Platt: Don't blame the schools for problems of society
can educators put out the fires of poverty, poor parenting and failing families?
a public school parent, I can attest that the only thing keeping the schools alive is a dedicated core of teachers, principals
and administrators at the district office. They work hard and care deeply about kids. What needs reforming is our society
and many of our public school parents.
"Here's the rub: Student achievement largely tracks socioeconomic measures.
If you are poor, from a broken home, or without good role models, you will likely not do well in school. The schools that
thrive in Minneapolis are those with the fewest impoverished students. To the best of my knowledge, there are no exceptions
to this essential truth." [end quote]
Doug Mann responds: The schools with the fewest impoverished students also have
the lowest teacher turnover rates and the highest concentration of teachers on the top half of the seniority list. Just a
I have noted that, in 1999, there were big differences in student achievement between two elementary schools
where student background characteristics were very similar: Broadway and North Star. Broadway's scores on standardized
tests (Basic Standards and NALT) were among the district's lowest. North Star's test scores were above the district average.
At both schools over 90% of the students were 'of color,' mostly African-American, and over 90% qualified for free and reduced
priced lunch. Therefore, big differences in education-related outcomes like test scores cannot be attributed
to differences in student background characteristics like poverty, race, and culture.
Unlike Broadway school, North
Star was an exception to the rule that schools with high concentrations of students of color also have high teacher turnover
rates and high concentrations of the district's less experienced teachers. In a report to the Board of Education some years
ago, a North Star teacher reported that while few of North Star's teachers were on the top half of the districtwide seniority
list, there had been very little turnover in the teaching staff in recent years. An effort had been made by the district administration
to make North Star a model school. Most of North Star's teachers were committed to staying put and making the program work.
the other hand, a MPS teacher told me (off the record) that turnover was insanely high at Broadway Elementary school, where
about 80 to 90% of teachers had been employed with the district for less than 3 full years.
Based on data available
at the Minnesota Department of Education web site, Minneapolis Issues list member Michael Atherton recently estimated that
there is a very strong negative correlation between the proportion of African American students and the proportion of teachers
hired by the district more than 10 years ago. The correlation was "about -0.5" for elementary and high school grades, and
"over -0.8" for middle schools. A perfect negative correlation, i.e., no teachers employed for more than 10 years in a school
where all students are black, would be expressed as a "-1"
A strong link between between education-related outcomes
for students and teacher expertise, as measure by years of experience, advanced degrees, and scores on teacher licensing exams
was found by Ronald Ferguson and others in a study of Texas schools. Ferguson et al concluded that about 40% of the variability
in standardized test scores in math and English in grades 1 through 11 could be attributed to differences in teacher expertise.
- See "school policies matter" http://educationright.com/id173.htm
The idea that student achievement gap between
racial groups is mostly a reflection of differences in student background characteristics (poverty and a "culture of poverty"
afflicting African Americans, Puerto Ricans, etc.), rather than differences in school characteristics, is not supported by
a review of data by the Education Trust which shows there are many exceptions to the rule. In the year 2000 The Education
Trust identified 4,577 high-performing, high- poverty and/or minority [public] schools, which educated about 2,070,000 students,
including about 1,280,000 low-income students, 564,000 African-American students; and 600,000 Latino students. - "School policies
matter" http://educationright.com/id173.htm Source: Dispelling the Myth Revisited, The Education Trust, http://www.edtrust.org
in the 1970s and early 1980s, we saw differences between black and white 13 year olds decline by about 50% on reading exams
administered as part of a federal testing program called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That test score
gap subsequently widened and is now closer to what it was in the 1960s than it was in the mid-1980s. - "School policies matter"
Why did the racial achievement gap narrow in the 1970s and early 1980s? The US
Supreme Court handed down a decision in Green v. Kent County Schools in 1968 which stated that racially segregated schools
must be desegregated "root and branch." In Minneapolis and St. Paul, predominantly black schools were shut down in the
early 1970s, and the STUDENTS AND TEACHERS were integrated into white schools. Differences between black and white students
were greatly reduced with respect to exposure to unstable teacher staffing situations and inexperienced teachers. However,
the gap in educational inputs and outcomes for blacks and white students began to increase steadily by the late 1980s.
advocate modifying the teacher assignment system so that some teacher positions in all schools are set aside for the district's
newly hired, inexperienced teachers. And it is my position that the teachers contract must be renegotiated on this point.
To the extent that the teachers contract presents an obstacle to the board's compliance with Minnesota's Desegregation Rule,
the teachers' contract is illegal.
And I oppose the practice of sending layoff notices to teachers who are obviously
going to be recalled or replaced. It is a practice that substantially drives up district-wide teacher turnover rates. The
revolving door for low seniority teachers saves the district 10s of millions of dollars each year, but the negative impact
on programs serving a majority of the district's students is huge. Much of what is saved on teacher payroll expenses must
be spent on damage control. And it is unfair, and argueably an illegal, discriminatory practice, due to the disparate
impact on students of color.