Nick Coleman: no diversity, tolerance, or choice in education

Gold Coast resident Thurston Howell III(DATELINE: THE GOLD COAST) With his typical brand of name calling and misinformation, Nick Coleman attempted to dance on the grave of Veritas Academy ("'Gold Coast' charter fails; schools don't," Star Tribune, July 3, 2005). Unfortunately for Coleman and the education establishment for which he shills, news of Veritas Academy's demise has been greatly exaggerated.

In his column on (ironically) Independence Day weekend, Coleman portrays independent charter schools like Veritas Academy, Eagle Ridge Academy in Eden Prairie, and Paideia Academy in Eagan as part of an "all-out attack by forces that cynically want to use public funds to undermine public education." He cites as proof the Libertarian Party of Minnesota's platform, which advocates privatizing and deregulating education (not that Coleman identified any Libertarian Party members at the recent Veritas Academy meeting he attended). He also throws in some scary innuendo about Republicans, Catholics, and Christian "code" words. What? No black helicopters?!

Nick, your ignorance is showing. Charter schools are public schools, subject to the same academic standards (including No Child Left Behind) as their traditional counterparts. Charter schools have no admission requirements. Charter schools are under the purview of the Minnesota Department of Education, and yes as public schools they receive public funding. Charter schools provide diversity in the public school ecosystem, which includes open enrollment and private schools. But Coleman apparently believes in a one-size-fits-all education for all of Minnesota's children.

Although every parent presumably wants the best for his or her children, Coleman mocks the proposed curriculum at Veritas Academy, which is now being carefully selected by parents and board members. This curriculum seems quite alien to him:
Latin, a dead language still in favor with people who believe children should get a classical education, except for the toga parties...courses on abstinence until marriage, Saxon Math (which I guess is more than just learning to count to 10 in German), plus something called the 12 Pillars of the Declaration of Independence and a promise to instill in students a love for "the free-market economic system [author's quotation marks]."

Even cynical, class warfare newspapermen like Coleman know that Latin is the basis for English and many other languages that are not dead, and is quite handy in science, medicine, and law, which is where you will find lots of Gold Coasters widening the income gap, when they're not partying on Lake Minnetonka.

If parents want a values-based sex education for their children, a sequential (traditional) math curriculum instead of integrated math, knowledge-based history that doesn't deemphasize founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, and economics that favors the ideals of a free-market economy (Coleman forgot to mention a science curriculum that discusses the shortcomings of evolutionary theory), and their local school board turns them down, shouldn't they be allowed, even encouraged to explore other options more to their liking? But tolerance for a variety of approaches and ideas in the schools is anathema to Coleman and others like him.

Like parents everywhere, we Gold Coasters want the best for our kids. For most of us, including me, that means moving to and sending our kids to a public school district like Wayzata. Others will opt for open enrollment in a nearby district. Many of our neighbors' kids in the Hummer-and-cabin cruiser set will wear the uniforms of Breck, Blake, or Providence Academy. In other areas, charter schools may provide a viable alternative for poor-performing traditional public schools. In my neck of the woods, we don't "hate" traditional public schools, some simply want meaningful school choice. It's all about the kids. But choice in education is as foreign to Coleman as the "gilded lanes of Wayzata," to use his words.

Thankfully, there is more to the postponed first day of classes at Veritas Academy than Coleman's cursory (or selective) reporting reveals. The state education budget impasse and (at the time) possible state government shutdown moved up some key Minnesota Department of Education deadlines, the school parted ways with its first director, negotiations to secure a site for the school were not finalized, and a study of successful charters revealed that the most successful took an additional year of planning. These challenges and an enrollment target must be met before the fledgling charter school can open its doors next year.

One thing is clear: Nick Coleman is dead set against diversity, tolerance, and choice in public education. That's an attitude that sticks out like a sore thumb on the Gold Coast.

Check out Freedom Dogs, Craig Westover and SCSU Scholars for more on Coleman's column and the Vertias Academy situation.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark for mentioning this post, and welcome to all SITD readers.

UPDATE: From the Strib letters to the editor, July 8, 2005:

All about educating kids

Nick Coleman's July 3 column ("'Gold Coast' charter fails; schools don't") showed once again his cynicism and contempt for anyone who doesn't subscribe to his views.

Private schools and charter schools don't exist to undermine or eliminate public education. Instead, they offer families a choice beyond the "one size fits all" of public schools.

In public schools, parents are told they don't know their own children as well as teachers; parental involvement is welcomed as long as it doesn't clash with educational orthodoxy, and promoting diversity too often means ridiculing or prohibiting some families' values.

No wonder more families are looking beyond public schools to educational environments that offer more innovative, exciting alternatives.

Catherine Walker, Minneapolis.

UPDATE: From the Star Tribune letters to the editor, July 10, 2005:

The truth about Veritas

Contrary to columnist Nick Coleman's July 3 column on Veritas Academy High School, neither "fails" nor "kaput" is how we describe the present situation. "Delayed until next year" is what we told the attendees at the recent informational meeting.

Studies show that charter schools which take extra time in their startup phase are more successful than those that rush ahead. It is our commitment to enrolled families to do this well for their children.

Also, to be clear, our charter school is unrelated to any other religious or nonreligious schools named Veritas in other parts of the country. We are a stand-alone, public school choice. For those who support diversity and school choice, such as open enrollment, Veritas is another type of choice that will be available in 2006.

It is not true that families must "hate" their public school in order to sign up for a charter school. Not every school meets the needs of every student. Some families prefer class sizes under 30, which Veritas will have. Some prefer high-level academic rigor, or the option for "abstinence-only" health class, or the study of the classics, or a traditional, research-based math program, all of which will be offered at Veritas Academy.

Sherokee Ilse and Valerie Thies, on behalf of the Veritas Board,

UPDATE: Thanks, Tracy for mentioning this article on Anti-Strib (doesn't anyone have time to do trackbacks anymore?).

UPDATE: Shutdown slows school opening, Star Tribune West, July 13, 2005. "...the Minnetonka City Council gave its final approval for the school to open in an office building near Ridgedale Mall. But the vote came too late for the school to meet the new state deadline for completing its lease arrangements, said [board member Valerie] Thies."