Doug Mann LPN, LNC
Minneapolis "School Choice" & other white lies
The public schools run by the district should be able to provide a higher quality of education than most charter schools, the exceptions to the rule being charter schools that are heavily subsidized by private sources. That is because schools directly operated by school districts get a lot more public funding than charter schools. A sizable part of the operating budget for regular education programs in district-run public schools comes from property tax assessments. Charter schools get little or no property tax money that can be applied to regular education programs, and charter schools must also pay rent from funds that regular public schools can apply directly to academic programs.
I disagree with conclusions drawn by Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, about why low-income benefit from being integrated into 'middle class' schools.
Orfield's position is based on the premise that low-income students and students of color are disadvantaged by a culture of poverty, which can be overcome to some degree by integrating them into majority white, middle class schools. The culture of a school is more a reflection of the values that students bring to it than how the school and school system are operated, or so the argument goes.
However, the culture of poverty thesis can't explain the existence of high-performing, high-minority and/or high poverty schools. In recent years, standardized test scores and other indicators of average student performance at 3 high-poverty public schools in Minneapolis, Hale, Hall, and Northstar, have been better than the district average. Over 90% of Northstar students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches. And over 90% of Northstar studentsare nonwhite, mostly African / African American.
In the year 2000 The Education Trust identified 4,577 high-performing, high-poverty and/or minority 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. [Dispelling the Myth Revisited, The Education Trust, http://www.edtrust.org]
High-performing, high-minority and / or high-poverty schools could not exist if school characteristics, such as teaching staff stability, were less important in determining student outcomes than student background characteristics, such as race and family income.
There is evidence that, for the most part, schools where low-income and minority students are over-represented are also grossly inferior to most other schools, in terms of critical educational inputs, such as teaching staff stability and teacher expertise. "Teachers with less than three years of experience are twice as likely to work in schools with high proportions of minority and low income students, yet students learn better under teachers with five or more years of experience."
- (two sources cited) September 2004, Minnesota Public Radio,
idea generator: Closing the gap, teachers.
In a 1997 report, "Doing What Matters Most: Investing in quality teaching," Linda Darlington Hammond cited an analysis of data from 900 Texas school districts by Ronald Ferguson and others, which concluded that about 40% of the variance in measured achievement in math and English in grades 1 to 11 can be attributed to teacher expertise, as measured by scores on licensing exams, master's degrees, and years of experience.
In my opinion, the public school system in Minneapolis is failing to adequately educate a majority of low-income and so-called minority students, not because there are too many low-income and minority students in the district, but because the district leadership is perpetuating a situation where most low-income and minority students do not have access to high quality educational programs on the same basis as a large majority of students in neighborhoods where middle-to-upper income whites predominate. Curriculum
tracking that is done in most Minneapolis Public Schools also separates students into high, medium, and low-performance curriculum tracks within a school building. Low-income and minority students are over-represented in the low performance tracks.
The leadership of the Minneapolis School District has an obligation to make a high-quality public school education accessible to all on an equal basis. Necessary steps include stabilizing the teaching staff at all schools. The district must end the practice of sending layoff notices to teachers who are not going to be laid off. And the teacher assignment system should also be modified so that teachers with less than 5 years experience are more-or-less equally distributed to
all schools, by setting aside positions for "teachers in training" in roughly equal proportions at all schools. The teacher in training positions should be phased in to avoid another massive realignment of teachers. And teacher tenure and seniority rights should not be compromised more than necessary in order to establish teacher in training positions.
The Minneapolis School District should also call on the Minnesota Department of Education to develop a standardized student achievement test that is aligned to the content of the state's college bound curriculum and can be used to evaluate, in greater detail, what students are and aren't learning. Current testing procedures are of little diagnostic value. If the district stabilizes the teaching staff at all schools, and does a better job of valuating the effectiveness of individual teachers and school programs, it should be possible to integrate the general student population into college bound curriculum tracks without watering down the curriculum for high
achievers in the college bound tracks.
The district must also adopt best practices in educating students who are learning English as a second language. ESL classes and translation services are inadequate. We should setup bilingual education programs and make them accessible to all ESL students, beginning with programs for the larger populations of English language learners, such as students who speak Spanish, Somali, Hmong, etc.
And the district must also offer appropriate special education
services in the least restrictive, least isolated environment possible, and in the least stigmatizing manner possible. And special Ed programs must not be used as a dumping ground for students who are failing to thrive in regular education programs.
The big decline in student enrollment in recent years is, in my opinion, the primarily the result of three factors:
1) Gentrification of Minneapolis neighborhoods and the opening up of parts of the suburban housing market to people of color, and more affordable housing in some of the suburbs.
2) Loss of 'market share' due to the dissatisfaction of parents with the quality of education their children are getting in the regular public schools. The district has done very little to change that. And the district has taken some proactive steps to drive students out of the district, such as enforcement of an attendance policy approved by the board in 1999, and otherwise moving more MPS families into the juvenile justice system for truancy and behavioral issues, which are, to some degree, a reflection of students acting out in response to conditions they face inside the schools.
3) Cuts in bus service instituted in the fall of 2002 may also be a big factor in the huge, annual enrollment declines since October 2002. I suspect that the cuts in bus service didn't cut the cost of bus transportation very much, as some parents have opted to send their children to charters and private schools that are farther away from home than their neighborhood school. And the cuts in bus transportation have contributed to a decline in enrollment, which in turn led to the closing of schools, and the reassignment of students to schools that are farther away from home.
I also want to point out that a high proportion low-income students, and the title 1 money that follows them, have been leaving the district-run schools, and enrolling in charters and suburban public schools. This has created a big strain on the districts finances, because, a bigger part of the districts operating budget goes to higher than lower income students. There is a huge difference between high and low poverty schools in average teacher salaries in the regular education programs, a lot of the title 1 money has been co-mingled with general funds from which low-poverty schools obtain the lions' share of the benefits, especially in the area of teacher compensation.