‘Teacher-run’ schools are appearing across the nation

Joe Nathan – Guest Commentary
For generations, some Braham/Cambridge/Isanti area farmers have been members of a co-op.

Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

For generations, some Braham/Cambridge/Isanti area farmers have been members of a co-op. Now that idea is being applied, with encouraging impact, to public schools. That’s a central message of a recent report, “Can Teachers Run their Own Schools? Tales from the Islands of Teacher Cooperatives”   (charlestkerchner.com/cr/uploadImages/Teacher_run_case.pdf)

Written by Charles Kerchner, a Claremont  (California) College professor, it’s the story of another Minnesota educational innovation: public schools run like agricultural cooperatives. But if you think about options doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals have, this is not just for rural communities.  Kerchner notes: “The use of cooperatives is much more widespread than commonly realized, involving as many as 100 million Americans.”

But don’t schools need school boards and administrators?  Isn’t it vital to have school boards at the top, setting policy, hiring administrators who make recommendations, to school boards and are responsible for hiring and firing the teachers?

How often have teachers said to themselves “If I were in charge, here’s how I would do it?” Some teacher run schools are charters, some are part of a traditional district. The new Minnesota “site governed law,” provides the option for teachers wanting remain part of a district. St. Paul and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers backed this law.

No. Kerchner shows that teacher run schools are appearing all over the nation.

He begins with Avalon, a teacher run charter public school in St. Paul, Minn. He recalls that in legends of King Arthur, Avalon was “The Fortunate Isle.” Avalon is run as a cooperative, with the majority of the seven-member board being teachers.  One board member is a former business agent for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

The teacher run school idea was born in Henderson, Minn. in 1994, with the creation of the Minnesota New Country School(MNCS). (Full disclosure – our organization helped start this school, providing both financial and other assistance).  Doug and Dee Thomas, and a number of other public school veterans/visionaries created MNCS., with assistance from, Ted Kolderie, a creative Minnesota policy thinker. Ladies Home Journal recently named MNCS one of the 10 “most amazing public schools” in the country.

MNCS, and a larger cooperative called Edvisions remain in Henderson, providing assistance and inspiration to educators and families throughout the United States (as well as visitors from a number of other countries.) There are 12 “Edvisions” schools in Minnesota and 35 others around the country. (www.edvisions.com)

Kerchner is clear that “The range of test score results among the teacher-run schools is very large, and so is the student population served…The schools appear to have better than average college test results and college-going rates.” Most Edvisions schools also use the “Hope Study” which reports, “Students with high Hope Scale scores believe that they have the ability to find workable routes to  their goals and that they can meet them.” Helping youngsters learn to set and reach goals is a central value at these schools. I think it’s a very important part of education.

Kerchner acknowledges that the approach won’t solve all of education’s problems. But he makes a strong case that they are “worthy of consideration.” I agree.

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of three public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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