Thursday, March 02, 2006

More professional educator news!

Katherine Kersten at the Wall Street Journal astounds with a story about Minneapolis public schools:
Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.
Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: "Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world." Mr. King's advice? "The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else."

They can do so because of the state's longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.
According to the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, Minneapolis charter school enrollment is 91% minority and 84% low-income, while district enrollment is 72% minority and 67% low-income. Joe Nathan, the center's director, says that parents want strong academic programs, but also seek smaller schools and a stable teaching staff highly responsive to student needs. Charter schools offer many options. Some cater to particular ethnic communities like the Hmong or Somali; others offer "back to basics" instruction or specialize in arts or career preparation. At Harvest Preparatory School, a K-6 school that is 99% black and two-thirds low income, students wear uniforms, focus on character, and achieve substantially higher test scores than district schools with similar demographics.

Since the state doles out funds on a per-pupil basis, the student exodus has hit the district's pocketbook hard. The loss of students has contributed to falling budgets, shuttered classrooms and deep staff cuts, and a district survey suggests more trouble ahead. Black parents in 2003 gave the Minneapolis school system significantly more negative ratings than other parents, the two major beefs being poor quality academic programs and lack of discipline.
The school board has promised to address parent concerns, but few observers expect real reform. Minneapolis is a one-party town, dominated by Democrats, and is currently reeling from leadership shake-ups that have resulted in three superintendents in the last few years. The district has handled budget cutbacks and school closings ineptly, leading some parents to joke bitterly about its tendency to penalize success and reward failure.
Black leaders like Louis King have had enough. He has a message for the school board: "You'll have to make big changes to get us back." He says the district needs a board that views families as customers and understands that competition has unalterably changed the rules of the game. "I'm a strong believer in public education," says Mr. King. "But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs."
The bad news is that the thugs at the teachers' union will undoubtedly issue a fatwa on Ms. Kersten. The good news is that maybe we can look forward to the day when folks like Moonbat Bennish can get back to their true calling of asking whether you would care for fries.