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Laura Chapman: When Bankers Lead Education “Reform”

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Our brilliant reader Laura Chapman, retired educator, decided to dig deep into the politics of education reform in Minnesota in response to a post about a dubious constitutional amendment sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:

I am not from Minnesota, but this post sent me deep into some policies there. The idea is to frame education as a fundamental right to “quality schools” as “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.”

No. This law is written as if the standard-setting process is a business-as usual-review of existing standards and benchmarks for learning, with periodic revisions. It is not.

Right now, there is a huge controversy over the social studies standards. The battle is about whose histories count and whether conservatives should settle for anything other than patriotism as the major purpose of teaching American history. https://patch.com/minnesota/across-mn/controversy-over-mn-s-social-studies-standards-explained

Students Learning English (ELLs), are unlikely to pass the absurd requirements being proposed by the Federal Reserve (why bankers?) and as a constitutional amendment (why bankers?).

Minnesota has NO academic tests except those in English. According to a 2020 report from the Migration Policy Institute, and the 2015 American Community Survey, at least 193,600 Minnesota residents have children still learning English. All are in harm’s way. The largest foreign-born groups in Minnesota are from Mexico (67,300), Somalia (31,400), India (30,500), Laos including Hmong (23,300), Vietnam (20,200), China excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (c), Ethiopia (19,300), and Thailand including Hmong (16,800). One of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Minnesota is the Karen people, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand. Ojibwe and Dakota are the indigenous languages of Minnesota.

Many of Minnesota’s charter schools are devoted to segregating and strengthening the identities of linguistic/ethnic groups. There are three dual language Spanish-English schools. Eight charter schools are devoted to immersion in these languages/cultures: Chinese, French, German, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. There are at least five Hmong immersion charter schools, and two for Ojibwe immersion. Two charter schools offer ELL education for East African families and one offers education using American Sign Language/English bilingual approach.

Recent reports also show how charter schools are racially segregated. In St Paul, one hundred percent of students at Higher Ground Academy are black or African-American. This percentage is about the same for Minneapolis’s Friendship Academy. In both cities the overall population of black or African-American residents is below twenty percent. By design, many charter schools in Minnesota are segregated schools. Will these schools be subjected to the wishes of the bankers or not?

In 2021, the Minnesota Federal Reserve, having no expertise in education, called in “experts” to make suggestions on a fix for so-called achievement gaps, meaning differences in scores on standardized tests. This “we-can-fix it” program was sponsored by all 12 of the nation’s District Banks in the Federal Reserve System. In other words, what happens in Minnesota may not be limited to Minnesota but extend to the orbit of District Banks in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond (VA), San Francisco, and St Louis,

Among the highly visible “experts” called in for this multi-state program were Geoffrey Canada, president of the well-endowed Harlem Children’s Zone (endowment about $148 million, and sponsor of Promise Academy brand of K-12 charter schools), and CEO Salman Khan, founder of online Khan Academy, and Kahn Academy for Kids. The papers for this program also featured the post-Katrina takeover of New Orleans schools as if exemplary. https://www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2021/feds-racism-and-the-economy-series-explores-racial-inequity-in-the-education-system.

Bankers are clueless about education but they have an agenda certain to harm thousands of students in Minnesota, especially ELL students, and if applicable to charter schools, the many students ill prepared to take a test only available in English.

The last thing we need to have are the nation’s clueless bankers making permanent changes in education based on proposed Minnesota’s model of “quality.”

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