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Final week of the 2001 Campaign | K-12 Schools and the Strib's Agenda | Reply to Dennis Shapiro | Mr. Robson's Defense of Dennis Schapiro | Do We Need to Fix the Schools, or the Kids, Parents & Communities of Color | Re: [Mpls] Re: K-12 Schools - Response to C. Shreves | Drill and Kill | Questions for C Shreves | Is Phonics Instruction Necessary?
Re: [Mpls] Re: K-12 Schools - Response to C. Shreves
Subj: Re: [Mpls] Re: K-12 Schools - Response to C Shreves
Date: 11/1/2001 3:30:08 AM Central Standard Time
I will respond to few issues addressed by Catherine Shreves.
In a message dated 10/31/2001 8:15:32 PM Central Standard Time,
> I really do feel a need to correct some misstatements and inaccuracies
> about the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) that have been placed on this
> list by Mr. Doug Mann of the Parents Union. I would be the first to
> agree with Mr. Mann that MPS must do a better job at educating our poor
> and minority students, and I would like to tell you some of the things
> that the district is doing to improve in that area. But more
> importantly, I want to correct some serious misstatements.
> Mr. Mann alleges that "the concentration of inexperienced teachers and
> class sizes have increased at schools serving poor, predominantly black
> neighborhoods since the community school plan was implemented. Poor
> neighborhoods usually end up with inferior educational facilities,
> unless kids from poor and non-poor neighborhoods share the same
> facilities. Schools serving students in high poverty neighborhoods need
> more of the resources that make schools good, but usually have to make
> do with less."
> These allegations are simply not accurate.
I've seen the school-by-school breakdowns for 1995 to 1999. More current
data was not available the last time that I visited the districts Research,
Evaluation, and Assessment office. I commented on these trends at a board of
education meeting. I got an explanation for why class sizes had gone up in
some schools and down in others (changes in enrollment and classroom
availability). Class sizes were going up in high poverty schools on the
North side, and going down in low poverty schools in SW Minneapolis.
In my remarks to the board I noted why districtwide class size reductions
produce higher concentrations of experienced teachers in some schools, and
lower concentrations in others. Teacher assignments are, in theory,
determined by a bidding process that's in the teachers contract. For most
teachers, certain schools are more attractive than others, and the most
experienced teachers generally move on to the most popular schools. Class
size reduction programs create a lot of new teaching positions, and with
those new positions go opportunities for teachers to transfer from one
building to another. Are you telling me that that didn't happen in the
Minneapolis public schools?
You say that schools that appear to be doing the worst job of educating their
students, most of whom happen to be eligible for free or reduced price
lunches, are not inferior because they get compensatory money. And you cite
an example of a school on the North side where compensatory money is used to
lower class sizes below the district average. Are you talking about the
average classroom size, or the "teacher-student" ratio?
For purposes of determining eligibility for state class-size reduction aid,
the district had been using a teacher-student ratio that includes support
staff, including teacher's aids. We, the confrontational malcontents of the
Parents Union had to challenge claims by the district that class sizes had
been reduced across-the-board in order to clarify that point with the board
president who preceded you. It was like talking to the character in Alice in
Wonderland who didn't see the need for words to have any particular meaning.
> Finally, Mr. Mann's web site contains serious inaccuracies about the MPS
> curriculum, particularly his statement that the look-say method is being
> used. The MPS uses the Houghton Mifflin reading curriculum, which uses a
> combination of phonics, grammar and award winning literature.
The Houghton Mifflin sales reps did tell many parents what they wanted to
hear: that the new English language curriculum has a phonics component, and
that the curriculum product can be integrated with direct phonics
instruction. However, one year ago I learned that the "phonics piece"
consisted of a scrabble game. Where did I get my information?
For "phonics instruction" at a Minneapolis Public School, my son attended a
program called "Soar to Success," where he claimed that he never received any
phonics instruction, and that picture books appropriate for children reading
at a first grade level were used by fourth graders. He insisted that one of
his teachers had been handing me a lot of BS about the phonics instruction.
I went to the school to find out what was going on. My son was right on all
The school was willing to order a copy of "plaid phonics," which I understood
to be an excellent phonics textbook, and have someone work with my son
one-on-one. I believe that I got that far because I had documented my
concerns in such a way that I could go after some teaching licenses if the
school continued to blow me off on this issue. However, at this point there
was no way that my wife and I could keep him in the public schools.
For over 3 years we tried to change what was happening to my son in the
public school that he attended. Last year we transferred him to a catholic
school which has a more coherent curriculum and doesn't "ability-group." He
is now getting an education in a non-hostile environment that he was entitled
to receive in the public schools. Pulling him out of the public schools was,
as you said, a good choice (We have discussed this situation). But it's not
the kind of choice that any parent should be forced to make.
-Doug Mann, Kingfield