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We must address the education access gap
by Doug Mann, 1 Feb 2005  (Letter to the Minneapolis NAACP branch)

In my opinion, the education achievement gap between white and minority students is largely the reflection of differences in the quality of educational facilities and programs to which students have access. The achievement gap cannot be closed without action to close the access gap. [See footnotes and attached comment]

However, education policy makers in Minnesota and Minneapolis say the education achievement gap between whites and minorities has very little or nothing to do with educational facilities and programs. They talk about parent involvement, culture, and so forth. They say that, for the most part, students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are failing because they can't and / or don't want to learn.

The superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, Thandiwe Peebles, may recognize the systemic problems and have the skills needed to fix the school system (especially in relation to staff development and implementation of accountability measures), but she doesn't have the power to make the necessary changes in policy. And she cannot go very far in the direction of advocating changes in policy that the school board doesn't support.

And we should be wary of promises of salvation through "choice" programs. No Child Left Behind, for example, has mechanisms for shutting down failing schools, but does not force districts to make its better schools an option for many of the students who attend the worst schools. Increasingly, the options for poor and minority students within the public system are being narrowed to the worst of the district-run schools and charter schools. Charter schools generally make do with much less money per pupil than regular public schools. Local property tax money pays for the buildings and part of the operating budget of the regular public school system in Minneapolis.

I recommend that the Minneapolis NAACP branch education committee 1) formulate a plan of action, with recommendations to policy-makers to close the education access gap,  2) organize a series of town meetings to refine a plan of action to close the education access gap, and to mobilize the community around it. and 3) develop an advocacy program for parents and students that will help us get into the schools, where we can acquire good first hand information and develop relationships with teachers, administrators, and other school community members.

"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] "Are You Experienced" September 2004, Minnesota Public Radio web site, 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.

"Attached Comment": Minneapolis school desegregation plan should be amended