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Students Need to Take Responsibility, Too

It’s not exactly rocket science. Students can't learn much if they skip class. More than 100,000 Minnesota students were AWOL for 15 days or more in the 2013-14 school year--nearly 13 percent of students statewide.  School districts from Anoka-Hennepin to St. Cloud and Bemidji report a problem with chronic absenteeism. A recent Star Tribune editorial highlighted the issue, citing a laundry list of reasons at home and at school behind the problem. As to why so many kids aren’t showing up, local districts report a variety of causes. Physical and mental health (student and family), poverty-related challenges, suspensions, homelessness and bullying are among the...

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An Invitation to More Violence in the St. Paul Public Schools

St. Paul public school officials continue their hapless quest to staunch the growing in-school violence that is terrifying teachers and driving families out of the district. The task force was created in response to attacks on teachers last year. These included an assault that left a teacher with a traumatic brain injury, and another attack—during a “classroom invasion”—whose victim required staples to close a head wound. Last night, a “school climate task force” presented its recommendations on controlling student-on-staff violence to the St. Paul School Board. The task force—an august group of principals, administrators and other important folks—has met since February. What new...

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Little League baseball: Youth sports’ lessons are lasting

Here’s a sports story that climbs even higher than Colin Kaepernick’s backside sinks low. The Little League baseball team from Maine-Endwell, New York, won the 2016 United States championship last Saturday, beating a team from Tennessee 4-2, and then won the championship of the whole wide world on Sunday, beating a team from South Korea 2-1, all in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I assume I wouldn’t be writing about this if I hadn’t lived only a few miles from Endwell when I lived in upstate New York in the late '60s and early '70s. But I found myself taking chauvinistic pride in how well...

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Fergus Falls educators, manufacturers take on the skills gap

Facing an increasing shortage of skilled employees to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers, manufacturers, educators and civic leaders in Fergus Falls teamed up last year to outfit a state-of-the-art manufacturing lab in the local high school--funded entirely by private donations. This triumph of community initiative prompted several representatives of Center of the American Experiment (CAE) to join longtime local legislator Bud Nornes in July for a town meeting to discover how activists raised almost $320,000 for high tech improvements to the lab in less than six months. “This is an example of what can happen when you have outstanding community...

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When Public Officials Read Troubled Situations Less Well than Troubled Kids Actually Read

In a Star Tribune story last week (July 28) about another year of no progress to speak of by students on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments – with exactly the same holding true with reducing achievement gaps between white kids and kids of color – Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius is cited as saying that problems outside of educators’ control such as homelessness and family income are at least partial causes. The commissioner is absolutely right – at least partially.  But what she didn’t say, what people in government hardly ever say (as witness last month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions) is...

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Will chaos reign in St. Paul’s high school hallways?

St. Paul public school leaders seem determined that chaos should reign in the district’s high school hallways.  The school board’s contract for “school resource officers” (SROs) is up for renewal with the St. Paul Police Department, and students demanded changes in cops’ role at the board’s July 26 meeting. According to the Pioneer Press: The Pan-African Student Union at Central High School wants police to stop arresting students for minor crimes such as theft, fighting and drug possession. They say unnecessarily arresting teens is counterproductive, pushing students out of schools and into the criminal justice system. ‘Do we want to contribute to...

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New lawsuit aims to bring race-based busing back to Minnesota

The era of race-based busing of Minneapolis schoolchildren—1974 to 1995—marks one of the greatest debacles in the city’s history. Busing tore apart neighborhoods and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Black academic achievement—far from rising, as promised—actually declined during the last five years of the busing regime. By 1995, Sharon Sayles Belton, the city’s black mayor, was demanding an end to the practice and a return to neighborhood schools. Now a new lawsuit aims to bring race-based busing back to Minnesota. It would do so on a scale that would dwarf what we saw in Minneapolis. The class-action suit, filed last November in...

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Arrests Provide Teachable Moment on Teacher Union Politics

On Tuesday, hundreds of teachers attending the American Federation of Teachers convention in Minneapolis joined a Black Lives Matter march through the city’s downtown. They said they were protesting the recent police-involved killing of Philando Castile, a St. Paul Public Schools’ employee. Twenty-one teachers—including Minnesota union leaders—were arrested after blocking streets for three hours. Two quotes from news reports caught my eye. The first was from Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. According to MPR, Rodriguez said the federation is committed to the Black Lives Matter movement, and Castile’s death is a tipping pint. ‘We can’t just go out and march and...

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Parents’ Lawsuit Threatens Education Minnesota’s Grip on Schools

Are Education Minnesota's union rules protecting incompetent classroom teachers a key factor in the state's appalling achievement gap for poor and minority students? That's the gist of a lawsuit being brought by four families today in Ramsey County District Court. The action would eliminate controversial teacher tenure rules that that prevent schools from controlling hiring and firing, while protecing incompetent teachers. It's a dagger at the heart of a system that has failed underprivileged children and rewarded the status quo. Four parents from the St. Paul, Duluth, Anoka-Hennepin and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan districts filed the lawsuit in April saying teacher tenure and staff cuts...

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Met Council Seeks to Promote Trailer Parks In Suburbs

I often find myself at odds with the Metropolitan Council, but I confess to mixed feelings about this one. The Star Tribune reports that the Met Council is "push[ing] to preserve mobile home parks in suburbs." She is one of 39,000 people living in 83 mobile home parks in the Twin Cities suburbs. Protecting those parks, some of which are now in peril, is the easiest way to preserve affordable housing in the suburbs, according to a new Metropolitan Council report. The report, titled " Manufactured Home Park Preservation Project," is here. The MHP Preservation Project is part of the Met...

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