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Doug Mann LPN, LNC

Education (Mpls list discussion) part 2

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Education (Minneapolis issues list discussion) part 2

The public school system in Minneapolis is failing students of color.

It is my opinion that 'educational inputs,' such as teacher expertise (training and experience), teacher turnover rates, and curriculum have a big impact on student outcomes, and that the so-called racial learning gap is mostly a reflection of the quality of education to which students have access in the public school system.

Kenneth Vreeland writes

....Any study, or the consensus of studies show that to reduce any learning gap, class size is the way to do it.... If it was the teachers, there would be no gaps.  The proof is right there, we are all in the same schools, with the same teaching styles, ideas, practices, yet to gains are all over the place.

[Doug Mann responds] Kenneth Vreeland teaches math at Northeast Middle School, a magnet school with 500 students and an International Baccalaureate curriculum, according to the Northeast Middle School web site. A majority of MPS students are enrolled in programs with a watered-down version of the state's college preparatory curriculum, not in IB programs, not in college-bound curriculum tracks.

There are, in fact, huge differences in school characteristics within the Minneapolis school system, and even between school programs in the same sites with respect to curriculum, teacher expertise, and teacher turnover rates.

Again, Kenneth Vreeland writes

It's class size stupid.  Pure and simple....Now here is the curve ball, listen, the star program in tennesee, proved all groups gained by class size reduction, and across all parts of the state from inter city, to urban, suburban, rural.  Hello.  Last part is crucial, the group most benefited is African Americans who get an almost double poin increase with the same teachers.  Only change is class size.

[Doug Mann responds] The STAR project was designed to determine whether class size makes a difference. There was an attempt to control for other variables, such as curriculum, teacher expertise, and teacher turnover rates. The best way to do that is to see that class size is the only variable that changes.

The class size reduction program in Minneapolis was accompanied by an increased racial test score gap. Class sizes were reduced pretty evenly across the district, so the increased 'racial learning gap' was not an effect of reducing class size, per se. However, the class size reduction program created many new positions for teachers, and many opportunities for teachers to bid into the district's better schools, where African American students were generally under-represented. The end result was a higher concentration of probationary teachers and higher teacher turnover rates in schools where African American students were greatly over-represented.

Members of the NAACP Branch Education Advocacy Committee reportedly raised a concern with the Minneapolis Board of Education about the effects reducing class sizes without setting limits on the concentration of newly hired teachers. Turnover rates for probationary teachers (first 3 years of employment) were very high due to the district's practice of sending lay off notices to probationary teachers, even though the district did not expect changes in enrollment or funding that would force the district to actually lay off any teachers. Many of the teachers who get lay off notices apply for and accept job offers from suburban school districts.  In this way the MPS administration has created a revolving door for low-seniority teachers which saves the district a lot of money on teacher salaries. However, there are also costs associated with training new teachers and attempting to control the damage that dysfunctional school programs do to students and their families.
The school board came up with a different explanation for the increased racial learning gap: Parent involvement. The board's plan to increase parent involvement included setting up attendance boundaries for "community schools," which increased the proportion of students of color assigned to schools with high concentrations of low seniority teachers and high teacher turnover rates.

Superintendent Bill Green boasts about the progress made by the district in closing racial learning gaps. However, the district supported that claim in its 1998 better schools report card by including test scores only for students who were continuously enrolled from grade 3 onward. Students who fail to thrive academically in the Minneapolis Public Schools are more likely to leave the district's schools than a student who is doing well. For the same reason, the test score gap between the average white student and the average student of color may be declining, even though the district is failing to make any progress toward making a high quality education accessible to all on an equal basis.

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