Jeff Kolnick on “The Achievement Gap”

images-2Prof. Jeff Kolnick: Reporting from Minnesota

“The Achievement Gap Cannot Be Resolved by Isolating It”

All of us wish Mayor R.T. Rybak the best as he prepares to begin his new job tackling Minnesota’s achievement gap, by some measures the worst in the nation.

According to the Star Tribune, “Federal data indicate that Minnesota has one of the largest education achievement disparities in the nation. Most recently the state ranked dead last in four-year graduation rates for Latino and American Indian students, second to last for African-American students, and near the bottom for low-income students overall.”

We often talk about the “achievement gap” as if it were an isolated phenomenon. The solutions too often focus on the public schools alone. Reformers target teachers, or administrators, or the teacher unions, or the need for more charter schools, or the necessity for more and better testing, or the pressing need for tablet computers in every classroom. Rarely do Minnesotans focus on racism and discrimination.

The wider picture: discrimination and racism

The achievement gap cannot be resolved by isolating it. Based on recent reports, Minnesota ranks near the bottom in several other critical areas. Discrimination and racism are baked into Minnesota’s culture, and we are coasting on a reputation for racial justice that was established by Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1940s. For Mayor Rybak to succeed he will have to widen his vision to include an open assault on the icy cold racism that characterizes Minnesota.

Consider the facts:

Minnesota is at or near the bottom of the rankings as regards the “employment gap.”

  • Recently MPR reported that, “the Twin Cities region has one of the country’s widest racial gaps in employment, according to the Economic Policy Institute.”
  • In 2010 the same institute reported that, “Looking at the unemployment ratios with whites for Hispanics and African Americans … the Minneapolis metropolitan area stands out as having the worst relative disparity. The Minneapolis metropolitan area has a black-white unemployment ratio of 3.1 to 1. This means that blacks are 3.1 times as likely to be unemployed as whites. Additionally, the black-white difference in unemployment is almost 14 percentage points.”

Minnesota has one of the worst “health care disparity gaps.”

Minneapolis has an exceptionally high disparity in arrests rates for marijuana possession.

  • The Star Tribune reported that, “while nationally blacks are 3.73 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, in Hennepin County they are 9.1 times more likely to be arrested. Even more disturbing, however, is that in Minneapolis blacks are 11.25 times more likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Moreover, the racial disparity increased by 112 percent between 2000 and 2010.”

Though we may not like to admit it, Minnesota is a racist state. Indeed, depending on how you count the data, we may be the most racist state in the union.

stockvault-stranger-in-black114248

Madzindia’s “Stranger in Black”

Part of a larger struggle

Now before I am accused of opposition to solving the achievement gap or opposing all forms of educational reform, let me say that I am only pointing out that to solve the achievement gap we need to admit that it is part of a larger struggle against racism that dramatically impacts our educational systems, our employment picture, our health care system, and our public safety institutions.

Before they are six years old, young people of color enter educational systems that reflect Minnesota’s frozen style of racism. Racism permeates President Barack Obama’s Department of Education. It is present at the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Education, and on our school boards. It is there among our teachers and administrators. It infects every level of the higher-education institutions that train our teachers.

Once they complete their education, they graduate into a state that rejects them and provides too few openings for joining the middle class. They experience a Minnesota that discriminates against men and women of color for jobs and health care and they live every day with police and sheriff departments that racially profile with impunity.

To solve the achievement gap, Mayor Rybak and his allies need to confront and root out racism and discrimination in the same forthright ways that Hubert Humphrey did in the 1940 and 1950s. Without this commitment, we can open as many charter schools as we want, we can bust the teacher’s union and fire all the teachers, we can revamp the systems of teacher training and collect as much data as we want, and we will still be left with one big gap — the racism gap.

Read the data — and confront racism

It is time for white liberals to look themselves in the eyes and stop blaming others for the problems that confront Minnesota’s communities of color. It is time for white liberals to stop dreaming up ways for communities of color overcome “their gaps.”

It is time for white liberals to get their own house in order and to confront racism where it is and when they see it. And if they cannot seem to find any to confront, they need to shake off their “Minnesota Nice” and wake up and read the data. And then they need to do something about it.

Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Reposted from Minn Post with permission of the author


“MnSCU faculty distraught about system’s ‘bold shift’ to Soviet-style bureaucracy” (Monte Bute)

bureaucracy

    by Teri Shaffer Yamada, CSU Long Beach

(Thanks to Monte Bute, Sociology professor at  Metro State University,  for forwarding information  on this  issue.)

In fall  2012, Chancellor Rosenstone of the  Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, with its 54-campus system, declared that it must become more “strategic” and confront “’wicked questions’ around the future of higher education and the system itself.”  (1) He charged a new 46-member Task Force, split into three workgroups, to develop a ten-year strategic plan incorporating its vision of three broad topics—  the education, the workforce, and the system of the future— that would provide “the most cost-effective, highest value education” to all Minnesotans.

In June 2013, his task force described their 35-page, first-draft report of “Charting the Future” as a  “bold shift” for the MnSCU system.  Along with the merging of collective bargaining units, it advocated “campus and center mergers, relocating academic  programs and offering a single portal to the system’s online offerings.” This initial draft was open for comments and review over the subsequent four months.  The second draft, with a set of six recommended strategic priorities,  has just been published, with the report to be finalized prior to the November 2013 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

In response to the latest draft,   the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), a faculty union representing 4,000 faculty members at seven Minnesota state universities, released this comment: “We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decision making by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom.” The IFO’s key criticisms are that the plan could squeeze out innovation on campuses and emphasize job-training programs at the expense of academic ones: “Student program choices should not be limited to the programs supported by the business community.” (2)  See their complete comments below.

The IFO critique is denied by the administration, which emphasizes that collaboration is a core value of the 10-year plan.

A key to understanding this difference of perspective between the IFO and administration is the process itself.  Chancellor Rosenstone’s 46-member task force had a membership of 14-17 people per workgroup: typically two faculty, two students and two staff representatives, with approximately 50-60% of the remaining membership  the “administrative cohort’”(campus presidents, deans, trustees and Chancellor’s Fellows).  Administrators headed all three  work groups.

Were the six non-administrative representatives on a work group to agree on specific recommendations, they could still be outvoted by the administrative cohort. The lack of real power for faculty representation within this organizational structure is familiar to those of us who have served on university task forces with similar membership composition.  It simply provides a cover story for faculty participation.

The Catch-22 for a faculty representative on this type of structured task force is the genuine desire to make a difference.  If one faculty member refuses to serve, another will be appointed anyway.  Yet it is unlikely that one faculty opinion will sway the rest of the group given its composition.  Ironically, a faculty representative’s thoughtful ideas ultimately may be redirected to a means of oppressing fellow faculty rather than serving their interests.

Nancy Black, union president of IFO and a faculty representative on the “Education of the Future” workgroup, states that the June report took her by surprise: “We had what I would term, euphemistically, lively discussions,” she said, but her group did not vote on any of the recommendations. She said she did not see the final draft until it was made public June 19.    She also reports that faculty were “enraged at me for being a part of it.”  The truth  is  Nancy Black was never  “part of it”  since she was excluded from the smaller core of decision makers within her work group.  They are the ones who formed the first rough draft and circulated it among themselves for comment before forwarding it to whomever put the entire report together.

The game was rigged from the beginning, with the Chancellor’s questions that skew the outcome and the Task Force composition.  Given these two factors, the recommendations naturally reflect administrative interests.   These interests are currently to provide efficiencies that include weakening faculty power over the curriculum,  shared governance structures,  and faculty unions —that is shifting more control to the administration in a top-down organizational structure.    This efficiency objective incorporates the consolidation and elimination of programs and colleges—essentially the elimination of faculty and staff jobs— and the shrinking of knowledge or its elimination through the privileging of “professional” degrees.

The following statements are from the 2009 report “Bridging the Skills Gap”  found in the Task Force’s bibliography, a report we infer was used to shape their recommendations:

When jobs are created again, actual hiring patterns will vary by industry and by geography, but one pattern is already clear according to Lisa Belkin in an October 2009 New York Times article. Many of the low-skill, low-wage jobs lost during the current recession were held by men. Many of the jobs that will be created during the recovery will be filled by women because they cost less to hire—women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man—and because they are concentrated in industries, such as healthcare and education, that are expected to grow….

Professional and related occupations will be one of the two fastest-growing and will add the most new jobs. Almost three-quarters of job growth will come from three occupations: computer and math occupations; healthcare practitioners and technical occupations; and education, training, and library occupations…. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services will grow 78 percent.  According to BLS, “demand for these services will be spurred by the increased use of new technology and computer software and the growing complexity of business.” (p. 9)

Through the Task Force’s  vision of efficiency, its 10-year plan eliminates choice and diversity of knowledge, both faculty values.   Administrative vision is also very costly to implement.  Just one item, the consolidation of online courses from 54 campuses into one portal, may require ten’s of millions of dollars in course redesign and a costly private provider for the unifying learning management system (LMS) or platform that will be required to link campuses or establish a supra structure over them.  There is no cost-benefit analysis attached to this report.  And we have yet to see how many costly administrators are projected to be eliminated with this bold vision.

(1)  The Chancellor’s questions shape the vision itself: These questions focus heavily on e-learning, technology, and workplace solutions responsive to business and industry as well as access and cost-saving efficiencies.

(2) IFL Board Response to “Charting the Future”   is available here.

The IFO Board Response to Charting the Future (CTF)

The IFO strongly supports Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ (MnSCU) strategic framework:

a. b. c.

Ensure access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans; Be the partner of choice to meet Minnesota’s workforce and community needs; Deliver to students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value/most affordable option.

However, the IFO rejects the strategic recommendations of Charting the Future:

1. Charting the Future promotes centralization—a goal the IFO fundamentally rejects. According to CTF: “Our system values institutional autonomy and decentralization…. This culture is out of sync in a world where collaboration and synergy are needed….” (CTF:9). The CTF document is filled with proposals that promote centralization—for example, a statewide academic planning and program review process; a statewide facilities master plan; a statewide certification of competency based award of credit; a comprehensive statewide e-strategy; and continuing education and customized training through statewide collaboration.

Instead, student and community needs are best achieved through competitive and highly autonomous institutions that can quickly and nimbly change to meet local and regional needs. We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decisions made by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom. Multi-layered, centralized bureaucracies tend to be self-perpetuating, and consume financial resources that could be better spent on student learning.

2. CTF fails to address the most pressing higher education issues on the minds of students, their families, and the legislators who represent them: student debt and the affordability of higher education. MnSCU sought a 3% tuition increase in 2013, a goal the IFO successfully opposed during the 2013 legislative session. In CTF, MnSCU pays lip service to affordability, without supporting policies to accomplish it. IFO supports efforts to reduce the cost of higher education, which is best accomplished through local control.

3. The MnSCU state universities have been a critical socio-economic asset for over one hundred years. The liberal arts university promotes the development and practice of analytical and critical thinking skills. The state universities provide an affordable and accessible four-year education for all Minnesotans, representing diverse and underserved communities and groups throughout the state. CTF does not sufficiently

recognize or value the long-established universities, and the communities within which they are located, particularly in Greater Minnesota.

4. Academic offerings should be driven by the demands of students and their families—not the demands of the business community. Businesses should fill their workforce needs by offering livable wages and benefits, quality in-house training, and desirable working conditions to attract the best employees. If employers offer attractive wages, benefits and working conditions, students will invest in the education necessary to obtain those jobs. Diverse education for a diverse community of employers strengthens Minnesota.

Finally, the IFO urges Chancellor Rosenstone and the MnSCU Board of Trustees to reject the CTF’s recommendations—including statewide academic planning and union consolidation that simply increase bureaucracy and centralization—and instead promote a vision for the future that provides student-driven choices for all Minnesotans. The IFO encourages legislators and Governor Dayton to oppose administrative strategies that lead to larger, costlier, and more centralized management structures. Instead, Minnesota leaders should continue to support efforts to work with faculty to ensure access to an extraordinary and affordable education for all Minnesotans. Far from resisting change, state university faculty are on the front lines of educational innovation, helping to ensure students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value and most affordable option for higher education.


Colleges, universities should show less caution, more courage and challenges (Jeff Kolnick)

img_0997Jeff  Kolnick’s thoughtful comments below, questioning the quality and courage of administrative leadership in our public institutions, echo a number of other recent media commentaries and publications that problematize this issue.  Where have all the creative, courageous, and competent administrative leaders gone?   Or is this a new form of academic nostalgia?  Bringing clarity to this question   is Diane Ravitch’s cautionary lecture on the  ‘fetish of measurement’ overtaking the public higher education sector and the need for courageous administrators to rethink the “obsession with data let loose on the land.” This obsession is enhanced by President Obama’s recent campaign for a type of NCLB accountability system tagged to universities receiving federal aid; such aid abuse can be solved by other means.    There is also Serena Golden’s intriguing new publication Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education.As we chuckle at the zombie meme we simultaneously note the dead zone of communication that often seems to exist between higher level administrators and their worker faculty on our campuses.  Perhaps we have entered a post-MOOC media mania moment, where some very serious issues like the real and immediate need for strong and principled academic leadership at this moment in the shifting sands of higher education history can find some space in our ed journalists’ tweets and blog musings.     Teri Yamada

Colleges, universities should show less caution, more courage and challenges

Prof. Jeff Kolnick (Southwest Minnesota State University), Aug. 21, 2013

The fall semester is an exciting time to be a college professor. The spring semester has its charms with the promise of summer and the thrill of graduation, but for me, the start of the school year is what keeps me coming back for more. My scholarly work over the summer months pays off immediately in the changes that appear on my syllabi. My batteries are recharged by a blessed absence from office politics and paperwork. And the best part is I get to encounter a new class of college students. This year many of these newcomers will be from the high-school class of 2013.

The class of 2013 is an important group of young people. Many of them would have started their academic journey in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency and entered first grade under No Child Left Behind. They also began the first grade around the time of the Sept. 11th attacks. For this class of young people, their academic minds have been shaped by a steady diet of high-stakes standardized tests, and their civic consciousness has been molded by a nation continuously at war.

What kind of colleges and universities will these students enter? While reading the current issue of Harper’s Magazine I discovered Harry Lewis, a distinguished professor of computer science at Harvard and the former dean of Harvard College. To give you a sense of Lewis’ thinking on the current state of higher education, I share this with you:

“One of the reasons that moral courage is lacking in the [United States] is that it is lacking in universities. As institutions, they now operate much more like ordinary corporations, fearful of bad publicity, eager to stay on good terms with the government, and focused on their bottom lines, than as boiling cauldrons of unconventional ideas sorted out through a process of disputation, debate, and occasional dramatic gestures.”

More cautious, increasingly conservative

I teach at Southwest Minnesota State University, not at Harvard. And at SMSU, disputation and debate are common, though the dramatic gesture has retreated largely to the theater building! But Lewis was thinking institutionally and not about individual classes or particular events on campus. And I think he is right. I have been around colleges and universities since 1977, and in that time the institutions have become cautious.

kolnick portrait

Jeff Kolnic
What has changed, I think, is that the austerity agenda has starved them of money. As the conservative hostility to all things “public” (including idea of a public good) has settled in as the new normal, universities have entered into a life-and-death competition for students (customers?) that has caused them to wither from the top.

Education is now seen as a personal investment, not a public good. Scarce dollars cause colleges to chase money from billionaire philanthropists who push free-market solutions to every conceivable problem. University leaders feel the need to appeal to increasingly conservative state legislators who despise government.

University governing boards, chancellors, presidents, provosts, deans and chairs (and, sadly, even most faculty) are afraid to challenge the conservative orthodoxy because they desperately want to save what is left of higher education. Colleges and universities, as institutions, used to challenge authority with facts and reason. This is less common today and stems, I believe, from the austerity agenda of the super rich.

Mentor ‘shocked one into thinking’

Eleanor Roosevelt once said of her mentor and favorite teacher, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, that she “shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial.” It is this chance to shock students into thinking, into realizing the power of their own minds and ideas, that causes me to return each fall semester.

If ever there was a class of students that needed to be shocked into thinking, it is the class of 2013. After 12 years of No Child Left Behind, too many of them have been numbed into believing that filling in bubbles can measure intelligence. Never having known a conscious moment of peace, some of them might think that war is normal.

What they need from a college is a boiling cauldron of unconventional ideas that are tested through rigorous debate and civil discourse. I fear that they will find instead institutions that prepare them only for work and not to think or, when necessary, to challenge stale orthodoxy.

Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.  This blog entry, originally posted  on MINNPOST on August 21, 2013  is reposted here with permission of the author.


Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Southwest Minnesota State University

Prof. Kolnick mentions California in his blog below.  The CSU has the sad distinction of making the U.S. Department of Education’s list of the top 32 public, 4-year universities in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007-2010 as reported in SFGate: “Now, the U.S. Department of Education has premiered a database on its web-site comparing college costs of all kinds. Of 32 public, four-year schools in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007 to 2010, 22 are CSUs, with tuition rising 35 percent at Humboldt State at the low end, to 47 percent at San Diego State.”  This year, if the budget situation in California does not improve, the CSU will face restructuring that could destroy the integrity of our institutions.   ty

 

Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Jeff Kolnick

                                                   Guest blog by Jeff Kolnick, professor of History, Southwest Minnesota State University

Recent reports have indicated that accumulated student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion and is greater than the nation’s combined credit-card debt.  In response to this bad news, we hear the usual: We are broke and must adapt to the new normal of diminishing resources and austerity.

With the Legislature now in session, we have a chance to reverse course on what is a profound generational betrayal of our young people. I refuse to believe that “we” are broke or that we are living in a period of diminished resources. I am forced to turn to the facts rather than the fantasy that passes for conventional wisdom these days.

America is a richer nation now than it was when I was an undergraduate, 1977-1982. Back in those days, another period of recession and high unemployment (remember stagflation?) my college tuition was much lower. I am from California and began my career at Fullerton Community College, where tuition was free.

Did he say free? Yes, free. I paid absolutely nothing for three years of excellent education with outstanding faculty. You can adjust for inflation all you want, but free is free.

After I transferred to UCLA, I paid a whopping $1,657 for two years of quality education. Imagine, a BA degree awarded from an elite university for less than $1,700. 

Minnesota used to have low tuition too
But that’s California, you say – a state run by hippies. Well, Minnesota also used to have low tuition. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, between 1993 and 2009, a period when per-capita income in Minnesota increased from $22,302 to $42,549, tuition at the University of Minnesota went from $3,421 to $10,756. At State Universities the increase was from $2,521 to $6,373, and at two-year schools the increase was from $1,950 to $4,548. These increases were during a time when the wealth of Minnesota nearly doubled.

But heck, that was Minnesota. Was America a richer nation when I went to college? Were we somehow less broke? Of course not. As the chart below indicates, we were a poorer nation by every measure in 1980 than we are now. In 1980, in constant dollars, our per capita GDP was $25,640 and today it is $42,204. Looked at another way, the United States is more than twice as rich today as we were in 1970.

Year Real GDP
(millions of 2005 dollars)
Real GDP per capita
(year 2005 dollars)
1970 4,269,900 20,819.74
1975 4,879,500 22,592.27
1980 5,839,000 25,640.46
1985 6,849,300 28,717.52
1990 8,033,900 32,112.35
1995 9,093,700 34,111.44
2000 11,226,000 39,749.59
2005 12,623,000 42,612.30
2010 13,088,000 42,204.92

So I ask you, where are the diminished resources? Where is this broke nation? To find out who is broke you can visit our state colleges and universities, where students are paying super high tuition because my generation has decided to slam the door shut on the very opportunity that allowed me to become an educated citizen.

Today, Minnesota state policy (Minnesota Statutes 136F.01) is that the state will fund 67 percent of the cost of a college education. In fact we are paying only about 30 percent of the cost of a college education, and students are paying the remaining 70 percent. MnSCU institutions are incredibly efficient. MnSCU appropriations for this biennium are the same in real dollars as they were in 1999; we are educating many tens of thousands more students, and the total cost of educating a student per capita has remained roughly the same.

Reneging on commitment started with Pawlenty
The state’s decision to renege on its commitment to paying two-thirds of the cost of a public education began under the Pawlenty administration. As recently as 2002, the state honored the law and only began its generational betrayal under the former governor, a man who, like me,needed and used public higher education to jumpstart his career. [PDF, page 45]

It is time to refute the lie that we are broke! WE are not broke! Some of us are broke, some of us are in debt and going deeper into debt. But the United States is a richer nation now than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The trouble is that all of the money has gone to the top 5 percent and those at the top are not as generous today as they were 30 years ago when I got a world-class education for $1,657.

America has the money to rebuild its infrastructure and educate its citizens. In 1955, when we built the interstate highway system and expanded opportunity in public higher education, per capita GDP was $15,128.12,not the $42,204 it was in 2010. In those days we acted like a nation that looked out for one another, and we prospered together. Today we act more like a pack of wolves, except that wolves do not eat their young.

Reposted from MinnPost.Com (Tues, Jan 24, 2012) with permission of the author .