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Minneapolis Public Schools Can 'Close the Gap'
by Doug Mann, August 11, 2003
The Minneapolis Public Schools are a disaster for most of the people of color and poor whites enrolled in it. Only about 20% of African-American students entering the 9th grade graduate from High School within 5 years. The High School graduation rate for Indian/Native students is only 14%. A majority of black middle school students are suspended at least once per year, compared to about 4% of white students. Over 20% of African American students are diagnosed as having some type of Emotional-Behavioral Disorder and are assigned to special education programs.
Johnson and the Board say they have been focused on improving student achievement and closing the academic achievement gap. The expansion of all-day kindergarten and the Arts for Academic Achievement program have had a positive impact, according to the district. But the net effect of reforms carried out during Johnson's watch have been negative, and it has been many years since the district has made any progress toward closing the gap.
Big city school districts made a lot of progress toward closing the gap in the 1970s & early 1980s, and have lost a lot of ground since the late 1980s. The first Bush administration commissioned a study known as the Sandia Report, which reviewed data from a federal testing program, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Sandia Report found that during the 1970s and early 1980s average scores were decreasing in tests of basic math and reading proficiency between whites and blacks (and other minorities), between poor & middle class students, and between urban & suburban school systems (1) Differences in average reading scores for black & white 13 year olds declined by about 50%. (2)
The Sandia Report also flatly contradicted conclusions of the report of a blue-ribbon panel selected by the Reagan-Bush administration, "A Nation at Risk," which was released on April 26, 1983. ‘A Nation at Risk’ warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity" in the public schools, claiming that the performance of top students in the US was declining, that top students in other industrialized nations were doing better, and that this international academic achievement gap was getting wider. (1)
However, the Sandia Report found that the performance of the nation's talented fifth improved in the areas of basic math and reading proficiency during the 1970s and early 1980s. Test scores for the talented fifth of 17 year olds were generally stable, and on average changed very little, but the apparent lack of progress by these top students was the reflection of rising high school completion rates, i.e., poorer performing students were staying in school, lowering the average of the top fifth. (1)
The Sandia Report was suppressed by the first Bush administration and has largely been ignored since its release soon after Clinton moved into the White House. (1) Aside from posturing over the issue of school-vouchers, the Democratic Party has not opposed the Reagan-Bush education "reform" agenda, now being marketed as the "No Child Left Behind" reforms, since the mid-1980s.
I think the Minneapolis School District can make progress toward the goal of closing the gap by: 1) aligning the accountability system with the goal of "closing the gap," 2) taking steps to make a college-bound curriculum accessible to all students, and 3) desegregating the district’s least experienced teachers.
Footnotes: 1) The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools, 1995, by Berliner and Biddle. 2) The New Crisis (NAACP Magazine), Sept / Oct 2001, "long Division" page 25-31