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Doug Mann for School Board / "Closing the Gap"
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Date:     3/8/2002

I plan to run for a seat on the Minneapolis Board of Education again this year.  

Seven years ago the Minneapolis Board of Education said that its goal was to improve education-related outcomes for MPS students and to close the academic achievement gap.  Remember the June 1995 resolution, "Closing the Gap: ensuring that all children can learn"?

Why has the MPS board failed to reduce the 50% high school dropout / pushout rate?  Why no progress toward closing the academic achievement gap? Based on available data about education-related outcomes for MPS students disaggregated by race and income, I estimate that 85-90% of black students and about 45-50% of white students (mostly from the city's poorer neighborhoods) are excluded from the district's college preparatory curriculum programs.

Is it possible to "close the gap"? Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows a steady narrowing of the test score gap in reading and math from 1971 to the mid-to-late 1980s in America's public schools.  The difference in reading scores for black and white 13 year olds decreased by about 50% during that period.  Since then most of the progress made toward closing the gap in the 1970s and 80s has been wiped out ["Long Division," an article in the Sept/Oct 2001 issue of The New Crisis, the NAACP's magazine].

Why is the test score gap opening instead of closing? A major shift in educational policy followed the release in 1983 of a report titled "A Nation at Risk."  A blue ribbon panel of K-12 education experts selected by the Reagan-Bush administration concluded that America's public schools had gone too far in their efforts to close the academic achievement gap. Democratic Party politicians quickly fell into line.

The author's of "A Nation at Risk" claimed that schools were closing the academic achievement gap at the expense of high performing students.  Yet NAEP data shows steady improvement in math and reading scores for high performing students during a period from 1971 to the mid-to-late1980s.  

I believe that what really alarmed the rich folk who control the Democratic and Republican parties was the effect "closing the gap" would have on the class structure of American society.  Too much education would spoil the "underclass" for low-wage jobs.

The post-1983 shift in K-12 education policy includes the aggressive promotion of "ability-grouping," which is a method of tracking students into watered-down academic and nonacademic curriculum programs.  School districts in MN where 95% of the 8th graders pass all of the Minnesota Basic Standards tests on the first try and go on to graduate from high school on time do not "ability group" elementary school students.  Nor do most private schools.  Nor do the public schools in Japan, Western Europe and just about everywhere else. The Minneapolis Public Schools start ability grouping as early as
Kindergarten and grade one.  

There are several other issues that should be addressed in the Minneapolis School Board race, including an extraordinarily high concentration of inexperienced and non-tenured teachers in many of the community schools that serve poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.  Newer teachers should be distributed evenly through the district, which was done with positions for new teachers funded by federal government a few years ago.  Otherwise the district should strictly follow the job bidding process described in the union contract (which is often ignored).  

Doug Mann, Kingfield