep. Nelson spoke with our Belle Plaine group about union and worker issues and running for office.

Here I am with Kara Nelson, a senior at St. Olaf, who also happens to be President of the College Democrats.

I also attended a "Strategic Planning Sessions" in Sundin Music Hall led by Jeremy Kalin of Young Progressives who was the one who organized the Faribault Javalive event.

Afterward, the young DFL’ers went on to ‘Rock the Caucus,’ sponsored by the College Democrats of Minnesota in conjunction with MYDFL, where they spread the word about caucuses, featuring mc's Rep. John Lesch and Rep. Aaron Peterson.

Caucuses are on March 2, 2003, MYDFL will hold training sessions, free and open to anyone (and I'll let you know about other training sessions that I hear about, I attended one in Faribault sponsored by AFSCME last month):

2/16/04 St Paul Caucus Training
7-9 pm
St. Thomas University
O'Shaughnessy Education Center
2115 Sumit Ave.
St. Paul, MN

2/17/04 Rochester Caucus Training
7-9 pm
Government Center
151 - 4th St. S.E.
Rochester, MN 55904
Co-sponsored by the Olmstead County DFL

2/24/04 - TC Caucus Training
5-7:30 pm
Coffman Union, Room 323
300 Washington Ave. S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Co-sponsored by UDFL

2/26/04 Minneapolis Caucus Training
6:30-8-30 m
Holy Trinity Church
2730 E. 31st St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

For further information on this caucus training, contact Minnesota Young DFL or Minnesota College Dems. or Young Progressives.