Education Summit leaves teachers, parents on the outside looking in

Jenny Warner, a parent of two students in the Minneapolis Public Schools, joins the demonstration outside the Education Summit.

Jenny Warner, a parent of two students in the Minneapolis Public Schools, joins the demonstration outside the Education Summit.

Parents, students and other activists demonstrated this morning outside a hotel downtown St. Paul, site of a business-backed conference on education reform that featured Michelle Rhee, a prominent national voice for weakening the influence of teachers and their unions.

Not surprisingly, presenters at the Education Summit, sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, did not include representatives of any local teacher or parent groups. And the event’s timing – a Thursday in January – didn’t do much to make teachers feel welcome.

Demonstrators outside took notice.

“It’s obviously intentional,” Minneapolis parent Jenny Warner said. “I’m not a teacher, and it was prohibitive for me to get here. It’s obvious teachers and parents are not invited to take part in this discussion.”

Demonstrators unfurled a banner calling on the public to “boycott corporate education reform.” They identified increased testing and private-school vouchers as elements of that reform movement they oppose.

“I am against the standardized testing, high-stakes testing, corporate education reform movement,” Warner said. “I believe students are more than their test scores. Their success can’t always be measured by a standardized test.

“I know what Michelle Rhee is selling, and I don’t want our community to buy into it.”

Through the advocacy group StudentsFirst, Rhee is “promoting the firing and de-unionization of teachers as a national solution,” according to a preview of the summit authored by former Minneapolis teacher Sarah Lahm for the think tank Minnesota 2020.

Lahm attended the summit and provided live updates on Twitter.

“We have a lot of people who came today, even though it’s 12 degrees below out here,” Augsburg student Dua Saleh said. “We’ve got a lot of parents, students and local people – the people who should be in charge of what our children are being taught, not the corporations.”

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