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Doug Mann LPN, LNC

Closing racial racial learning gaps

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Re: Minneapolis School Board members discuss "equity"

--- In,
"Daniel MacEwan" wrote:
"I'm going focus on your personal comment section.  What I'm reading from your conclusions are that the problems with inadequate education are due to watered down curriculum from tracking.  Tracking exists, from what you're saying, for the bright kids to get bright kid treatment.  And the mediocre students our trouble students are held back by being tracked DOWN to a level that teachers are finding appropriate?  You are arguing that tracking students DOWN to a level that is appropriate is oppressive?  So rather than have curriculum tweaked to what seems to be the level of the student, you want all students in the same pot and the lynch pin that holds it all together is better teacher-student connections with decreased teacher turnover?"
[Doug Mann responds]
The State of Minnesota has had a written, college-bound curriculum since at least the early 1960s. There was no attempt to develop another type of curriculum until around 1990, when the state of Minnesota began to experiment with an "Outcome-Based" model. The Minneapolis School District served as the guinea pig. Illinois was also developing new curricula based on the same Outcome Based Education model, but abandoned it because of negative effects on African American students. Minnesota and the Minneapolis School District "stayed the course" despite harm done to many of its students.
Minnesota's college bound curriculum may be among the best in the US in terms of clarity and coherency, i.e., the objectives are fairly clear and make sense. The state's college bound curriculum is what has been used for the general student population in about half of Minnesota's school districts. Other districts have "gifted and talented" programs and water-down the curriculum to some degree for a large part of the student population.
Watering-down the curriculum in one area, especially in reading instruction, makes the curriculum in other areas less accessible. For example, it is hard for a fourth grade student with second grade reading skills to comprehend what is presented in text books in various subject areas that are written at a fourth grade level.
I think that "teaching to the middle" and ability-grouping are not the best approaches to dealing with individual differences between students in learning abilities. Watering down the curriulum for any part of the general student population is not appropriate, in my opinion. The best approach to teaching involves individualized planning: Tweaking the curriculum based on individual differences.
I believe it is much easier to apply best practices and do a really good job of teaching if you do the same type of teaching from one year to the next and are working with a fairly stable team of teachers. In their first year in a particular assignment, teachers usually put in a lot of work on their lessons plans, and tweak those plans every year. If the teaching staff is very stable, you have a better idea about what kids are learning in other classrooms that directly impacts what you need to do in your own classroom than if you are working with a substantially different set of teachers every year.
And with greater stability in the teacher staff there are greater benefits to be derived from collaborative efforts, such as comparing notes and planning across grade levels and subject areas. One can build on such collaborative efforts from year to year, rather than starting from scratch every year, if you are working with the same teachers from one year to the next.
In the early elementary grades, one of the most critical tasks for teachers is to help students acquire advanced reading skills, including knowledge of phonics / phonetic rules. Most students (on the order of 90%) have the necessary cognative abilities by their fifth birthday (memory, attention span, etc.), but the district has encouraged teachers to emphasize the "look-say" method with students percieved to be the less-able learners. The "look-say" method was generally mandated in public schools during the 1930s, abandoned in the 1950s and 60s due to the poor results obtained, then re-introduced in many school districts in the late 1970s and 80s as a corrupted form of "whole language" instruction.
It is one thing to have wide variations in education-related outcomes between individual students, and another thing to have huge differences between racial groups in education-related outcomes, such as average test scores, disciplinary action rates, graduation rates, etc. The district has done a lousy job of closing these "racial learning gaps." And that failure has a lot to do with ability-grouping practices allowed/promoted by the district and high teacher turnover rates in schools and school programs where students of color are over-represented.
-Doug Mann,
2006 Minneapolis School Board candidate, Green Party member

Re: Minneapolis public schools, board candidates, & the 2006 election