Mann for School Board
Opening Statement, 2002 school board candidates forum
This is how the preamble of the 1999-2001 teachers contract describes the mission of the Minneapolis Public Schools
"We exist to ensure that all students learn. We support their growth into knowledgeable, skilled and confident citizens capable of succeeding in their work, personal and family life into the 21st century."
The preamble also identifies two basic organizational principles: "The strategic direction for the Minneapolis Public Schools is our overall guide." and "Student achievement is the primary focus of all we do."
According to a resolution passed by the board on June 27, 1995 and entitled "closing the gap: Ensuring that all students can learn," the strategic direction is toward "closing the gap." That resolution replaced a controlled choice desegregation plan with the so-called Community School Plan, which was expected to increase parent involvement, which in turn would boost student achievement by reducing the average distance between the homes and schools of students. However, since the Fall of 1996, when the district began to implement the Community School Plan, the achievement gap has continued to widen.
The Community School Plan isn't just a failure, it's an enormously expensive failure. A big component of the plan, the conversion of elementary and middle schools into K-8 schools is expected to cost the district a total of 283 million dollars. [October 8, 2002, Minneapolis school board meeting]
More recently the district passed an attendance policy that imposes draconian penalties for what district officials define as unexcused and excessive absences. For example, high school students with too many unexcused absences get failing grades, even if they are otherwise qualified for passing grades.
Since the new attendance policy was introduced, the proportion of students who attend school at least 95% of the time has increased from 37% to 60%. However, the expected improvement in test score averages didn't happen and the test score gap continued to widen.
The new attendance policy was also a factor that helped to produce a decline in student enrollment districtwide from about 50,000 to about 46,000 in just two years. A decline in enrollment of that magnitude cannot be attributed to a comparable decline in the school age population. As district officials have put it, "we are losing market share to private schools, home schoolers and suburban public schools." And the thing that is driving much of the district's loss of market share is customer dissatisfaction.
I believe the problems with our schools are largely systemic in nature. District leaders have chosen ineffective strategies and inefficient processes. And they no longer monitor education-related outcomes with measures that show which way the district is headed and how fast it is moving in relation to the goal of 'closing the gap.' That needs to change and yesterday won't be soon enough.
Minneapolis School Board Candidate