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Response to questions from South High students
Email #1

Hi,

This is a generic response to questions put to me by several South High students.  I don't have the time to answer each and every inquiry in a timely fashion.  

You might find some material that would be helpful at my web site:  http://educationright.tripod.com

I am convinced that the quality of education for most students would dramatically improve if the schools phased out low-ability groupings and curriculum tracks.  This untracking process would require some changes in the curriculum and a somewhat different approach to teaching.

The curriculum for "academically gifted and talented" students in the Minneapolis Public Schools is basically a traditional academic / college-preparatory curriculum. Most students are getting a watered-down version of a traditional academic curriculum or a vocationalized curriculum that is aligned to the Profiles of Learning. I believe that just about every student can benefit from the type of curriculum, enrichment strategies, and methods of instruction that are currently used in the gifted and talented programs.

There are a number of ways that the curriculum is dumbed-down for most students.  One example is the use of the "look-say" method of reading instruction in the early elementary grades.  Most students exposed to the look-say method do not learn enough about sound-letter relationships to acquire reading skills at or above the 6th grade level.  The "slow learners" assume that they are slow learners because they are stupid.  The practice of grouping students into high, medium and low-ability learners reinforces this negative self image of the "slow learners."  The fast learners assume that they are fast learners because they are smart.   
Supporters of the ability-grouping model claim that the ability-grouping merely accommodates differences in learning ability / capacity that are inborn and / or fixed at an early age.  The argument goes that these presumably fixed and unchangeable differences in learning capacity account for disparities in education-related outcomes between poor and non-poor students, and between white and black students.     

However, there is a great deal of evidence that education-related outcomes are greatly influenced by the quality of education one receives.  For example, the director of research for the Minneapolis District reported that 40% of the variability in test scores between students could be attributed to teacher efficacy, which is measured primarily as years of current and continuous teaching experience.  The schools with the highest concentration of inexperienced teachers have the lowest average scores on academic achievement tests.  

It also happens that schools with a high concentration of inexperienced teachers have a high concentration of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and students who are classified as nonwhite.  [However, for the reasons cited above] the strong correlation (statistical association) between poverty and low test scores cannot be explained as a cause and effect relationship between poverty and low test scores.

Ability-grouping was widely introduced in grades 7 and 8 as part of a restructuring of the school system that took place about 100 years ago.  Kids from the more affluent neighborhoods attended elementary schools that gave them a strong academic foundation and were generally placed in the college preparatory curriculum tracks.

Ability-grouping in grades K-6 was rarely done in this country until after the US Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated schools were a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the constitution (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). When elementary schools were eventually integrated in the late 1960s / early 1970s, black children were generally excluded from (or underrepresented in) the gifted and talented programs, and over-represented in the lowest-level groupings.

Most of the public school systems in Europe and elsewhere introduced some form of ability-grouping after grades five or six many years ago, but not in the early elementary grades.  In most countries you don't see the huge disparities in educational outcomes for elementary school students that one sees in the US, and there is a much weaker correlation between poverty and standardized test scores than in the US.  

/Doug            
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Email #2

Hi,

Graduation rates for students who speak English as a second language are about the same as for students who speak English as their native language.  Both categories of students would benefit from a more coherent curriculum and more effective learning strategies, which are addressed in my platform.

My platform and other materials, including "a response to questions from South High students" are located at my web site: http://educationright.tripod.com

Good luck with your project.  

/Doug

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Email #3

Hi,

The big issue for me is that most students do not get an adequate education in the Minneapolis Public Schools.  I have a platform and other material at my web site that discusses how to overhaul the school system so that all students can have an education that prepares them for college (college should be an option for everyone).

On the budget issue: I can't figure out how the district can spend more than $13,000 per student, but doesn't provide enough textbooks and supplies to the classrooms.  More of the budget should be used to raise the starting pay for teachers, to hire more teachers, to pay for instructional aids (textbooks, supplies), better lunches, and extracurricular activities.

A lot of money is spent on behavioral management, remedial programs, and on the maintenance of multiple curriculum tracks that could be reallocated if the district set about the task of overhauling the system along the lines I have proposed.

The district is spending too much on highly compensated administrative employees. A review of contracts should also be undertaken to see if the district is being overcharged by some of the vendors.  

Good luck with your project

/Doug  
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Email  #4

Hi,

I didn't check my Emails yesterday evening due to the campaign (last minute literature drops).  

I am in favor of having bussing as an option for any student who lives more than one mile away from school, and for students who can't walk to school for other reasons (including safety concerns).  

Each and every student who is falling behind should get the help they need in the classroom.  The reason this has not been happening is that the district can get money from the state for special education services if they let a kid fall two years below their grade level on an academic aptitude/acheivement test, or if there is a comparable level of disparity between test scores on a cognitive ability / IQ test and an academic aptitude / achievement test.

In cases where a student does have a diagnosed learning disability and is performing below grade level, but not by more than 2 years, the district still won't help most students (the district will make accommodations under pressure from some parents).  One reason for this is the way that the rules have been written for reimbursement by the state [for special education].  The district doesn't get reimbursed for special education services unless a student has fallen way behind.  

At the same time, many students who qualify for special education services don't get the type of services they need. The state legislature passed a law a few years back to require the Dept. of Families, Children and Learning to fully reimburse the districts for their legal expenses when fighting claims for special education services that parents make on behalf of their children. However, if the parent wins, they only get the special education services.  Parents cannot sue for lost wages, legal costs and other expenses incurred in attempting to force the district to do its job.  Parents cannot sue for damages.

I also gave a general response to questions put to me by several other South High students about what I would do to improve graduation rates and the quality of education for most students.  My response to questions from South High students can be found at http://educationright.tripod.com

Thank you for your questions. (I hope that my response has not come too late.)

/Doug