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New evidence that academic rigor still takes a back seat to a social mission in Edina Public Schools

There is new evidence that Edina Public School leaders remain committed to using the schools to go beyond teaching reading and math in order to focus on molding students’ thoughts and beliefs on social issues.

The evidence comes from a presentation that Jackie Roehl and Elizabeth Hillstrom—English teachers at Edina High School—made on April 15, 2019, at a meeting sponsored by Reimagine Minnesota, an “equity”-focused initiative of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Their presentation was entitled “Equity Work & Edina English.” Roehl spoke on “culturally responsive teaching [CRT] and equity,” while Hillstrom detailed a “day in the life” of students in her English classroom, which is “infused with CRT strategies.” Roehl is an architect of EHS’s Pre-AP English 10 course (required of all sophomores), which she has described elsewhere as designed to “guide students through difficult discussions of race, racism and Whiteness.”

A link to the teachers’ slide deck is here and includes slides 17 through 48.

In her presentation, Roehl made clear that “changing the system” is a primary goal of the Edina English Department. Teaching grammar, improving writing skills, and introducing students to Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, and other great authors do not appear to be among her top priorities.

Roehl told the Reimagine Minnesota audience that the EHS English department’s teaching philosophy is based, in large part, on books entitled “Courageous Conversations about Race” and “Detracking for Excellence and Equity.” (“Detracking” means creating classrooms where students are balanced by race and income levels, rather than grouped by readiness and abilities.) She advocated using the English classroom to teach about “social justice and discrimination in all its forms,” and explained that when EPS adopted its “equity” mission, student texts were chosen to do just that.

In her presentation, Hillstrom detailed daily life in her EHS classroom, where she focuses on achieving “systemic change.” The four instructional vehicles required to accomplish this, she said, are “personalized education, cultural competence, student voice, and cultural inclusivity.” When these approaches are adopted, she asserted, “the opportunity for student growth is limitless.”

Hillstrom held up two examples of the kind of student success she works for in her English classroom. Both were race-oriented, political achievements—one student had served on “Keith Ellison’s high school student board” and another was president of Hamline University’s Black Student Union.

A third success story involved an EHS junior who identifies as “an indigenous/native Hawaiian person.” In Hillstrom’s slide, the student criticizes the “ignorance” of Edina staff about “extreme minorities” like herself. (There are “under five Polynesian, Melanesian, and Austronesian people” at EHS, she says.) She complains that “the staff that has been contacted by myself has done little to fix this ignorance.” Her goal—“not easily completed”—she says, is “changing an entire school’s mindset.”

EPS’s “equity” focus has apparently succeeded in persuading this student to view herself as a victim of oppression, rather than to appreciate and use to best advantage the resources made available to her in an affluent school district like Edina. It is doubtful whether this mindset—instilled by EPS—will benefit her in her future life.

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