The next story Sarah needs to write is about Duluth’s parochial schools. I’ve been too busy to check but I’ve heard the Catholic schools (all elementary) are doing quite well. Jeff Schiltz, the guy who sold the Red Plan to the School Board, transferred his Piedmont kids from Hermantown’s public schools back to Duluth when he realized folks might start complaining. He transferred them to Duluth’s parochial schools.

The Story Sarah wrote today is about Duluth’s Charter schools. Its too big a topic for a blog post. I was the most reluctant member of the School Board that brought in Edison but once it was established its most vigorous supporter.

All the debate about whether Edison does a better or worse job educating children than Duluth’s ISD 709 schools misses the point. When Frank Wanner, the DFT President, argues about test scores he’s debating on the No Child Left Behind playing field and Frank hates NCLB.

There’s a simpler explanation for Edison’s success than its lukewarm test results. People like neighborhood schools. Edison draws from all of Duluth but its run like smaller schools of the past – on a human scale. Frank Wanner was a member of the Citizen’s Committee that signed off on the Red Plan with its mega schools which is now driving people out of Duluth. He didn’t attend many meetings. He just signed off on the Dixon extravaganza.

My education hero was a guy named Al Shanker. He was once Frank’s fearless leader a crusty old NYC union President and head of the American Federation of Teachers. Its too bad Frank never really paid attention to what Shanker said. Instead, Frank negotiated the Duluth Schools into a managerial nightmare where they couldn’t assign teachers according to the District’s needs but had to do it according to the teacher’s comfort.

Our HR person showed me the thick rules that made it impossible for our District to be consumer friendly when I got on the School Board. What kind of rules?

When I began teaching years ago teachers grumbled about having to watch over study halls, huge holding pens often held in lunch rooms, where less motivated kids cooled their heels for a part of the school day if they didn’t sign up for the maximum number of classes available to them. Overseeing a cattle herd is a job for a drudge – or so teacher reasoning went. Having someone else do it is one of many things that got written into the contract.

The more teachers put themselves at a distance from students the less student friendly our schools became. It left room for the Charters to excel even if they didn’t innovate a single thing.

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