Locked Out! (www.minnpost.com).
by Steve Timmer
Sep 18, 2013, 5:00 PM

A tale of two labor organizations

Several days ago, LeftMN writer Rob Levine suggested bringing “Play for America” in to form a new orchestra to play in the glittery new Orchestra Hall. Rob devotes a lot of time to the study of K-12 education issues, especially as they relate to Minneapolis schools and what he calls the “deform” movement that’s afoot. He made the comment ironically — for among other reasons, there is no “Play for America,” at least not yet. But it got me to thinking.

You know what? There are instructive parallels to the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minneapolis schools. Let’s take the orchestra first.

As most readers know, the orchestra musicians and their union were locked out by the orchestra board about a year ago. Here’s recent photo of the orchestra showing musicians who have departed since the lockout:

missing musicians

There has been a crescendo of criticism of the orchestra board for its heavy-handed tactics and its seeming willingness to destroy the Minnesota Orchestra to save it. Somehow. The criticism has come from many corners of the community: lovers of the arts, civic leaders, orchestra contributors, and other labor organizations.

One civic leader, and a candidate for the post of mayor of Minneapolis, stood on the stage of the Lake Harriet bandshell on Sunday (September 15th) and called on the orchestra board to end the lockout, to thunderous applause. That was, of course, 13th Ward Council Member Betsy Hodges.

It is apparent to people — including apparently Betsy — that when you jerk around the people who play the music, the music will suffer.

Let us turn now to the Minneapolis schools and teachers, keeping the photo above fixed in our minds. Teaching is playing music, too; it’s just a different kind of music. It takes talent, training, and experience, just like playing in an orchestra.

This is in spite of what the education deformers will tell you. They want you to think teachers are just burger flippers with degrees; that it doesn’t matter what the degree is in or whether the flipper has any commitment to stay in teaching. Which fits neatly, frankly, into education franchise system envisioned by the corporate deformers.

But on Monday (September 16th), a Who’s Who of corporate education deformers held a forum on, well, education deform. Several candidates for mayor of Minneapolis — including the aforesaid Betsy Hodges — collided at the door to the room to be the first one in to pledge fealty to the deform agenda. Of course, current council member and candidate Don Samuels — who wants to burn down North High School — made it through first, but the pack was right on his heels.

Really, the whole affair was just a bunch of grasping politicians and would-be politicians, preening fools pontificating on a subject on which they are mostly vastly ignorant, and over which the mayor has no authority, anyway. Other than that, it was useful. [chortle]

It is obvious to the most casual observers — which does not, it seems, includes candidates for mayor of Minneapolis, save for Doug Mann — that the game that’s really afoot is to hive off as big a chunk of public education as possible, capture its revenue (or “revenue stream” as the MBA types like to call it), drive costs into the basement by hiring the low cost flippers, a/k/a Teach for America’s five week wonders, turning them over every couple of years, and make a handsome profit in the process.

But, don’t believe me. Here’s Forbes Magazine:

On Thursday, July 25, dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors gathered in New York to hear about the latest and greatest opportunities to collect a cut of your property taxes. Of course, the promotional material for the Capital Roundtable’s conference on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies” didn’t put it in such crass terms, but that’s what’s going on.

Charter schools are booming. “There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children,” according to Reuters.

Charters have a limited admissions policy, and the applications can be as complex as those at private schools. But the parents don’t pay tuition; support comes directly from the school district in which the charter is located.   They’re also lucrative, attracting players like the specialty real estate investment trust EPR Properties (EPR). Charter schools are in the firm’s $3 billion portfolio along with retail space and movie megaplexes.

And also according to Forbes, it isn’t only a titanic money grab, it is a useless one educationally:

Too bad the kids in charter schools don’t learn any better than those in plain-vanilla public schools. Stanford University crunched test data from 26 states. About a quarter of charters delivered better reading scores, but more than half produced no improvement, and 19% had worse results. In math, 29% of the charters delivered better math scores, while 40% showed no difference, and 31% fared worse.

Unimpressive, especially when you consider charter schools can pick and choose their students — weeding out autistic kids, for example, or those whose first language isn’t English. Charter schools in the District of Columbia are expelling students for discipline problems at 28 times the rate of the district’s traditional public schools — where those “problem kids” are destined to return.

This, kids, is how Your Mayoral Candidates want to spend your property tax dollars.

But let’s return to the missing musicians for a moment; if you defame, brutalize, and mistreat people long enough, they leave. The experienced teachers — the good ones — will leave, too, in fact, they already are, in droves. What on earth would make you want to teach in a district with a mayor who acted like a drunken yob lobbing insults and worse at the opposing team?

The deformers talk about “putting children first.” But it’s really “no asset stripper left behind.” And it is not about kids: it’s about whatever marketing hooey the parents can be sold in order to get them to destroy probably the most important local public institution. Remarkable, really.

What is the first question that young prospective home buyers with kids ask, even before they ask about the wet basement? Where’s the public school? Is the system good? A strong public school system is probably the best insurance of your home’s value, kids. Bringing young people into a community, a church, or a political party is the key to its renewal. You’d think the rummies running for mayor would understand that. But instead of standing behind the schools and wanting to build them up, they want to burn them down.

So follow the Pied Pipers to McSchool-land if you want, but believe me, you won’t like it there.

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