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K-12 and the Test Score Gap: It's the drug war stupid?
Subj:      [Mpls] K-12 & the test score gap: It's the drug war, stupid?
Date:     12/15/2001 10:16:15 PM Central Standard Time

In a message dated 12/6/2001 4:45:25 PM Central Standard Time,
lynnell mickelsen writes:
>   The "It's the System" versus "It's the Family" comes up for
>  me all the time.  A few weeks ago, I was listening to former Hennepin
>  County Attorney Tom Johnson talk about racial profiling. In our
>  current war on drugs in this state, which is waged almost entirely on
>  the black population, blacks are nine times as likely to be arrested
>  on possession charges; 22 times more likely to serve time. (Never
>  mind that black and white drug use is, according to various studies,
>  either equal or pretty close to it.) The 100 to 1 sentencing
>  differences between crack and powder cocaine continues--even though
>  or perhaps because- inner city blacks have tended to use crack while
>  suburban whites have tended to use powder.
>   Johnson says the appalling black drop-out rates and huge gap
>  in test scores are linked to this drug war. You wouldn't know this
>  from Doug Mann and Michael Athertons' various posts ---but the
>  horrific drop-out rates and test score gaps in Minneapolis are also
>  happening nationwide. It's not a localized failure of the Minneapolis
>  public schools. If it was, we could go to Chicago, Boston, New York,
>  Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Denver, Los Angeles or Houston, etc. and see
>  what they're doing right and follow their example.
What is the nature of the link between the drug wars and high school drop out
rates?  Where is the evidence that the test score gap is caused by the drug

By the way, I recently visited the web site of the Houston NAACP branch.  A
high school "dropout" rate of 40% for black students in Houston was called
astronomical.  What would they call a high school dropout rate of  65%? 70%?  
Yes, we have "dropout" rates in excess of 60% for black and American Indian
students in Minneapolis. Perhaps we could learn something by visiting the
Houston Public Schools and seeing how they do it.

>   Unfortunately,  in city after city, we are seeing the same
>  phenomenon: whole generations of poor, black (and also Hispanic)
>  teenagers committing a form of intellectual suicide. Dropping out.
>  Deciding that achievement in school is a "white thing." The
>  Minneapolis schools are offering tutors, mentors, after-school
>  programs, summer school, alternative high schools---it's not as
>  though the public schools aren't trying anything

The schools are trying things that don't work, and keep on trying things that
don't work to close the test score gap and reduce high school dropout / push
out rates. The schools in city after city do pretty much the same things and
get pretty much same results.  Similar curriculum, similar ability-grouping
practices, etc.

>--and yet we continue
>  to watch huge numbers line up and drink this particular Purple
>  Kool-Aid. Beyond the obvious social costs, I think of some of the
>  great minds and achievements we're losing in this city! Every year.
>  Every day. It makes me crazy. It makes teachers crazy. And it makes
>  plenty of black parents really crazy. And desperate.
>   Which is why many middle-class black families move to the
>  suburbs or send their kids to private schools. Or at least that's
>  what they tell me. It's not as if they believe the teachers in Eden
>  Prairie or Edina are so superior, so much more racially-sensitive.
>  It's not that the curriculum is even any different. (It usually
>  isn't)  It's an effort to get away from a culture of entrenched
>  poverty and/or academic suicide.

There is a big difference between a college preparatory curriculum program
and the work-readiness curriculum that's designed for a majority of the
students in the Minneapolis Public Schools.  Some of the suburban public
schools and most of the private schools (for obvious reasons) have all of
their students in grades K-8 on one track: a college-bound track. That is not
the case in Minneapolis.

The teachers in some public and most private schools are not differentiating
the curriculum by ability-grouping.  There are other, more effective ways to
deal with a wide range of abilities. By the way, there is a public school in
Minneapolis, Barton Open School, that doesn't ability-group and does very
well in the test score department.  Montessori schools don't ability group.  
The catholic school my son attends doesn't ability group.  If parents were
not happy with a college-preparatory curriculum program, they would be coming
back to the Minneapolis Public Schools in droves.  Instead, they are leaving.

>   Johnson says the drug war leads to a deep alienation towards
>  anything perceived as part of the power system. Which, unfortunately,
>  includes the schools.
The school administration regards those alienated parents and students as
second class customers.  The school system isn't run for their benefit.  The
first class customers are the future employers of those alienated students.  
Most parents want their kids to get an education that prepares them for
college.  Their kids are getting a work readiness curriculum.  Who benefits
from that?  The employers of Minneapolis who need low-wage workers.  Too much
education would spoil their future low-wage employees.  That's why the district
spends so much money retooling its work readiness curriculum. That's what
the profiles of learning are: a new kind of work readiness curriculum.

>    I still think the involvement of families in their
>  children's education is absolutely crucial. To pretend otherwise is
>  to ignore the elephant in the living room. But there's a whole bunch
>  of elephants in a whole bunch of living rooms all over this town. In
>  my more affluent, white section of the city, one of our elephants is
>  the appalling silence of white people in the face of this
>  long-running and unjust racial profiling. Our general indifference to
>  affordable housing issues. And more.
>   I don't expect any of this to affect the school bashers. They
>  will continue to make  Minneapolis Public Schools solely responsible
>  for the failures of all of us.  Man, if only it were that simple.

There is racial profiling in the housing market, the job market, in the
criminal justice system, and in a lot of other places.  News flash: it
happens in the educational system too.  I agree that fixing the school system
isn't THE solution.  However, the schools are a big part of the problem, and
fixing them is a big part of the solution.

-Doug Mann, Kingfield

Doug Mann for School Board
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