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Education Reform Industry Targets Twin Cities

March 26, 2013 By Valerie Rittler, Guest Commentary

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul owner of Fox News and dozens of other companies around the world, recently announced he was moving into the “education” business. He said, "When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”

Murdoch is part of a growing list of corporate executives who see schools as profit centers. The education reform industry and their privatization efforts that have virtually destroyed the public education systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans have been quietly, and not so quietly, targeting the Twin Cities.

Since 1995, budget cuts and poor policy decisions have closed at least two dozen public elementary schools in Minneapolis, according to Eric Myott, research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO). The impact has been larger class sizes and fewer neighborhood schools.

At the same time, the number of taxpayer funded charter school slots in Minneapolis has skyrocketed by over 600 percent from 1,529 in 2000 to 10,895 in 2010. In St. Paul, the increase in public funded charter seats has grown from 3,721 to 8,339, a 124 percent increase, according to school enrolment data compiled by IMO.

As our public schools deal with insufficient resources and increasing challenges, they need more support, not less.

But a group of unelected, corporate oriented, “education reform leaders” have announced that they are pushing to develop 20 more charter schools in Minneapolis. Last year, Charter School Partners, a pro-charter school lobbying and advocacy group rolled out their “Charters 2.0” initiative, in which they will use public funds to finance “the creation and growth” of charter schools and fast-track the approval process for new charter schools.

As part of their coordinated “Education Reform” effort, organizations from around the country are pouring money into an aggressive lobbying and public relations efforts to promote the expansion of charters.

According to recent lobbying reports, StudentsFirst, Inc., the controversial Sacramento-based education reform group headed by Michele Rhee, spent $99,122 over the past two years on media advertising to “influence legislative action” and other lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, the New York City-based 50CAN, Inc. spent $144,396 to lobby here. The chair of 50-CAN, Minnesota’s own Matthew Kramer, is also the CEO of Teach for America, a group that has also been spending money in Minnesota to impact legislation and campaigns.

What the national and state charter school proponents fail to reveal is that their “solution” to the challenges facing public education in America is failing.

For example, charter schools in the Twin Cities are even more racially isolated than our public schools. As of 2011, fewer than one in five Twin Cities’ charter schools qualified as “integrated.” As our cities grapple with the negative effects of segregation, charter schools in Minneapolis are making the problem significantly worse.

Just as troubling is the fact that studies continue to prove that charter schools are not “high achieving.” A major study conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Law’s non-profit; non-partisan Institute on Race & Poverty determined that “traditional schools outperformed charter schools after controlling for student poverty, race, special education needs, limited language abilities, student mobility rates and school size.”

The greatest threat of all is that charter schools are undermining the fundamental American principle that public schools should be governed by the communities they were built to serve. But one need only look at the Board of Directors of these various charter schools to see where education reform is taking us. Hiawatha Academies, for example, has a board of executives from major corporate entities such as United Health, Best Buy, Standard Health, and U.S. Bank. Similar evidence can be found with dozens of other charters. In some cases, the charter chain headquarters are not even located in Minnesota.

It is time for our elected leaders to put a stop to this attack on public education and re-dedicate themselves to rebuilding and renewing the public schools of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Valerie Rittler is a Minneapolis Public High School teacher and parent of three children in Minneapolis Public Schools.

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  • tim alevizos says:

    March 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

    While the term “education reform” might have had a more benign meaning in the past, it has become the cover for a growing malignancy perpetrated by business interests that want to feed off the public trough at the expense of our neediest students and communities.

    It’s no secret what our school systems need: local control and community-wide support. If we could only give our students and teachers adequate resources, including smaller class sizes and some relief from all the ancillary work that saps our educators’ time and energy from actually teaching, we wouldn’t be in a situation where fast-talking education “reformers” could get any traction.

    Public education is NOT a business. It’s part of the social contract. By turning it into a money-making opportunity for corporate interests whose only allegiance is to their shareholders (and by allowing those interests to demonize educators in order to weaken resistance to the takeover), we’re doing a tremendous disservice to our students, our communities and our nation.

    To see what’s really going on here, just follow the money. And by the way, whenever someone feeds you a line about teachers and teachers unions being the “problem,” be very, very suspicious of their intentions.

  • Teacher says:

    March 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    If anyone is skeptical about just how far the privatizers have infiltrated Minneapolis Public schools look no further than our School Board. Several members have ties to the Charter movement and have made statements during board meetings that are very pro-charter anti Public Schools.(Directors Montserrat and Samatar) They hold up the drill and kill Seed and Harvest Prep academies as models we should follow. (Director Bates)Director Reimnitz, a former Teach for America corps member won the school board seat thanks to an unprecidented amount of out of town corporate cash. Recently, given the opportunity to get speakers to discuss education issues for a Chamber of Commerce event, Reimnits loaded the event with representatives of Charters and other reform groups. Even though the event was hosted at Roosevelt High School, no tour of the classrooms was provided and Teachers and Students were not allowed to participate.  IF the Reformers were really interested in solving the “problems of Public Schools” why keep the main stakeholders (public school students and their teachers) from participating?

    Our Superintendant and oddly enough the Teachers Union are all promoting the increase of Charters, using public money for schools where there is no public input.  Although, with the way the MPLS School Board operates it is hard to beleive they are functioning as mandated by the public who elected them.  I urge all readers to attend Board meetings or watch them on line so you can see how the people we have asked to nurture and support our schools really operate. And I urge you as a commentor above did, Follow the Money!

  • Timothy Meegan says:

    March 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Yeah you guys have the “Colonel” Rick Mills running your schools up there right?  He has a very colorful past here in Chicago, we could tell you some things.  But I’ll keep it professional.

    Rick Mills attended CRPE (Centr for Reform of Public Education)July meeting. Bios.pdf

    Their home page is here:

    Organize now!  These folks are bad news

  • Teacher says:

    March 26, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    @Timothy Meegan

    Rick Mills has already moved on to be Superintendant down in the Tampa area…we are hoping he takes a few people with him…

  • Prefer to be Anonymous says:

    March 29, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for publishing this piece.  I am a teacher for the district.  I have appreciated Mr. Samatar’s latest actions and comments on behalf of our public schools.  I also applaud the fact that he sends his children to Seward, one of our Minneapolis Public Schools. 

    I do hope people start to lift back the veil on the ed reform industry.  I believe they will target the Duluth schools next.

  • J Lindberg says:

    March 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    The legislature needs place a cap on charter schools in this state, before all of our true public schools have disappeared.

  • Aaron Grimm says:

    April 1, 2013 at 9:07 am

    It should be noted, that these “corporate reformers” had us all adopt their language of “rigor, standards, achievement gap, etc.” This plan was executed at the top and we are all to blame for where our current system has gone to (testing, small curriculum…) There is a still a misguided use of the word “charter school” among commenters and the public as it brings to mind a certain kind of school. As a teacher at a progressive charter school in rural Minnesota, I agree with many of the comments posted here against the corporate reformers. Our school was started in direct contrast to making companies money, rather we wanted to get back to what was good for kids and teach them to be connected to the community. Teachers have to model positive behavior to students. The bottom line for me is, teachers in the traditional districts need to fight for “charter like” autonomy, budget control, staffing control, curriculum control, etc. It is time to quit playing defense and see the possibilities because the trojan horse is already inside the educational compound in the Twin Cities.