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Doug Mann LPN, LNC

Community Engagement Seminar for School Board Members

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Community Engagement, Power, and the Racial Achievement Gap Discussed by West Metro School Board members

On Sept 13, 2006 between 20 to 30 persons attended an event for west metro school board members and superintendents, entitled Engaging in "Courageous Conversation and Community Engagement," Board of Education and Executive Leadership Seminar 2.

The presenter was Will Walker, Ph.D., director of the Pacific Educational Group

All of the Minneapolis School Board members and candidates were invited, but only board candidates Tom Madden (DFL endorsed) and Doug Mann (Green Party member) showed up.

Just a few points that were made during the seminar:

The parents who are most engaged (volunteering at school sites, active in parent advisory committees, have the ear of the school board and superintendent, etc.) are mainly parents who feel entitled and trust the school district to meet the needs of their kids. Parents who do not feel entitled, or whose children are not well served by the schools are generally less engaged and more often disengaged.

There are "explanations" for the racial achievement gap, which explain the racial achievement gap as being mainly a result of factors over which the schools have little or no control: Genetics, poverty, a cultural mismatch --- reasons to NOT engage Black/Brown Parents.

However, we know that the racial achievement gap can be closed. We know a lot about how to do it. It's been done. The racial achievement gap exists because of a lack of political will to change it.

The presenter did not put forward any explanation for the achievement gap, and how it can be closed, other than by using "best practices."

The "non-discussible" reasons to not engage most Black / Brown parents: Explanations of the racial achievement gap as being a reflection of genetic differences and poverty, though both of explanations are out there and have some influence.

And there is the "Cultural Pathology Model," which holds that the racial achievement gap is mainly a reflection of "deficiencies" in families/communities or a cultural mismatch with the institution. For advocates of this model, the problem is single parents / dysfunctional families; poor parenting skills, inappropriate behaviors, lack of family involvement; Lack of drive and ambition / lacking of value for education, success; poor choice of role models/lack of positive role models; peer pressure / gang affiliation, etc.

In Minneapolis, people talk openly about poverty and deficiencies of communities of color as the reasons for a big achievement gap. And across the country, the cultural pathology model is fairly popular with teachers.

There is no denying the existence of "cultural pathologies." However, whites are far from being deficiency free. There are plenty of single / divorced, white parents, dysfunctional white families; uninvolved white parents, etc. And if the racial achievement gap is due to "cultural pathologies" unrelated to the school environment, how do you explain the Education Trust's identification of about 5,000 high performing, high poverty, high-minority public schools?

I noted that the racial achievement gap in the public schools was being closed in the 1970s and early 80s, and has been getting wider since then. My explanation for this is that when the school system was desegregated in the 1960s and 70s, good educational programs became accessible to more Black students. Since the 1980s, the school system has become more racially segregated and unequal, with more and more black students being consigned to inferior school programs.

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