Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A winter's tale: property and placemaking

A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves. - Wendell Berry


With sidewalks running along two sides of the property, those of us who live on a corner lot owe the city a bit more civic duty when it comes to clearing snow. On one side of our lot is a long block where we share an equally long stretch of sidewalk with the neighbor who lives behind us on the next corner.

When the grass grows in the boulevard strip or the snow covers the sidewalk, we both know where our property, and thus our civic duty, ends. Pretty basic knowledge really, but it’s just the sort of thing that keeps the peace in any neighborhood. It’s the kind of understanding folks living in close proximity depend upon to keep the “civil” in “civilization”.

Simple as it is though, you pull on that thread and you risk unraveling the social fabric. Property lines are drawn. You keep to your side; and, you keep up with the upkeep. In the case of snow, keeping up means you have 24 hours to clear the sidewalk as per city ordinance:

72.02. Responsibility and Penalties. Subdivision 1. All snow, ice, dirt and rubbish remaining on a public sidewalk more than 24 hours after its deposit thereon is a public nuisance. The owner and the occupant of any property adjacent to a public sidewalk shall use due diligence to keep such walk safe for pedestrians. No such owner or occupant shall allow snow, ice, dirt or rubbish to remain on the walk longer than 24 hours after its deposit thereon. 

And so, there arises a web of personal obligations, social mores, and civil law that frames, defines, and dictates our right conduct as it pertains to homeownership and snow.


Several years ago, soon after we moved to Rochester, I was out removing snow from the sidewalks along our lot. I have to say I rarely do so with any real cognizance of the social and legal conventions that make it a duty to do so. The snow falls and then I go out and move some of it out of the way. I guess I know I am supposed to do this thing. Sometimes I am more inclined to do so than at other times - well, mostly less inclined.

I shouldn't complain. It’s not like I’m having to shovel the snow. I start up the Great Winter Wonder Machine and walk behind it as it hurls snow to this side or that. It’s not effortless, but save for the end of the driveway where the city piles its civil service, it’s pretty much just a trudge.

On this occasion, years ago, as I trudged down the long block we share with our neighbor, I kept going and cleared the snow down to the next corner.

I don’t now why I did that. Pretty sure it wasn’t altruism. I was probably just grooving to the rhythm of the trudge or maybe didn't want to rassle with turning around the Great Winter Wonder Machine to head back when I hit the property line. Whatever the reason, I had cleared the snow the whole length of the block.

The next snow came soon after. When I went out clear the walks I found that the sidewalk along the long block had been cleared already. I suppose I figured that my neighbor had returned what he thought was a favor, but whatever his reason there it was, done.

Next snow, I got out first and cleared the long block. Next time, he did. Over the seasons an unspoken compact formed: whoever gets out first, clears the walk. It’s nobody’s turn, it’s just who gets to it first. We’ve never spoken about it. There was a winter I knew he wasn’t well. That season I turned the corner down at his end of the street and cleared the walk in front of his house right up to where I gauged his property ended.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Schools dazed

Three major local education institutions end 2015 on shaken and shaky ground. All have some work to do to begin to restore firmer foundations in 2016. Let’s review:

ISD 535: coming up short on the vision thing and civil rights

Rochester’s K-12 public education provider went to the voters in November asking for more money to keep doing no more than what they were already doing. Where other districts in the state received a resounding “YES!” to similar requests, ISD 535 district voters proclaimed, “… meh …”

With a margin of victory measured to the right of a decimal point, the district won the money vote, but fell far short of a vote of confidence for what they were going to do with the money they won. Not surprising since apart from vague references to taking stuff from students, little was said about what we might get for the money. The referendum campaign affirmed no vision, posed few substantive choices, and did little to engage the community in a conversation about how to meet the needs and aspirations of students and families.

One can only wonder how the outcome of the referendum might have been different had a recent Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights report regarding ISD 535 been more widely known beforehand. Though the report was issued in early September, it was underplayed by the district and not widely reported until a few weeks after the November referendum. The OCR report made clear that black male and female students are disparately impacted by ISD 535 student discipline practices. Sufficiently so that ISD 535 will be subject to OCR oversight for the next three years.

RCTC: c suite turmoil and accreditation at risk

Though the recent resignation of the president might address the most immediate leadership concerns of students and staff,  Rochester Community and Technical College faces serious challenges in the aftermath of her brief tenure.

Some of these challenges are not a consequence of that tenure: low graduation rates, declining enrollment, high costs, and budget cuts are endemic in higher education across the country. Despite the structural, systemic, and demographic nature of these problems, addressing them are first and foremost the front line responsibility of local higher education leadership.

These challenges are exacerbated by RCTC’s current poor performance in addressing its pending status as an accredited institution and compounded by continuing uncertainty regarding the senior leadership. With another interim appointment underway, other changes in the administration are quite likely. Already the responsibility for overseeing the accreditation process has been taken away from the person recently hired to do so.

UMR: niche marketing for a small, private, liberal arts college 

Some folks might be surprised to find the University of Minnesota Rochester on a list of local educational, institutions on shaken and shaky grounds. UMR has certainly not had the sort of media scrutiny received by ISD 535 and RCTC. Nor has there been nearly as much reason to warrant such attention. But for UMR it’s not its problems that are worrisome, but their solution.

Like RCTC, UMR faces many of the same structural, systemic, and demographic challenges of higher education - most notably declining enrollments. The news coming out of UMR has been about enrollment shortfalls and its new recruitment plans. Though it generally takes at least three data points to catch sight of a trend, after two years of not meeting their recruitment goals, UMR did not wait for the third shoe to drop. It leapt into action with some restructuring of its leadership, some budget tightening, and of course a marketing consultant.

First of all, it may be worth considering what it means for a publicly funded branch of a state university to characterize itself as a small, private, liberal arts college. Though UMR prides itself on being innovative, does it risk becoming simply idiosyncratic? When does its appeal cease to be be unique and just end up being limited?

Whatever the case, to its credit UMR does have a clear vision for what it is and hopes to become. It has thus far delivered pretty well for its students. It appreciates its challenges. It is acting transparently to address them. It remains accountable. UMR also knows the persistence of its vision is at stake. After all, small, private, liberal arts colleges (and probably the simulacrum of same) are an endangered breed.

ISD 535, RCTC, and UMR share the problems and bad breaks that come with the times. They also confront problems of their own making that make the times in turn more problematic. We all should take an interest in what they do next.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISD 535: "restraining the heartless"

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.  - Martin Luther King, Jr., address, Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963 

The discipline of students enrolled in ISD 535 is now the effective purview of the federal government through the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Title VI: Discipline: Rochester Public Schools (District) (MN) (05-10-5003) 
On September 1, 2015, the Rochester Public Schools (District) entered into a voluntary Agreement to resolve a Title VI compliance review that OCR initiated regarding the equitable discipline of students.  According to the Agreement,
  • the District will review its Student Behavior Handbook and make revisions, as appropriate, taking into account any recommendations or suggestions made by the District’s consulting expert and other relevant parties; 
  • designate an employee to serve as a Discipline Supervisor and designate administrators who will address complaints regarding matters related to its disciplinary policies; 
  • require teaching and support staff to employ a range of corrective measures before referring a student to administrative personnel; 
  • instruct the established team at each school to discuss and make recommendations on the equitable implementation of discipline policies, practices, and procedures; 
  • place a link on its website to OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection data for the District and a link to updated data concerning referrals for discipline, suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement, disaggregated by race and other factors; 
  • ensure that it has in place a system of supports, such as mentoring or counseling, to assist students who display behavior problems; 
  • provide annual training programs on discipline to District personnel and students and make informational programs on the District’s discipline policies and procedures and an updated Student Behavior Handbook available to parents or guardians on the District website; 
  • collect and evaluate data on an annual basis regarding disciplinary referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and reports to law enforcement; evaluate whether it is implementing its student discipline policies, practices and procedures in a non-discriminatory manner; 
  • establish uniform standards for the content of student discipline files at all schools; 
  • examine how disciplinary referrals occurring at each school compare to those at other District schools and explore possible causes for any racial disproportion and consider steps that can be taken to eliminate the disproportion to the maximum extent possible; 
  • and limit the role of police liaison officers to investigating crimes or potential crimes and not include the officers in recommending or determining student discipline.
This summary [bullets and formatting added] of the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Title VI compliance review outcome regarding the Rochester Public Schools (ISD 535) is available on the department's website.

Also available are copies of the Resolution Agreement #05-10-5003 Rochester Public School District signed by the Rochester Public School Board Chair Deborah Seelinger, and the Rochester Public School Board Clerk Dan O'Neil on September 1, 2015; and, the Resolution Letter addressed to ISD 535 Superintendent Mr. Michael Muñoz and signed by Adele Rapport, Regional Director, US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Greater Chicago Area, dated September 9, 2015.

When the Post-Bulletin asked for information regarding this Title VI compliance review and the resulting agreement now in force, the superintendent demurred claiming concerns about "data privacy". It may well be the case that the district is under no obligation to release the information to the public. However, the pretense that the findings of this Title VI compliance review and resulting agreement is somehow subject to the data privacy restrictions is belied on page 14 of the very letter the superintendent received on 09.09.15.
Additionally, under the Freedom of Information Act, it may be necessary to release this document and related correspondence and records upon request. In the event that OCR receives such a request, we will seek to protect, to the extent provided by law, personally identifiable information, which, if released, could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Apparently Post-Bulletin reporter Brett Boese, who has done some excellent reporting (see here and here) breaking this story, eventually acquired the paperwork through "another source". Whether he used an FOIA request, or just googled it as I did, I do not know. Either way, the superintendent had little justification for not being more forthcoming. Nor, for that matter, did the school board.

As this blog post was being written, the Post-Bulletin posted an editorial calling on the district to "shine more light on school discipline." Agreed. But greater transparency must be accompanied by greater accountability to the public. Greater accountability to the parents of the 17,163 students enrolled in the district. Greater accountability especially to the parents of black students whose treatment by the district are at the center of the civil rights issues that were the subject of the OCR compliance review.

When district officials indicate they are "taking steps to address this issue," let's be clear these steps are being taken as part of an agreement with the federal government that forestalled further review of possible illegalities. The steps the district are taking to address this issue are subject to OCR oversight and reporting requirements and the threat of "administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce the specific terms and obligations of the Agreement" should the district again fall short of doing so.

The district's failure to provide a learning environment that respects the civil rights of black students has come to this:
Based on the commitments the District has made in the Agreement described above, OCR has determined that it is appropriate to close the investigative phase of this compliance review. OCR will monitor the District’s implementation of the Agreement. All plans, policies and procedures that are developing during the monitoring are subject to OCR review and approval. The District has agreed to provide data and other information demonstrating implementation of the Agreement in a timely manner in accordance with the reporting requirements of the Agreement. OCR may conduct additional visits and request additional information as necessary to determine whether the District has fulfilled the terms of the Agreement and is in compliance with Title VI with regard to the issues in the review. OCR will not close the monitoring of this Agreement until it has determined that the District has complied with the terms of the Agreement and is in compliance with Title VI.
In short, to ensure that the civil rights of black students are protected, the discipline of students enrolled in ISD 535 is now the effective purview of the federal government through the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Well, if that's what it takes.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Dear Mr. Muñoz:"

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. - Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964


from Rochester Public Schools Strategic Plan http://bit.ly/1NWybmo
We believe: 
Each individual has value and purpose.
Its is our responsibility to provide a community where each individual feels welcomed, respected, included, and safe. 
We will not:
Allow behaviors that limit our possibilities.
Allow behaviors that diminish the value of any person.
from United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights OCR Docket # 05-10-5003 pp. 9 - 11 http://1.usa.gov/1MgKZlk
With regard to black male students in particular, the data showed that 9,052 disciplinary incidents in the 2013-2014 school year involved male students, and that 3,503, or 38.7%, of these incidents involved black male students. Data further showed that male students received 577 out-of-school suspensions, and that black male students received 232, or 40.2%, of these out-of-school suspensions and that male students received 1,077 in-school suspensions and that black male students received 453, or 42.1%, of these in-school suspensions. As black male students represented 1,179 of 8,696 male students enrolled in the District, or 13.6%, the data showed that black male students were disproportionately represented to a statistically significant degree in the proportion of male students who were disciplined, suspended out-of-school, and suspended in-school during the 2013-2014 school year.  
With regard to black female students in particular, the data showed that 2,964 disciplinary incidents in the 2013-2014 school year involved female students, and that 1,203, or 40.6%, of these incidents involved black female students. Data further showed that female students received 183 out-of-school suspensions, and that black female students received 81, or 44.3%, of these out-of-school suspensions and that female students received 330 in-school suspensions and that black female students received 146, or 44.2%, of these in-school suspensions. As black female students represented 1,129 of 8,193 female students enrolled in the District, or 13.8%, the data showed that black female students were dispropor-tionately represented to a statistically significant degree in the proportion of female students who were disciplined, suspended out-of-school, and suspended in-school during the 2013-2014 school year.  
For the 2011-2012 school year, disciplinary data similarly showed that black students were disproportionately represented to a statistically significant degree in the proportions of students who were disciplined, and who were suspended in-school and out-of-school in each middle and high school in the District. Black students represented 12.5% of the enrolled students, but were the subject of 5,089, or 34.9%, of the 14,569 disciplinary incidents in the District, and received 780, or 40.0%, of the 1,948 in-school suspensions and 388, or 43.2%, of the 898 out-of-school suspensions.  
The District expelled six students in 2013-2014: three white students, two black students, and one multi-racial student; the District expelled five students in 2011-2012: three white students, and two black students.

With respect to law enforcement, the District advised OCR that it did not maintain data on police referrals that were made by District schools. Accordingly, OCR contacted the local police and obtained reports compiled by the local police documenting calls received by the local police from District schools during the 2011-2012 school year. The data showed that black students were the subject of approximately 50% of police referrals made by District personnel, that approximately one-third of the police referrals involved disorderly conduct citations, and that black students were the subject of nearly three-fourths of the referrals involving disorderly conduct citations.  
In addition to the discipline sanctions outlined above, when compared with their enrollment proportion, black students were disproportionately given other discipline sanctions, including detentions, parent contact, restitution, and lunchroom suspensions; the only four sanctions listed for which black students were not disproportionately sanctioned were sanctions given on fewer than 12 occasions (as compared to 3,641 detentions and 2003 lunchroom suspensions). Data also showed that, compared with their enrollment proportions, black students were disproportionately sanctioned for 46 of the 50 types of misconduct, including misconduct that could be characterized as subjective, such as insubordination, disrespect, and disorderly behavior.


The district released the findings of a compliance review with the Office for Civil Rights, finding no evidence of intentional discrimination or wrongdoing by Rochester Public Schools. http://bit.ly/1WVK4i9
Let's just say OCR agreed to find no evidence of intentional discrimination or wrongdoing after RPS agreed to try and stop discriminating and doing wrong. Read carefully what the district touts in its 09/02/15 press release and what the Dept of Ed OCR says in its 09/09/15 summary.

Prior to the conclusion of OCR’s investigation and compliance determinations under Title VI, and before OCR had evaluated whether, for example, the disparities in imposition in discipline were or were not legally justified, the District expressed interest in voluntarily resolving the review with an Agreement. Accordingly, OCR is not making compliance determinations under Title VI. On September 1, 2015, the District signed the enclosed Agreement that is designed, when fully implemented, to resolve the issues in the compliance review. The provisions of the Agreement are aligned with OCR’s compliance concerns regarding the specific civil rights issues examined in the review. http://1.usa.gov/1MgKZlk
What the district says OCR did not find was what OCR stopped short of looking for because the district cut a deal. Despite the district's public statement, it's not for nuthin', that "[a]s part of the agreement, the OCR will continue to monitor Rochester Public Schools for the next three school years."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but ISD 535 is coming up short in complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

RPS and OCR have have partnered since 2010 when the district was selected to gather and review data. On Sept. 1, the compliance review concluded and found areas for improvement. http://bit.ly/1WVK4i9
RPS "partnered" with OCR in much the same way one might "partner" with the IRS after being "selected to gather and review data" for a tax audit; or as one might "partner" with a patrol officer after being "selected to gather and review data" from a breathalyzer.

In a press release, the district noted a discrepancy between suspension rates for students of color, meaning some minority groups are suspended at a higher rate. But the district said it will work to eliminate that discrepancy by identifying the reasons behind the disproportionate suspensions. http://bit.ly/1WVK4i9
You say, "disproportionately represented to a statistically significant degree"; we say, "discrepancy". You say, "black male students, black female students, black students"; we say, "some minority groups".

A recent home visit to a frequently disciplined black student provided one teacher with an intimate glimpse into how cultural differences — and a corresponding lack of cultural awareness or training — plays a role in the numbers. Lewis says what was considered disruptive in school was simply standard with the student's family. Trying to bridge that gap will be critical moving forward. 
"It's really that connection piece and getting to know our students," [Assistant Superintendent] Lewis said." http://bit.ly/1X0Iw1b
Are we supposed to feel encouraged that "getting to know our students" gets on the list of things to do. Better the board, administration, staff, and teachers look at themselves: that's kind of the point and the source of the problem. Not "those" students or "their" families, but the board, administration, staff, and teachers who fail to see them as other than "them" and "other" - and worse - would just rather not have "them" in the classroom to look at.

"We are concerned about all of our discipline and student behavior and how we handle it," Munoz said. "Are we concerned about it? Yes, but we're concerned about all of our student behavior. Obviously, we want all of our students to behave well and be in school. We need them in the buildings to learn." http://bit.ly/1N5AftB
Essentially, the superintendent is refusing to say "Black lives matter" and is saying "All lives matter" instead. Kolloh Nimley, a program specialist for the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage's Rochester office, is right to say 'Those numbers here are not about all of our students, they're about black students....'"

Failing to embrace the evidence of racial disparity with some sort of appeal to "color-blindness" obstructs pursuing remedies for that racial disparity. Whether intended or not, that obstruction sustains the institutional racism that produces the racial disparity and further masks and abets the individual racism that persists within the system.

Community forums are tentatively planned for late 2015 or early 2016 to solicit feedback from parents and other stakeholders. Those dialogues are required by the OCR as a way to begin correcting the complicated issue, but Lewis says that race-related topics are frequently discussed at dialogue sessions. http://bit.ly/1X0Iw1b
It sounds as if we are to be reassured that "race-related topics are frequently discussed at dialogue sessions." If "race-related topics" are "frequently discussed at dialogue sessions" shouldn't that suggest to the administration something about "race-related" issues in the district? Do they really want to say to the community, "Hey, no worries, we hear about this sort of thing all the time"?

But the discipline disparities aren't new issues with Rochester Public Schools.  http://bit.ly/1X0Iw1b
While efforts have been undertaken since the 1990s to address the changing face of Rochester, there is still an underlying feeling today, as voiced in the September stakeholders meeting, that “hostility to diversity is present” and that there is a tendency among district members “to blame children and their families.” White parents, parents of color, and newcomer parents expressed the belief that there are some deep-seated prejudices and hostilities within the community but that, for the most part, people know what the appropriate ‘politically correct’ responses are and so do not present these in public. [pp 63-64]
Suffice to say, consistent with the findings of this report, the actions taken in response to these findings were reviled, ridiculed, and rebuked by significant portions and members of the community. What remains, however, is this persisting consequence:
At the administrative level, both at the central office and school sites, the lack of diversity clearly impedes the development of new ways of thinking and limits the district’s ability to make use of fresh viewpoints to challenge existing beliefs and practices. When discipline is not applied fairly and consistently, the culture of diversity is undermined. [p 67]

This agreement with the OCR requires frequent updates and annual reporting requirements.
As part of the agreement, the OCR will continue to monitor Rochester Public Schools for the next three school years.

Superintendent Michael Munoz says the discipline totals are a concern and will continue to be tracked, but he declined to say whether the figures would be made available publicly in subsequent years. http://bit.ly/1N5AftB
Let's hope the superintendent becomes more inclined to say the figures would be made available to the public in the subsequent years.

During these subsequent years when the district celebrates its efforts to improve - what are they calling it, oh yes - "cultural training and awareness," let us remember to recall the circumstances under which these improvements are being accomplished:
Dear Mr. Muñoz: 
If the District fails to implement the Agreement, OCR may initiate administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce the specific terms and obligations of the Agreement. Before initiating administrative enforcement (34 C.F.R. §§ 100.9, 100.10), or judicial proceedings to enforce the Agreement, OCR shall give the District written notice of the alleged breach and sixty (60) calendar days to cure the alleged breach. http://1.usa.gov/1MgKZlk

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Robert D. Beal, Sr.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and 
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and 
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Despite the proclamation, and due to circumstances beyond my control, World War Two took place. As a result, a young man from Fredericktown, Ohio was uprooted and sent to Camp McCain in Duck Hill, Mississippi. While there he met a young woman from Winona, Mississippi. They got married.

After the war, they did what was quite popular at the time. They were fruitful and multiplied their number by three sons - all of whom clung tenaciously to their mother's womb for ten months before resigning themselves to the inevitable.

And so it is I am: a month late, the outcome of a big war and a little whoopee.

Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Dad returned from Europe with a few souvenirs: a Luger pistol, a couple of German military daggers, a Nazi party lapel pin, among other things. His uniform was stored in Mom's cedar chest along with a pair of Lederhosen. I wore his combat boots for while when they fit.

He was in his seventies before a few stories broke loose. The ship over to Europe. An officer he knew. The family he was billeted with in Germany. One of my brothers is named for an officer he must have liked. He tells us that in the late forties my mother and he drove over to Indiana from Ohio - long before the interstate - to visit a buddy from his unit and the partner with whom he lived.

Now in his nineties, Dad never laughs so hard as when he tells the tale of an officer who flipped a Jeep. To be honest, I'm not sure why he finds it as funny as he does, but I enjoy the laughter.


If you have a friend or relative who served in WWII, you can honor that service at the WWII Memorial Registry here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Being true to your school, part last: money/mission

ISD 535 Strategic Plan

I’m often quoted as saying, "No money, no mission." That’s true, but remember the rest of it: "No mission, no need for money." - Sister Generose Gervais

Last week, a larger than expected number of voters (around 30%) turned out to approve the public school levy by a margin at the right of a decimal point - 50.6%. Those results may yet be subject to challenge.

The day after the referendum, the Post Bulletin published a post mortem of this "tepid" approval observing: "By passing the levy override, voters have given [the district] increased responsibility with more tax dollars. It's time to show the community what that responsibility looks like."

ISD 535 has long needed to better tell their story. Their obsession with spread sheets during this campaign did a great disservice to district's real accomplishments and invited no conversation about what more needs to be done - not just to address gaps and shortfalls, but to what the community might aspire.

In all the ballyhoo about who was reading budget line items correctly, there was far too little about what should drive the budget. Frankly, the school board absenting itself from vigorously carrying the message, telling the story, and advocating for the district they govern was noticeable and noticed in this campaign.

The school district may have protected itself against budget cuts for the next four or five years, but during this campaign they set the community dialogue about education back just as many years. Back to the days when the talk of money drove mission rather than talk of mission driving money.

Early in the century, there seemed to be a district committee convened every year to consider budget cuts. Whether that impression is true or not, there were committees of community members convened in 2008/9 and again in 2010 to prioritize and recommend budget cuts. During the 2010 effort, committee members began to question the wisdom of a process that produced such frequent budget crises and did little to avert them. Concerns were also raised on reducing discussions regarding education to spreadsheets, line items, and the tortured budgeting practices of public education. The Post Bulletin reported at the time:
Some members stressed the need for long-term thinking in the process. 
“Taking this in one-year increments has gotten us where we are right now,” said Walt Ling of IBM. 
Sean Allen of the Rochester Area Foundation said he wondered in what direction the district is headed. 
“I haven’t gotten a solid sense of that in these meetings,” he said. “Who’s figuring out how to avoid having budget-cutting committees in the future?”
In presenting its recommendations to the board, the 2010 committee urged the district to engage in a process that set educational goals rather than budget priorities. In other words, determined what kind of education we wanted for our students and let that determination be the basis for budget decisions. Or, as I wrote prior to the vote last week:
Whether you are inclined toward voting yes or no, the attempt to reduce the referendum decision to the "facts" diverts us from questions that we should be asking and assumes answers to questions that go unasked. For example:
When school finances are limited, the cost-benefit test any educational policy must pass is not “Does this policy have any positive effect?” but rather “Is this policy the most productive use of these educational dollars?” Assuming even the largest class-size effects, such as the STAR results, class-size mandates must still be considered in the context of alternative uses of tax dollars for education.  Will a dollar spent on class-size reduction generate as much return as a dollar spent on: raising teacher salaries, implementing better curriculum, strengthening early childhood programs, providing more frequent assessment results to teachers to help guide instruction, investments in educational technology, etc.? 
The same cost-benefit test can be applied to any of the alternative uses of tax dollars listed above. Alternatives that are before many school districts including ISD 535.
In 2010 the board seemed receptive a new approach, but the departure of one superintendent and the hiring of another delayed action until 2012 when a large scale, community wide strategic planning process was undertaken by the district. The 12 month process concluding on March 2013 reported out a set of objectives and action plans to be pursued over the next four years. The process began as:
the district hosted "World Cafe" sessions that allowed community groups to offer ideas on what they wanted their schools to look like. The sessions involved more than 400 participants. It was followed by the drafting of a strategic plan by a Core Planning Group, made up of district school employees, parents and community members. It also involved the development of specific action plans by Action Planning Teams for achieving strategic objectives.
Though the strategic plan summary was included in the pile of "factual information" about the referendum on the district's website, there was little (any?) discussion of it by the district or referendum supporters during the campaign. 

What progress has been made toward achieving these 2017 objectives? How would the referendum have advanced or impeded their achievement? How did the core values inform the district's decision to place the levy on the ballot and consider the implications if it failed? Shouldn't our conversations around budget be driven by policy? Shouldn't policy further the objectives we have for students? 

That the referendum passed without posing or answering these questions speaks of a community that has its own reasons for saying yes. That the community said yes by such a slim margin speaks to the work the district needs to do to build support for its mission, accomplishments, and aspirations - otherwise the district will not know to what the community has said yes. 

That district employees can recite the mission of the district is laudable. That the community cannot is not.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Being true to your school, part two: fact/value/policy

Today's speaker says "It is a fact" with all the gravity and air of finality with which his less secular-minded ancestor would have said "It is the truth." ..... Today when the average citizen says "It is a fact" or says he "knows the facts in the case," he means that he has the kind of knowledge to which all other knowledge must defer. - Richard M. Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric

Among my favorite thought parables is G.E.M. Anscombe's little story of the potted flower. She uses it to make a point regarding the limits of "facts" in explaining conduct - and by extension, I think, formulating policy.

The story poses a simple question: Do I water the flower in a flower pot on the window sill because I understand that the flower needs water to survive? She concludes that knowledge of that fact is not sufficient to account for why I might water the flower. She observes instead that I water the flower because I want the flower to survive and know that for it to survive I must water it.

In other words, the action of watering the flower is not entailed in the fact that the flower needs water. Some end-in-view must also be present for the facts to motivate the action. Further, that end-in-view is itself a framed in values that give pursuit of that end a motive.

The "facts" themselves are rarely - if ever - sufficient motive for action, or sufficient to explain an action. Likewise, the "facts" themselves are rarely - if ever - sufficient justification for a policy. But that has been the determined strategy of the Rochester Public Schools regarding the property tax levy referendum.

When the school board decided it had worked so hard to set the levy that it should just leave it to the administration to explain it, it handed over to the administration a strategy that could by law only provide "factual information" related to the referendum. The district has done its best to make a virtue of it.

The "independent" group formed in support of the referendum has also embraced the limitations of the district administration, somehow hoping that the "facts" will speak for themselves. For example, much is made of the "fact" of state averages and, that when it comes to funding, our district levels are below that state average. Even the district's consultants concluded in their survey research that: "Reminding voters that a cost of $183 brings the cost of the levy to the state average has no impact on the level of support." Perhaps because the salient issue is not factual: "above or below average"; but rather, policy: "how much is enough."

Surprisingly the district as the arbiters of fact uncovered no "factual information" that would lead one to question the need for an increase in the property tax levy or an increase to the levels proposed by the referendum. Are there no such "facts"? None? At all?

Wondering at the apparent dearth of any facts to the contrary is not the same as saying that the district is being consciously disingenuous or intentionally deceptive in their role as "suppliers of factual information". It's too much to expect of the district to aid in providing the factual basis for opposing it's own referendum. Isn't it?

At any rate, the district and their supporters make far too much of what they think the facts might show (e.g. average state levies); probably know far too well that the issue turns on appeals not at all "factual" (e.g. do it for the children); and, offer up implicit policy statements that are given the aura of  "fact" (e.g., keeping class sizes small).

Whether you are inclined toward voting yes or no, the attempt to reduce the referendum decision to the "facts" diverts us from questions that we should be asking and assumes answers to questions that go unasked. For example:
When school finances are limited, the cost-benefit test any educational policy must pass is not “Does this policy have any positive effect?” but rather “Is this policy the most productive use of these educational dollars?” Assuming even the largest class-size effects, such as the STAR results, class-size mandates must still be considered in the context of alternative uses of tax dollars for education.  Will a dollar spent on class-size reduction generate as much return as a dollar spent on: raising teacher salaries, implementing better curriculum, strengthening early childhood programs, providing more frequent assessment results to teachers to help guide instruction, investments in educational technology, etc.? 
The same cost-benefit test can be applied to any of the alternative uses of tax dollars listed above. Alternatives that are before many school districts including ISD 535.

"Facts are stubborn things," observed Ronald Reagan, no it was John Adams, or was it Tobias Smollett, or Alain-René Lesage, or maybe Jared Elliot? Well, if not stubborn, facts can indeed be obstinate. Anyway can we all agree with Patrick Moynihan that, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." - unless, of course, it was James Schlesinger who said it first or was it Bernard Baruch? Well, maybe we can at least agree that in the end we all choose when to cease looking for the "facts" and get on with it.

Those who show up at the polls will decide the referendum issue. That decision will establish another very consequential "fact". Based on that fact, we should pose to the absent school board the questions that were left unasked or sent begging by their "factual" referendum campaign.

[To be concluded in Being true to your school, part last: money/mission]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Being true to your school, part one: some snark

What's all the hubbub, bub?

Those who have persuaded and do persuade anyone about anything are shapers of lying discourse. For if all people possessed memory concerning all things past, and awareness of all things present, and foreknowledge of all things to come, discourse would not be similarly similar; hence it is not now easy to remember the past or consider the present or foretell the future; so that most people on most subjects furnish themselves with opinion as advisor to the soul. But opinion, being slippery and unsteady, surrounds those who rely on it with slippery and unsteady successes. - Gorgias, Encomium of Helen

Can't say as I am up on the laws regarding intellectual property much less Minnesota election law regarding intentionally "participating in the preparation, dissemination or broadcast of campaign material that is false under circumstances where the individual knows the material is false or communicates information to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false."
Political flyers : RPS & Rochester Tea Party Patriots
So, I have no informed opinion on the merits of the recent decision by Rochester Public Schools [RPS] to bring to bear the Minneapolis law firm of Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger and money from the RPS budget to pay the Minneapolis law firm of Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger to issue a cease and desist letter against a local political organization for producing a flyer that looks like the flyer that RPS produced to get Rochester property owners current on "the facts" regarding the pending property tax levy to increase the RPS budget. A budget that one might assume includes legal fees.

Of course, strictly speaking, even though RPS can threaten to sue the opposition, it cannot advocate support of its own referendum. There's glory for you. RPS cannot say, "Vote Yes," it can only provide "factual information" (and of course threaten to sue the opposition for providing theirs). Saying "Vote Yes" is left to "independent" - usually ad hoc - groups like the Alliance for Strong Rochester Public Schools [ASRPS]. Saying "Vote No" to a property tax increase is what the Rochester Tea Party Patriots [RTPP] do in their sleep.

Like I said, I'm not up on the laws regarding intellectual property. But, holding forth that mimicking the visual design of an RPS flyer is going to fool people is akin to saying that donning a fake mustache is all it would take to pass yourself off as the RPS superintendent.

Hey, who knows, maybe someone gets confused by the RTPP flyer and concludes RPS doesn't support its own referendum. It's a big multiverse. Ours might be the universe where that happens and the school district crashes and burns as a result. Failing that however---

Dropping a cease and desist letter into the midst of a political debate really feels like something someone lobs at the opposition from a bunker. Under the circumstances it cannot pass unnoticed that somewhere in Rochester, somebody's property tax paid for that cease and desist letter - maybe even a whole cul de sac's property taxes. So there's that.

Then there's this: most of us probably would not have known of the existence or content of the offending RTPP flyer had not RPS called down some Minneapolis suits upon the layout, color palette, and font choices of a few Rochester residents. Among these Rochester residents are likely some at least who now enjoy the privilege of contributing to the property tax revenues expended to have themselves enjoined by the very people asking them to pay more.

If it matters at all, the RTPP flyer mimicking the RPS design is little more than a rhetorical strategy deployed in a field of discourse already littered with RPS conjecture and the usual signs and portents of doom. To attempt to legally claim one flyer factual and the other knowingly false (when it is simply inaccurate in some particulars) overlooks the glaring policy assumptions that are the basis of the RPS claims of "fact" in the first place. Policy assumptions that give shape to the facts in ways that are "slippery and unsteady."

[To be continued in Being true to your school, part two: fact/value/policy]

Monday, October 5, 2015

"What's on Tap?": co-located, synchronous, live chat

A co-located, synchronous chat room: post share comments live and in real time

The people in the world, and the objects in it, and the world as a whole, are not absolute things, but on the contrary, are the phenomena of perception... If we were all alike: if we were millions of people singing do, re, mi in unison, one poet would be enough... But we are not alone, and everything needs expounding all the time because, as people live and die, each one perceiving life and death for himself, and mostly by and in himself, there develops a curiosity about the perceptions of others. This is what makes it possible to go on saying new things about old things. - Wallace Stevens

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding - Marshall McLuhan

Around five years ago, this small notice appeared in the Post-Bulletin:
Local News
Rochester school sites offer free summer meals for youths
6/9/2010 8:20:19 AM
Post-Bulletin staff 
Several places will offer free meals for youths and some adults as part of the Summer Food Service Program through the Minnesota Department of Education. 
The Rochester school district will provide the meals at three locations: 
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday June 16-Aug. 20 at Franklin Elementary School. 
 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday June 16-Aug. 20 at Gage Elementary School. 
 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday June 16-July 29 at Riverside Elementary School. 
The meals are available to children 18 and younger and to people older than 18 who participate in a public or nonprofit private school program established for the mentally or physically handicapped. For more information, call the student nutrition services at 328-4218. 
The Boys and Girls Club of Rochester also provides free meals from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from noon to 1 p.m. at its main site, 1026 E. Center St. For more information about the meals there, contact the club at 287-2300.
Notices like this had appeared for years and continued to appear in the paper. However, on this occasion there ensued what may be a record-breaking thread of comments that over the next 13 days resulted in nearly - maybe more than - 500 posts attacking and defending this program. With a pretty good chunk of ad hominem along the way as one might expect. OK, a lot of ad hominem.

Like many other similar bulletin boards and chat rooms, the PB comments section was a grim, dark, and grisly place full of snarls and snark. Flame wars and trolling.

Now those were the days when the PB's comments were not tied to a Facebook account and readers posted with easy anonymity. Some were notorious for posting under multiple screen names. Noms de plume were worn like hoods. As Lord John Whorfin (aka Dr. Emilio Lizard) said in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, "Character is what you are in the dark!"

Though there remain posters today who use multiple FB accounts under assumed names, the PB's switch to an FB account-based system immediately reduced the number of posters and the quantity of postings. (Actually, as is still true today, a small number of posters accounted for the vast majority of comments posted. Factor in those with multiple screen names and the number of persons posting is even fewer.)

First we build the tools, then they build us. - Marshall McLuhan

The PB comments section employs a web-based, asynchronous tool - namely an electronic discussion board - that enables communication over time in a "different time-different place" mode. Web-based, synchronous tools enabling real-time communication in a "same time-different place" mode (e.g. chat rooms) have been around just about as long. Both these tools have been around for decades.

Of these tools and the world we have built with them, Sherry Turkle spoke:
When I ask people "What's wrong with having a conversation?" People say, "I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can't control what you're going to say." So that's the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body -- not too little, not too much, just right. 
Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.

The medium is the message. - Marshall McLuhan

A few weeks ago I wrote about Kutzky Market:
These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. - The Cluetrain Manifesto
Everything about Kutzky Market (and Forager Brewery) is "spoken from the center of the self". There is a vision here to be sure, but do not miss the voices that are speaking because what you see is what they are saying. Even as I am having conversations about the city at the penny topped table, there is a conversation going on all around me that speaks to the city from the parking lot on the west side to the garden on the east side.

This week at Kutzky Market those conversations that happen at times all the time over in the corner or at that table across the way, where people are huddled around the news of the day or the enduring issues of the times, where people are "curious about the perceptions of others." That conversation will be committed with intent, but remain "unpredictable" save for its time and place.

"What's on Tap?" is a co-located, synchronous, live chat room. Open the 1st Wednesday of each month from 5:30pm - 7:00pm in "the library" at Kutzky Market. Rather than log in, you can stop by. Rather than post, you can share. Rather than comment, you can converse.

Please join me to discuss Rochester issues over a Forager beer or coffee or beverage. On the Mondays prior, check in with Sean Baker at the Med City Beat for a FAQ piece on our monthly topic. Explore with Kelly Corbin opportunities for action should the spirit (or spirits) move you.

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening. - Marshall McLuhan

Also from a few weeks ago:

Local markets are destinations to be sure. People go to market. But unlike the marketplace that aspires to be a destination for others from elsewhere, the local market shares only in the destiny of its place for that's where its own destiny resides.

The local market is a there that is from here.

Kutzky Market - go there, it's from here.

We hope to see you there for "What's on Tap?".

Friday, September 25, 2015

Groping for trouts: order and the chosen good

No, we can put order anywhere we like. There’s not a trout we can’t tickle, a fish for which we can’t contrive a net. We can find forms in ink blots, clouds, the tubercular painter’s spit: and to the ants we can impute designs which Alexander would have thought himself vainglorious to dream of.  But to think of order and chaos in this relative way is not to confuse them, or put conditions out of the reach of judgement. There are clashes between orders, confusions of realms. Not every arrangement is equally effective. And we must keep in mind the relation of any order to the chosen good. - William Gass

Numbering one

Recently, Rochester was once again placed at the top of a list of [insert superlative] cities. This time it was Livability's third annual ranking of the best small to mid-sized cities in the U.S. Livability provides content marketing to help cities attract and retain business and residents. Three years ago they began ranking more than 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000 to create an annual list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live. Rochester ranked 1st on their 2016 version of that list.

What sets the Livability list apart from lists like Outside magazine's The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S. (where this year Rochester ranked 14th) is its methodology. Where the Outside list is based on soliciting votes (mostly from residents one assumes), Livability's methodology is based on the analysis of more than 40 data points. It ain't bad for social science conscripted into the service of marketing. Livability hopes for a methodology that is "as thorough, tested, rational and transparent as possible." Publishing their method is a big step in that direction and you can judge for yourself what to make of it.

In the creation of their 2016 list, Livability instituted changes in their methodology that seems to have accrued in Rochester's favor. For even though Rochester's place on the list rose to 1st in 2016, its aggregate "Livability Score" dropped 11 points from 2015 when it was ranked 2nd. Fortunately for Rochester, last year's list topper Madison, Wisconsin saw its "Livability Score" drop 54 points placing it in 3rd place in 2016.*

Livability is well-aware that changes in its methods, data sources, modeling, etc. can and do result in changes in how a city ranks. Did Madison somehow get 54 points less livable over the course of a year? Did Rochester get 11 points worse? Do those questions even make sense? Probably not, but the matter of measuring matters.

Counting anything starts first with an accounting of what counts enough to get counted.

By all accounts

We like to keep score. It's one way we bring order to chaos. As William Gass observes, "we always feel threatened when confronted with something we cannot count." Thus we create and defend "a connection between what William James called the buzzing, blooming confusion of normal consciousness" and "the clear and orderly silences of mathematics." A connection that gives us "meaning, security, and management, in one lump sum."

The "buzzing, blooming confusion" that sometimes characterizes local planning is slowly moving toward connection with "clear and orderly silence" that gives us "meaning, security, and management." Most especially, management.

So it is, we find Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith speaking in her role as chair of the DMCC board at their 9.25.15 meeting, saying:
And then, the last thing is metrics and I know that we are all in - as in we in our family - that we are in violent agreement about the importance of really measuring our progress and thinking clearly about how we want to do that. And so, I am looking forward in the coming months about getting down to the specifics and the details... about how we're going to do that. And start to look at it so that our board and the community and the city and the county and all of our partners have a dashboard that we can look at that really gives a sense that are we at red or are we at green or are we in the middle in terms of the progress we are making.
And so it is that the DMC Economic Development Agency is charged in 2016 to meet monthly "with leaders in community services as well as the six policy areas of focus (Energy/sustainability, healthy communities, historic preservation, affordable housing, targeted businesses, and arts and culture), to identify a 'Quality of Life' scorecard that considers the public opinion."

Some months ago, during public hearings on the DMC plan approval, the Olmsted County Public Services Advisory Board testified to the city that implementation of the plan should employ measures that:
Include the “social determinants of health” (housing, education, income, transportation, others) as key factors in evaluating development proposals and future measures for health status and improvement.
Similarly, the Community Networking Group (CNG), comprised of private non-profit and public human and social service providers, local philanthropies, and elected officials who have met informally since April 2013, proposed that the DMCC board employ "Metrics that gauge progress toward positive health and social outcomes that promote and sustain an inclusive and healthy community."

Recently, participants of CNG met with Minnesota Compass to discuss developing a community dashboard. This discussion included DMC EDA staff and members from Journey to Growth.

These conversations about measures are just now starting in earnest. They will deepen as interested parties get down to "specifics and details." They will broaden as the scope of parties interested expand.

A counting coup

The various and varied accounts of what counts enough to get counted will as they develop give rise to the "clashes between orders, confusions of realms" Gass describes. Interested parties bring interests that seek to be served and measures that serve those interests. These measures will at times conflict and compete. (E.g., "heads in beds" vs the wages of those who make those beds.)

This conversation on what counts enough to get counted is the most important one we will have regarding economic growth. The metrics that emerge will give shape and substance to the community we become. These metrics will by their nature and function announce where we think we are heading and gauge when we might say we have arrived.

Determining what counts also determines who gets to do the counting. It is not for nothing these things get called "dashboards." Metrics are created for those who sit in the driver's seat. Determining what counts enough to get counted has much to do with who is empowered to take a turn at the wheel.

As Gass reminds us, we need to be mindful of "the relation of any order to the chosen good." All metrics are imbued with human values. Measures of livability, whatever form they take or function they serve, are moral choices. Whatever order we create reflects not "what is good" but rather "what good we choose." Let's hope we choose a good we can hold in common. Let's hope we measure up to making that choice.


*The city to watch is Bellevue, Washington: gaining only 10 points in its "Livability Score" but moving from 14th in 2015 to 2nd in 2016 due to Madison's plummet.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Just growth: it's all about the boats

A rising tide lifts all boats - John F. Kennedy

Boat people

The provenance of this phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats" has been traced to the letter head slogan of the New England Council, a regional business organization.* It was used by President Kennedy throughout his political career and the use most often cited is a speech he gave in October 1963 defending a major Federal infrastructure project in Arkansas.
These projects produce wealth, they bring industry, they bring jobs, and they bring wealth to other sections of the United States. This State had about 200,000 cars in 1929. It has a million cars now. They weren't built in this State. They were built in Detroit. As this State's income rises, so does the income of Michigan. As the income of Michigan rises, so does the income of the United States. A rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas becomes more prosperous so does the United States and as this section declines so does the United States. So I regard this as an investment by the people of the United States in the United States.
"A rising tide..." is a common enough phrase now. Its use usually poses as an easy answer to difficult questions regarding who benefits from economic development like that promised Rochester as a destination medical center. Like "High wage jobs create low wage jobs," uttering "A rising tide lifts all boats" frequently comes with the assumption that nothing more need be said.

In usage it goes something like this: "A rising tide lifts all boats," someone declaims. Those who own the boats nod approvingly.

Of course, "A rising tide lifts all boats" is only reassuring if one has a boat. Some do not have boats. Some boats are not in good repair. Some boats are very crowded. Rising tides can swamp some boats. People without boats might drown (or, as we also hear to approving nods, they "sink or swim" and that seems to be all that needs saying about that).

Boats and tides

Recently two economic data points were reported that say something about boats and tides.

The first is the Bureau of Labor Statistics County Employment and Wages Summary that came out yesterday (15.09.17) that reports Olmsted County had the greatest percentage increase in the average weekly wage in the first quarter of 2014 -2015 of the 342 largest counties in the United States. Though it ranked 303 in job growth, Olmsted County did place second in the increase for the average weekly wage ($120).

The second is the release yesterday of the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey that reports that the median household income for African Americans in Minnesota dropped by $4,500 in a single year. Poverty rates for blacks rose from 33% to 38%. In Olmsted County, we get reports yesterday that 50% of blacks live just above poverty.

Switching metaphors

These two data points don't compare apples to apples, but they do rest in the same basket of fruit. For me that basket is labeled "just growth". According to Benner and Pastor, just growth includes "economic expansion and social equity" and "an inclusive conversation about how best to achieve economic inclusion."

Among the factors they found that contribute to just growth is building a significant Black middle-class.
First and most directly, improved economic opportunities for African Americans helped raise income levels for a sector of the population that is all too often over-represented amongst the poor. Second, this middle-class presence was associated with more Black-owned businesses that were also more likely to provide employment opportunities for African Americans (even if just through the impact of social networks on hiring practices). Third, it resulted in more African Americans being represented in leadership positions throughout the region. These leaders, it was thought, were in both political and economic areas but the key thing was that they had both an interest in growth (typical of the middle class) but also an historic (and ongoing) experience with exclusion and thus a commitment to equity.
These outcomes did not the result from an "invisible hand," but rather intentional strategies to build diverse and inclusive economic communities.
...[T]he basic argument here is that having a substantial proportion of middle-class residents of a minority, typically disproportionately poor, racial group will result is less 'policy distance' between the poor of the region and regional leadership making decisions.....Keeping policy closeness the is task of organizers, movement builders, and civic leaders, and keeping and building a minority middle class might be the gift that keeps giving at least in terms of growth with equity. 

Back to boats

President Kennedy also said that day in October 1963, "I would like to see us in this decade preparing as we must for all of the people who will come after us." In Rochester, the conversation we must have in this decade (and the next) cannot be just about the rising tide, it must also be about boats. That is to say, it must be "a conversation about how best to achieve economic inclusion." Conversations about who has a boat and what shape is it in.

Rochester's rise to the #1 spot on Livability.com's 2016 list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live is predicated in part on two local economic growth initiatives - DMC and Journey to Growth (J2G). Both of these initiatives contain or have links to strategies to include and promote participation of minority owned businesses.

The Supplier Diversity Initiative is a collaborative effort of Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Rochester, Mayo Clinic and Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. The City of Rochester also has developed a Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Utilization Plan as required by the DMC legislation and approved by the council last year.

These initiatives are important tools in building and maintaining boats for the incoming tide. The opportunities provided by these initiatives should be widely available and increased. The impact of these initiatives should be monitored closely and reported regularly. Any DMC or J2G metrics for economic growth should include measures that gauge economic inclusion.

“We may have all come on different ships," said Martin Luther King, Jr., "but we're in the same boat now.”


* see William Safire, Safire's Political Dictionary (1993) pp. 627-628

Note: Portions of this post appeared previously in June 7, 2013. See also August 26, 2013

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Talking TED Talk

We can properly speak of social and political institutions evolving in a more or less 'rational' manner, only if we consider the detailed ways in which such institutions develop - or fail to develop - in response to the specific requirements of changing historical situations. 
- Stephen Toulmin, Human Understanding

One-hundred and thirty or so years ago you might have gone to a pitched tent or rented hall to see such a thing. The Chautauqua would have come to town and arrayed before you would have been the wisdom, wit, and wow of the age. Two-hundred or so years ago, you might have attended a Lyceum event and taken in a similar array. Both movements moved through the 19th and the early 20th centuries. A few Chautauquas persist today and claim an unbroken continuity reaching back a dozen decades.

Chautauquas and Lyceums were popular and sometimes populist venues. Both developed circuits with touring orators and notables seeking to educate, enlighten, entertain, push product, promote a cause or cure, and make a dollar or two. Apparently there is something to the appeal to this sort of traveling show that persists. For the last thirty years, this abiding appeal has manifested as TED.
TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.
TED would not be the first to believe that ideas matter - or to believe so passionately. Nor, as the Lyceum and Chautauqua movements before it make evident, TED would also not be the first to bring to its zeal for ideas a bit of show business - in roughly equal parts.

TED manages to stay shiny even after three decades, but not without some dings. TED has drawn criticism on several fronts (see here and here and here and here and here), but the one that I think sticks is that it is elitist. TED seems not to notice it confirms the elitist critique- or "myth" as they prefer to call it -even as it claims to "debunk" it.
In one sense, yes — we curate our speaker list and our TED Talks lineup very carefully. And we "curate" our audience at conferences to make sure we have a balanced, diverse group that can support our mission of bringing great ideas to the world for free. 
"Curating" the audience means you apply to sit in a TED conference seat and provide two references. If selected (assuming your references check out), you also need to fork over several thousand dollars. "But," TED wants us to know, they "also work hard not to be elitist in ways that matter."

Apart from the elitism critique, other complaints about TED tend to come from samplings of the curated subjects of the thousands of TED Talks now available or specific talks deemed by TED as especially egregious (notably, Graham Hancock, Rupert Sheldrake, and Rick Hanauer - curated, by others, here; and, notoriously Sarah Silverman).

Well, some difference of opinion is to be expected I suppose. Even the TED tagline "Ideas worth spreading*" includes an asterisk.

For a while posting videos of TED Talks, i.e., recordings of the right people talking to the right people, was one way TED sought to counter the elitist charge and try to accommodate "just folks" in ways that mattered. Then they began to spread the ideas worth spreading by allowing for "local TED-like experiences." Just as the Mother Chautauqua spawned daughter Chautauquas and tent Chautauquas, so too has TED spawned TEDx. 

These TEDx TED-like experiences were launched in 2008. Spring 2016 will see one come to Rochester as TEDxZumbroRiver. What can we expect? A curated event. What does that mean? Here's a clue:
Look for ideas, not speakers 
It’s actually not the person you should be searching for, but the person’s idea or innovation. This is a great way to decipher between a TEDx speaker, and an interesting person with an “okay” idea. What will the audience walk away knowing – that this person exists, or a new idea?
For example, if you were to describe a potential talk to a stranger and say more about the speaker (“this lady who runs that local charity,” “this guy who made this film”) than a specific idea, that's a clue that you need to go back to that speaker and find their idea, not their identity. 
So, what ideas are you looking for?
  • Look for new ideas that originate in your community but are widely relatable
  • Look for ideas that need to be defended – not something self-evident, but an interesting argument, perhaps with an antagonist.
  • Look for an idea the TED world hasn't heard before. (In other words, not a copy of a TED Talk you like!)
  • Look for ideas that change perceptions. (e.g., a scientific discovery that changes how you think about frogs, a philosophical argument that reshapes your notions of friendship.)
TEDx Speaker Checklist
Is this speaker...
  • a local voice that few people have heard before?
  • someone who can present their field in a new light?
  • someone with a perspective to which the global TED community may not have access?
  • diverse by demographic, ethnicity, background, and/or topic? 
TEDxZumbroRiver is taking speaker applications and nominations. Have at it.