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Minneapolis School Board discusses "equity"

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Minneapolis School Board members discuss "equity"

Notes from the special discussion meeting
Minneapolis Board of Education
3rd floor assembly room,
807 NE Broadway, Mpls.
21 November 2006
Written Agenda
1) Call to order (4:00 PM)
2) Small Learning Communities, 45 minutes
Strategic goals: Equity in education; equity in allocation of resources;
accountability for results
3) Budget visions, 45 minutes
Strategic goal: Equity in allocation in resources
4) Crisis management policy, 30 minutes
Strategic goal: Equity in education
5) Adjournment
The meeting was called to order at 4:10PM. Discussion of SLCs ran until about 5PM. "Budget visions" from 5 to 6 PM. Meeting adjourned
Highlight of report by Graig Vana
Selection criteria (entrance requirements), enrollment caps, attendance boundaries are big obstacles to "equity in access" to high school SLCs.
The district staff is recommending
1) Removal of selection criteria for SLCs by the fall of 2008,
2) Expansion and replication of programs in high demand, such as International Baccalaureate.
3) The district will have to use a lottery system, allow some over-enrollment, in SLCs that are not expanded enough.
Some expansion of popular programs by the fall of 2007. Replication of programs, expansion of popular programs sufficient to meet demand (at the entry level) by the fall of 2008.
IB is one of the programs that needs to be replicated. The district should have a rough draft of a plan and a road map for the planning process by January 2007, and a plan by July 2007 that takes into account the district's budget and impact on other programs. Once it has a clear plan, the district administration will need about a year to resolve siting issues, and to
select and train teachers.
Comments by Board members were generally supportive of staff recommendations.
Superintendent William Green stated that the goal of desegregation(diversity?) may be in conflict with the goal of equity, and that "equity"
trumps desegregation.
A staff member led off the discussion by giving a definition of equity.
"...Every student has access to a high quality education."
"...People receive on the basis of need, rather than all equal..."
About midway through the discussion, Peggy Flanagan noted that the discussion was too abstract, not connected with equity issues of concern to her and many of her constituents, such as differences in suspension rates.
Director Lee argued that the district had very little control over factors that are producing differences between individuals and groups in measurable outcomes (test scores, suspension and graduation rates, etc.) Lee also mentioned something about the role of the county in providing services (to fix families?), and some grant money (for the district to deal with issues
that students have outside of school?).
Heresy alert! Sharon Henry Blythe stated something to the effect that differences in measurable outcomes for students reflect
differences in the quality of education to which students have access.
Director Farmer said that there were some myths about per-pupil funding between schools being unequal and inequitable, but did not elaborate.
Both Audrey Johnson and board member elect T. Williams spoke of the need for more stability in teacher staffing. Johnson said something to the effect that the administration doesn't have enough power to put teachers where they are needed, and allow teachers to stay put, though the latest teachers' contract made the situation somewhat more tolerable.
As it was laid out by Craig Vana, the elimination of selection criteria for SLCs, and the replication and expansion of popular programs are steps in the right direction. However, the discussion about "budget visions" indicates that the district's leadership is not yet prepared to go there.
In my opinion, the goal of equity (meeting the needs of all students) should not be counterposed to the goal of equality, e.g., closing the racial learning gap.  No one at the special discussion meeting specifically addressed the issue of unequal resource allocations, like the high concentrations of low-seniority teachers and high teacher turnover rates in schools where students of color are over-represented.
The district's practice of sending layoff notices to a lot of teachers who don't need to be laid off saves the district big money in teacher compensation by driving up turnover rates for low-seniority teachers. And it does a huge amount of damage to programs with high concentrations of lower seniority teachers. Students are denied an adequate education. And the district ends up spending a lot of money on damage control because of that.
In order to equalize teacher turnover rates, we need to modify the teacher assignment system so that low-seniority teachers are more evenly spread around the district. What I am talking about is setting aside positions for newer teachers in every school. It should be phased in to minimize the need for teacher realignments at the onset. Should enrollment and the number of teaching positions begin to rise, this modification in the teacher assignment system can help ensure that growth in the teaching staff doesn't produce greater inequality between schools and school programs.
New Board member-elect Chris Stewart, who was not at the special discussion meeting, has advocated academically rigorous math and science courses for all students, but doesn't use the T word, "Tracking." The district offers academically rigorous courses in all subject areas. A majority of students are "ability-grouped" into watered-down curriculum tracks. The tracking system is one of those "sacred cows" the district leadership doesn't want to disturb. There is a fairly well organized 'gifted and talented' lobby that wants to preserve the tracking system.
I think we could phase out the watered-down curriculum tracks and integrate the general student population into more rigorous courses/programs, without watering down the curriculum in those programs, if the district stabilizes the teaching staff in all schools and school programs.
-Doug Mann, King Field
2006 Minneapolis School Board candidate

Doug Mann for School Board in 2008