A Leash Being Yanked

Getting an education for my children has been a beastly, awful business. The only break I’ve had in recent years has been getting my kids out of the St. Paul Public school system… …no. Let me rephrase that. The only break my kids and I have caught has been getting them the hell out of the sinking morass that is the Saint Paul Public Schools.

In the case of my daughter, I’d say the district, her various administrations, most of her teachers were merely incompetent; in the case of my son, it’s more akin to “child abuse”. I’ve written about this in my “Losing My (State) Religion” series, of which three more installments are coming soon.

(Note to all my friends and relatives in the education business – yes, I know you all do your best.  Yes, I know you don’t see things quite the way I do.  I’m not impugning your motivations, efforts or ethics. I know the vast majority of public school teachers really do do their best.  But I think the current system’s basic assumptions are largely wrong.  Beyond that?  Yes, my experience this past few years has been that awful). 

Charter schools were the lifeline – the way out of the cesspool that the public school system has become. Without charter schools – with private schools not a financial option, and homeschooling not personally available – I doubt I’d ever have come up with a way to get either of my kids through school.

For my part, I’ll leave Saint Paul before I put my kids back in that miserable, pathetic system. The best thing I can say about Saint Paul is that “it’s better than Minneapolis“.

And that doesn’t help a lot.

With that out of the way, let’s address Nick Coleman’s column from Friday.

If there remains a “sacred cow” in public education — an issue that can’t be criticized or challenged — it is not teacher unions, the failings of inner-city schools or the empty achievements of the No Child Left Behind Act. All those topics and more have been debated vigorously in the discussion over education.

No, the last sacred cow is the charter-school movement and the notion that charter schools will reform the schools and that no limit should be placed on their number, despite mounting evidence that they, too, are beset by problems.

Allow me to set aside, for a moment, my celebrated sense of manners.
Nick. You doddering old duffer. What the hell are you talking about?

Every time a charter school folds for any reason, your paper gives it breathless coverage.
Your newspaper has been fighting against charter schools from the very beginning of the movement.

Charter schools have never been a sacred cow. To some of us, they’re a ray of hope. To some of you, they’re a punching bag on which you vent your impotent frustrations – like observing the failure of the second-most-lavishly-funded district in the state and bellowing “our schools are burning!”.

Clear on that?

That last sacred cow just got gored. And high time, too.

The Minnesota Senate’s education spending package includes a long-overdue proposal to limit the number of charter schools in Minnesota to 150, a cap that could mean no more charter schools would be approved after 19 schools slated to open next fall or next year are added to the existing 131.

A cap may be gaining traction: Despite protests from charter-school supporters, an attempt to remove the cap from the education bill was defeated by voice vote in a Finance Committee subdivision Wednesday.

Let’s try to be clear on our terms here. Charter schools are booming – else why would they be slated to grow a full 15% next year? The better ones have long waiting lists, because parents – especially inner city minorities, sick of the fourth-rate education their children receive in their benighted inner city schools – are taking their kids there in droves.

Minneapolis’ public school system has lost 25% of its enrollment in recent years – lost to charter schools, private schools and open enrollment. Groups are starting new charter schools at a pace that just keeps accelerating – so clearly the concept of the charter
school is what’s “gaining traction”.

There is no traction, at least on the streets of the Twin Cities.

No, Nick, what’s happened is that the DFL-controlled committee structure in the legislature is doing what their major benefactor – the Minnesota Federation of Teachers – tells them to.

Let’s not confuse the two. It tends to mislead your readers.

Logically, a cap makes sense. It wouldn’t mean charter schools couldn’t grow or accept more students; it would only mean that 150 charter schools are enough.


Up next – one of Coleman’s patentied “Flurries of Obfuscation”.

The need for a cap is clear: Charter schools, authorized by the 1991 Legislature (and limited, at first, to eight schools) have wildly outgrown their original intent,

Rubbish. There was nothing about their “original intent” that said “let’s succeed in the marketplace of ideas, and then stop cold!”

suffer from a lack of rigorous financial controls (several have gone bankrupt, others have been robbed by their managers),

Question: How do you think any public school would fare by that standard, if they weren’t treated the same as welfare and the military in terms of funding?

Fact: Charter schools get much less than their fair share of state funding per-student. And yet the likes of Coleman are forced to deploy weasel words to say they…:

…have not significantly outperformed traditional public schools

In other words, for less money, and under the constant harassment they did perform better!

Oh, and it all depends on who you ask. For my daughter? Try “going from a 1.2 to a 3.+ GPA” almost immediately, while doing much more rigorous work under vastly more committed teachers.

Significant outperformance? You be the judge – unless you are Nick Coleman, and are the stooge of the teacher’s union, and have had your judgement written for you.

…(according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, 44 percent of the state’s charter schools did not make adequate progress last year, including the school where Minneapolis City Council member and public school critic Don Samuels sends his children).

Leaving the ofay ad hominem against Samuels (who committed the unpardonable sin, for an inner-city African-American politician of crossing the DFL/Teacher’s Union (pardon the redundancy) – so what? “Significant progress” at what?

Whatever the MACS says, answer this, Nick Coleman – why do all of us dumb parents keep yanking the kids the hell out of public schools and putting them in charter schools? Because we’re stupid?

Look at my kids’ results in charter schools, and then explain that to me.

“There are too many of them that suffer from really bad management, financial improprieties or sweetheart deals” involving charter-school sponsors who contract for services to their schools, says Charles Kyte, executive director of the MinnesotaAssociation of School Administrators.

Did you catch that?

Coleman quoted from an official from an “association” who has always opposed charter schools, and who justifiably sees charters as a threat to their livelihood!

This part got me angry – not only Mr. Kyte’s statement itself, but the assumptions that Coleman operates under:

Kyte spent 20 years as a public school superintendent in Northfield and Eden Valley-Watkins, and helped get a charter school off the ground. He does not oppose charter schools in principle. But he says charter schools are costing public school systems millions in education funding and that they are increasingly drifting towards micro-experiments in neo-segregation that turn the old notion of a meltingpot on its head, with schools aimed at Hmong children or Muslims or smaller subcategories, such as a school for Somali girls.

“We have all these laws to try to integrate society, and now we’re creating all these segregated little pots,” says Kyte.

Did you catch that?

After twenty years of pushing “multiculturalism” and hammering on “diversity” – at the expense of teaching children the skills they need to actually become part of the “melting pot” that so many in public education so despise! – parents are taking matters into their own hands.
If the public schools can’t handle the job of helping immigrants and minorities assimilate into the larger society – and they clearly are failing miserably, as you can tell any time you visit a large, factory-model high school, like my daughter’s former school, St. Paul Central, where kids seem to gather in the halls in ethnically-homogenous groups – then why should parents not look for a solution that does both jobs better?

“The advocates of charter schools are relentless, and we’re going to have 500 in five years, if we don’t pause.”


And why are they – we – relentless? Because of the full-court press on the part of the establishment (of which Nick Coleman is a smug, barbering part) to destroy what is, for some of us, the first good thing that’s happened to our kids’ edutation.

I think the word he’s looking for is “motivated”.

The “experiment” is out of control and having the opposite effect of what was intended: Instead of reforming public schools, it is damaging them.

And so Coleman wants…what?

To call off the experiment, which is highlighting the irredeemable weaknesses of the public school system?

Nick Coleman; always right there, with the real solution; tell the emperor his clothes are fabulous!

6 thoughts on “A Leash Being Yanked

  1. Come on Berg, get with the program. Haven’t you seen the multi-million dollar ad campaign?

    Schools First.

    Screw the kids.

  2. Coleman doesn’t seem to understand the irony of shutting down a popular government program because it’s, well, popular.
    There seems to be a little sleight of hand behind this sentence:
    The need for a cap is clear: Charter schools, authorized by the 1991 Legislature (and limited, at first, to eight schools) have wildly outgrown their original intent
    The original intent of law passed by any session of a state legislature is not binding on subsequent legislatures. That’s why if you want to make sure a law is permanent you have to insert it into the state constitution.

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  4. Amen, Mitch. My older daughter is at a school that — while not a charter school; it’s funded by several school districts — wouldn’t be available without the threat of charter schools hanging over the MPS. It’s working wonderfully for her.

    That said, I really can’t comment on public schools without noting that there are some absolutely terrific people working in them (I doubt you’d disagree). The single most impressive educator I’ve ever met , bar none — Aura Wharton-Beck, who I can’t talk about without choking up (she’s . . . utterly amazing) — is a Vice Principal in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

  5. Amen, Joel. I can’t condemn public school teachers for the perfidy of the union and administration either.
    At least not ALL of them.

  6. Mitch, perfect post! I know if my two sons didn’t attend the schools they are in right now, we wouldn’t be living in St. Paul. I keep on top of the curriculum and make sure I temper what they learn with some conservative common sense, or they’d only be getting one side of the story, but for the most part they are getting a rigorous education. But then again, I made the (gasp) effort to make sure they could read when they started kindergarten, make sure they are well-rested, well-fed and in a supporting family environment. Silly me! Schools in St. Paul spend so much wasted time on making sure our schools have the right skin-tone combinations that they forget what their main mission is….to educate our kids. Actually, let me correct that….THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS DISTRICT spends that wasted time. The classroom teachers, I think, just want kids who are ready to learn, are respectful of themselves and others, and are well-behaved. My sons have had some of the best teachers I think they could have had, and the issues I’ve had are with Colborne or the School Board. Even the lefty teachers and I get along well, because we know the bottom line is the kids’ education, not politics and skin color. Keep it up, Mitch. As the districts continue losing kids/revenue (isn’t revenue REALLY the issue here?) and the charter schools simply start getting bigger to work around this ridiculous cap, or the private schools start getting more scholarship money to increase their enrollment, MAYBE they’ll understand it’s not about them, it’s about education, education, education. I respect the teachers, but not the teachers’ union. It’s simply in a self-preservation mode, and nothing will change that.

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