Education Opinion

What’s the Future for District Teacher Empowerment?

By Deborah Meier — April 23, 2015 3 min read
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Today Deborah Meier and Joe Nathan discuss future opportunities for educators to create new options within school districts. Deborah Meier begins.

Hi Joe,

I agree with so many of the comments posted earlier this week! So it’s also interesting to ask why so few “hedge fund” guys and their friends got behind the District 4s and the Pilots vs. charters, and next vouchers. No monetary rewards for them in those old schemes? Looking back I’m amazed at how many of us there were that responded to Alvarado, but I also remember how much we also needed the Sy Fliegels who creatively bent the rules for us.

What the Boston Pilots did was dramatically change the rules without undermining the publicness of public education or the protections of unions. My point is, YES, it’s doable. We have the evidence but not yet the political muscle and the Money Boys and Girls are doing a lot to make it harder, not easier. Most of the new so-called reforms are in tune with controlling and scaring teachers (and kids), not releasing a wave of courageous innovation.

Maybe Minnesota will lead us toward a new wave of the real reforms a democracy needs. I’m hoping because hope springs eternal or maybe just because, why not?

Joe Nathan responds:

Dear Deb,

Glad you agreed with many of the insights posted earlier this week about the challenge of starting new public schools within traditional districts. One of the reasons that chartering was developed was to encourage this.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned several examples of how this worked out. School boards approved creation of Boston Pilot Schools and LA Pilots in part because charter schools were being opened. Some individual Minnesota districts such as Forest Lake and Rochester also have turned to teachers after someone suggested creating a charter in the district or nearby area. Chartering can help encourage districts to open up new opportunities for their educators and families.

You wondered about a new wave of reform. Yes, we’re hopeful.

Here’s perhaps another example. Last Sunday a coalition of parents, community members and teachers, along with the local teachers’ union, decided not to endorse any of the St Paul School Board incumbents who were running for re-election. Instead, this coalition endorsed a new, encouraging group of candidates.

One of the things we’re hoping is that this group will be more interested in teacher-led schools as new options within the traditional district. Minneapolis is ahead of St. Paul on this, having recently approved four schools that applied to be “community partner” schools.

These are designed to be efforts where key decisions are made at the local school level, rather than the district level, and each has a strong community partner. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and its president, Lynn Nordgren, have been strong advocates of this approach. We’ll see what develops.

Deborah Meier responds:

Dear Joe,

I’m skeptical of good news but... I also want to believe you’re reading your situation right and that it will spread.

Unfortunately here in Illinois, as in New York and many other states with Republican governors, things are rapidly moving in the opposite direction. But there are signs that they may have overreached, and both parents and teachers seem to be coming together to protect each other and to roll back some of the so-called reform agenda. Maybe the Democrats will see the light along with traditional allies in the civil rights leadership.

But... I am scared. Our resources for fighting back are so limited compared to....

Time to go to bed! I’m having a good time seeing new and old friends in Chicago.

Between AERA last weekend, a morning with my colleagues from SOS planning for an international gathering around the public education situation in other countries for next January (in Costa Rica), and now preparing for the coming weekend conference of NPE. The latter group was created by Ravitch to explore school issues.

With fingers crossed for the future,


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