Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

5/13/2005

All Good things....

It is with some wistfulness that I announce the end of the MinnBEST web log.

I will always remember this last 18 months as one of the most exciting times of my life. During last year’s legislative session, I slept about 4 hours a night and gained 20 pounds, but it was worth it. Through hard work, amazing organization and great allies, we won the battles. I realized a lot about myself beyond how much little sleep I need. This fight has made me an even better teacher and citizen. It moved me from advocating only for my students, to an advocate for them, my profession (calling) and discipline.

This has never been a blog per se. Good blogs are conversations. I only began the blog format as a no-cost way to communicate with the coalition that didn’t clog up the email box. I never aspired to be a “Blogger” nor am I willing to spend the time to get really good at it.

There are still battles to fight as the old alliances have largely been absorbed into Parents United. As a non-partisan coalition, Parents United has done a marvelous job and I cannot begin to express my gratitude, admiration and awe of how hard they work and how much they accomplish. Through Parents United for Public Schools, the voices of ordinary Minnesotans will be amplified above the shriek of those who wish to destroy our schools.

It is not without trepidation that I move from non-partisan issue advocate to partisan hack, but the time is right and the need is great. The blog is at a crossroads. Either step up and become a good blogger, or get out. If I were to continue, I would commit to making this blog truly excellent, but there are other projects that will have a larger impact. Also, on this blog, I feel compelled to speak only for the coalition and the coalition is moving to other projects. So, since I cannot maintain this blog and do all that needs to be done, the blog has to go. I will be reading and commenting on others, but now free of speaking for the coalition.

Even the Maple River Coalition has moved on. They are now fighting against International Baccalaureate, a program that I find more hype than substance, but it is amusing to see the tortured reasoning of the MRC calling it Anti-Christian.

They are also stepping up the fight against NCLB. I hope they succeed!

I will leave the blog up through the summer to get all the articles safely stored away. The regular site http://www.minnbest.org/ will stay up until Spring 2006.

I want to thank some people who have inspired and/or challenged me in this odyssey.

D- The first meeting in the Union hall. “Write a five minute speech!” We brought them to their feet in St. Paul. Starting from scratch on the standards. You are awesome!

Paul- The “well funded” website and the tireless work. 5 AM and looking for breakfast to celebrate.

Carrie- If she hadn’t thrown that pencil, I would not have met a true master teacher. Your talent is only rivaled by your skills in debate and organization.

Amy- Uber-Researcher! You are going to make a great lawyer. A fantastic Law professor?

W and D-working under the radar and teaching me so much. Your heroism is an inspiration.

The other members of the Vast Coalition- To work with a group that is so talented, smart and savvy is an incredible privilege.

Some on the other side have been helpful and even gracious (sometimes).

Matt Abe, the scholar. I think our kids would get along well. I was inspired by the story of your father and I appreciate your openness in search of what is and may be true. It was from your site I pushed the button that made me a blogger.

King Banion – while there is little that we agree on and he did ban me for a while, from him I learned blogger etiquette and what fisking is. He is ironically challenged, but he is a decent writer and has become more moderate this year (that last part will not make him happy).

Michael L. Boucher Jr.

Previously MinnBEST website manager

One last Post

From: Joel (last name withheld)
To: Michael Boucher
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2005 11:37 AM
Subject: Bachmann Smear Article

Mr. Boucher,

I’m one of the few conservatives that currently reside in Minneapolis. First of all…I’m not surprised that the Star Tribune (aka the Red Press) jumped on putting your commentary as the top article on page A17.

First off, have you ever met or spoken to Michele Bachman? I’m guessing you haven’t. Instead of taking pot shots at her in a clearly left leaning news paper, why not opt for a civil discussion of your concerns. The problem here is that she is calling all the clearly left biased members of today’s educational institutions to the fairness table.

I’m a taxpayer whose hard earned dollars go toward Minneapolis schools. Teachers are paid to teach…not to sculpt their lessons around their social bias. If you’re a privately funded school or college then you have the right to teach whatever curriculum you see fit.

as one family who helps fund our public schools, I simply would like to see equal time given to both points of view. I’m not pushing for my views over your views…just equal amounts of information given on both. ; then let the students think for themselves.

80% of academia voted Kerry last fall nationwide…why shouldn’t those with more conservative concerns about how our children are being taught ask for fairness in what they’re learning? Our children are being taught how to slip a condom on a cucumber instead of abstinence being the best source of birth control. We are more concerned in what’s in their school lunches than what’s coming out of their mouths.

Perhaps your blood is running cold because finally the academic microscope is becoming more focused on the liberal bias of our teaching institutions and senator Bachman’s scrape book may include the name of: Michael L. Boucher Jr. when it is published.

Teaching skills differ greatly from teaching agenda or ideology. I have no doubt your teaching skills are up to par with those of your academic peers, I am simply challenging you and your teaching counterparts to prepare your lessons with equal points of view and let your students decide where the truth lies.

Sincerely,

Joel (last name withheld to protect Privacy)


Hi Joel. Nice to hear from you.

I want to put your mind at ease that I am not a bad person or an America Hater.

It is important that in your interactions with people that if you are not sure about something that you simply ask. If you get no answer, then guess.

I have talked with Senator Bachmann a few times. We agree on a few things, like NCLB, but disagree on most. I find her to be a mostly pleasant person and a moral person.

A "scrapbook" by a public official is not an appropriate use of her office. To take innuendo and hearsay and use that as evidence in whatever manner is simply unethical behavior. There are private individuals doing this work already like Horowitz. I find that reprehensible, but not unethical.

As far as the fairness table goes. Lets pretend that the roles were reversed and some teachers had your level of conviction on your issues. Would you automatically assume that they were so unprofessional as to demand lockstep conformity to those values in a public arena? Of course not.

I am sure you have a job and do not spend your days trying to convince your coworkers of your points of view. You have a job to do, so do teachers. The evidence states clearly that we do a very good job.

As far as teaching ideology, good teachers in Social Studies teach all kinds of ideologies. Everything from the Book of the Dead to the Code of Hamurabi to Pericles' funeral oration to the Bagavad Gita to John C. Calhoun to Martin Luther King. Democracy is an ideology. We carry the republic as a concept in our heads and we have written some words on paper. All we have between us and anarchy is our ideas, those words, and our reason.

Teachers, like every profession, are humans. Some are more talented than others but even the most minimally talented teacher is there to make life better for kids. The truth is, if there is a lot of sculpting going on in schools, we are not doing a very good job of it. If everyone who went to a public school was so indoctrinated to vote for Kerry, why isn't he the President? The answer is simple. Indoctrination is not a problem in Public Schools or Universities.

Yes there are incidents. There have always been incidents. Perhaps you are old enough to remember the Vietnam war. I don't remember much of what was going on as I was pretty young. But I have read there were plenty of incidents of conservative bias in schools. How well did that work? Not very well. Students rose up against that and demanded an end to the war. Many times it was the students who changed the minds of their teachers. Incidents are just that. They should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, not smearing an entire profession of hardworking and selfless individuals who spend their professional lives improving the lives of other people's children.

I have no doubt my name will be in big red letters in Sen. Bachmann's book. But no, I am not afraid. We live in a great country and the Constitution and laws are there to protect me from the government. I have faith they will do that. I also have faith in the people of Minnesota. We will survive this crucible and in the end we will reject extremism, vile hatred and invective.

I understand that you care about your children and want what is best for them. You want them to have your values and strengths. The best way to make sure that happens is to continue to provide them with a loving home, a quiet place to do their homework and continue to support and encourage them in all their safe endeavors, even if you are dubious about them. Encourage them to expand their horizons safely and guide them on the right path. If everyone did that, we would live in an even greater state.

Thanks for writing. Have a great day.
Michael

5/12/2005

Another parent speaks out

Posted on Thu, May. 12, 2005

Is adequacy really the goal we want for Minnesota schools?



I am ever so grateful to have teenagers living at my house.

I know, I know, you're thinking I'm certifiable.

The real reason I'm grateful is that having teens means, as a family, we are crawling closer to the end of direct involvement with the Minnesota K-12 school system.

I feel my children have received excellent educations in Minnesota public schools.

But their achievements are made more remarkable by the fact that over these past 13 years, they've navigated a rocky path through a system that is increasingly underfunded at both state and federal levels — even as more costly accountability measures are demanded by all levels of government. These same years saw a dramatic rise in English language learners, students from single-parent families, and students from economically challenged homes — all huge and costly challenges for educators. The trail is steep and growing steeper.

When my children were small I used to buy their pants a little too big, because I knew they'd grow into them (and, amazingly, they always did). One day my daughter would come to me and say, "There's no wiggle room left." And that's how I knew when to buy a new pair. Recently my daughter mouthed those words again, and it brought a smile to my face, except this time she wasn't talking about her pants. Instead, she was browsing the list of budget cuts initiated by the school board in our district, ISD 834 in Stillwater. Teachers (some tenured) are being laid off. All media specialists (librarians) will be gone next year, supply budgets will be cut (again), new curriculum and books scheduled for purchase (science texts in use date to the '80s) will be delayed indefinitely. Cuts on top of cuts made over the past 10 years tell the story: There is no wiggle room.

In 1993 there were 126 faculty members for 1,770 students at Stillwater High School. In 2005 there are 96 faculty for 2,400 students. This high school will "take the hit" again next year by firing more teachers and reducing elective offerings. Class sizes will rise to more than 40 in some cases.

This same story, or some version of it, is being played out in public schools across the state. Meanwhile, our state legislators discuss the definition of an "adequate" or "basic" education. And I wonder, how far do we cut to get to "adequate"? Am I living in a parallel universe? Somehow this is not the Minnesota I know.

Our family places a high priority on education, and, hard as it is to believe, we've encouraged our children to be more than "adequate." Consistently their teachers and school administrators tell them they must strive for more than "adequate." Indeed, "adequate" and "basic" were fine back when I graduated from high school, because there was a factory in town that paid a living wage. Heck, it even provided a few benefits, enough for a family to live modestly. No more.

Lately I wonder about the values of my own generation — the baby boomers. Sadly, our "no new taxes" mantra leaves no wiggle room — no space for librarians or teachers or bold new programs to improve our communities.

And then I feel thankful to have teens. I see my friends who have children in elementary school and I wonder. I worry about how much harder it will be for them to be advocates for their children in a system with ever-decreasing resources. And I wonder, and I worry, about our shrinking community-mindedness in Minnesota.

We sorely need some wiggle room.


Murray, a 2005 Pioneer Press community columnist, is a parent volunteer for District 834, participating on communications teams at the school and district levels. She is also the Schools for Energy Efficiency volunteer coordinator at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo and a member of Stillwater Schools Take Action Network. Email her at rmmurray@mac.com.