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The Community School Plan   |   K-12 Education on the Wrong Track
The Community School Plan

Minneapolis Public Schools Proceed with Re-segregation Plan
1/26/98, revised 12/30/2000

          In the Fall of 1995 the Minneapolis Public Schools unveiled a "community school" plan, which would bring about more segregation in the district's schools. More than 600 inner city parents and community members joined the NAACP, the Urban Coalition and other organizations in opposing the plan.

         About 75% of the residents of Minneapolis are classified as white, non-Hispanic, but nearly 70% of the students enrolled in the Minneapolis Public Schools are children of color.

         Children of color represented 12% of all students in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 1969, 31% in 1980, 52% in 1990, and 64% in the Fall of 1995. Of all K-12 students in the Minneapolis Public Schools as of December 1, 1995, 40.41% were identified as African-American and 36.32% were identified as white.

          The Minneapolis public schools had been compelled to integrate its student population to a considerable degree since 1972, when the Federal District Court found the Minneapolis Public Schools to be unlawfully segregated by race.

          However, the school district consistently failed to comply with the Court's desegregation order while being monitored by the Court from 1972 to 1983, and thereafter remained out of compliance with the State's desegregation Rule.

         Under the school assignment scheme followed by the Minneapolis Public Schools from 1983 through 1995, the "school choice" plan, enrollment was guaranteed to siblings of students already enrolled at a particular school, and a certain percentage of openings were supposed to be reserved for non-white applicants. A first-round lottery would be held to select from a pool of students of color. Then non-white students who were not picked in the first round, if any, and white students would be picked in a second round.

         Under the "school choice" plan the proximity of a school to a student's place of residence didn't matter in the final selection process, but it was a consideration for many parents in choosing which schools to bid for and how to rank their choices.

        The selection of school sites to be kept or built, the conversion of many K-6 schools into lower- and upper- elementary schools, and other policies forced many students to take long bus trips across town to get to school and back, which greatly annoyed many parents and students, and kept some of the schools disproportionately filled with white students or non-white students.

         Under the Community School Plan, most students are guaranteed placement at a school that serves a defined school attendance area which includes the school site. The boundaries for these attendance areas are drawn in such a way as to concentrate students of color and low-income students in some schools, and to concentrate more affluent, mostly white students in other schools.

        The segregation of students by race and class is further enhanced at many elementary school sites by a reduction in the average size of attendance areas.  This is accomplished by converting many K-2, K-3, upper-elementary and middle schools [back] into K-6 schools.

         In order to proceed with its community school plan, the Minneapolis Public Schools had to get permission from the State to further segregate the schools. Permission was granted, even though the Minneapolis school district was not in compliance with the State's desegregation rule. As of January 1996 thirteen elementary schools in Minneapolis were illegally segregated by race.

        Under the Community School Plan, it is estimated that the student population at nine of the district's 70 elementary schools will be 95 to 100% non-white by the year 2000.  With the blessing of Minnesota's Board of Education, the Minneapolis Public Schools went ahead to implement its community school plan in the Fall of 1996. Already, white students are the majority group at some elementary schools in the city's more affluent, mostly white residential districts.

Access to an Adequate Education Denied
to Most Low-income and Non-white Students

        Under Minnesota's constitution, an adequate education is a right, not a privilege. As defined by the Courts, an adequate education prepares one for employment or higher education and training, and includes: the development of good verbal and writing skills; an understanding of economic, social and political systems; an appreciation of one's cultural and historical heritage; and more.

       Yet a large majority of students identified as non-white and Hispanic, and most poor white students clearly do not get an adequate education in the Minneapolis [and St. Paul] Public Schools.

        For students who are not deemed to be college-bound, the Minneapolis Public Schools are only beginning to clearly define minimum student performance expectations at each grade level, which are aligned to the Minnesota Basic Standards Test.

         The schools are also testing K-8 students to see if they are acquiring the basic academic skills needed to pass the Minnesota Basic Standards Test before they finish high school.   Passing scores on the Minnesota Basic Standards reading and math tests will be a requirement for high school graduation in the year 2000.

         Passing  the MBST indicates competence in reading, math and writing skills at a very basic level.  A high school graduate in the year 2000 wouldn't necessarily be able to read, write and reckon well enough to go to a college or trade school without having to do some remedial course work.

         The quality of education provided to most students in the Minneapolis Public Schools is indicated by results of the 1997 MBST.   Of the 60,000 eighth grade students who took the 1997 Minnesota Basic Standards Test, 59% passed the reading exam and 70% passed the math exam.  But in Minneapolis only 33% of the eighth graders passed the reading exam and 36% passed the math exam. Test scores for eighth grade students in St. Paul were only slightly higher.

       Huge disparities in academic achievement between white and non-white eighth grade students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are also indicated by pass rates on the Minnesota Basic Standards Reading Test: 60% for white students and 17% for non-white students.   Pass rates on the math component of the MBST were 64% for white students and 28% for non-white students. Only 9% of African-American eighth graders in the Minneapolis Public Schools passed both parts of the test.

        On the 1997 California Achievement Test and Northwest Achievement Level Tests, over 50% of African-American students in grades 2,3,4,5 and 6 had reading scores which put them in the bottom fourth of students tested nation-wide, and 7-11% scored among the top fourth. White students in the same grade levels had scores that put 18-23% in the bottom fourth and 38-49% in the top fourth.

         Measures of academic performance in grades 2-6 for students enrolled in the Minneapolis [and St. Paul] Public Schools are extremely significant because students are tracked into high, medium, and low performance instructional groups at an early age. Some public elementary schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul begin to sort children into high, medium and low-performance instructional groups in kindergarten or by the beginning of grade one, then into high, medium and low performance classrooms the following year.

         Where grouping-by-ability for instructional purposes is done to the exclusion of whole group instruction and "mixed-ability" pairing and grouping in the development of basic academic skills, students in the high performance groups tend to cover more ground academically and use their time in the classroom more productively than the medium and low-performance groups.

        Special educational programs are provided to academically high-performing, college-bound students in the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools through a program called "pre-international baccalaureate" in grades 4 through 8, and "International baccalaureate" in grades 9-12. The Minneapolis Public Schools has not been tracking information on participation in these programs by race and income, but it would be safe to say that half of all white students, and fewer than one-fourth of non-white and Hispanic students in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are on a college preparatory curriculum track by the start of ninth grade.

        Many elementary schools also offer special classes for children identified as "gifted." At least one school in Minneapolis determines who is gifted in Kindergarten and doesn't assess for giftedness at higher grade levels. A "gifted" child is generally defined as being among the top-scoring 5% of all children in measures of intellectual development and academic achievement at any given age and grade level according to national norms.

         As is the case with high performance classrooms, affluent and white students are greatly over-represented in the gifted programs. On the other hand, students of color and poor whites are greatly over-represented in low-performance classrooms. African-American students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are also massively over-represented in special education classes for the learning disabled.

       It should also be noted that there is a great deal of variability in student performance from one elementary school to another, and from classroom to classroom in the Minneapolis Public School system that doesn't mirror achievement for students district-wide, even with adjustments for differences in the mix of racial/ethnic groups and the concentration of poverty at each school.

        According to the school district's own data on student achievement, the general student population at the most segregated schools get the worst education. The reason for variances in student achievement from school to school have something to do with the effectiveness of instructional methods and learning strategies utilized, the average level of training and experience attained by classroom teachers, and average classroom size. On average the most segregated (non-white) schools have the least experienced teachers and the largest class sizes.

A New Administration Stays the Course

         A few months before the community school plan was unveiled, on September 19, 1995 the Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP and parents of students enrolled in the Minneapolis Public Schools filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Minnesota and other defendants. The lawsuit alleges that the Minneapolis Public Schools has failed to provide an adequate education to most of its students, especially children of color and the poor.

      The community school plan goes against the aim of the NAACP lawsuit. The community school plan is creating a more segregated school system that will accompany a shift in the allocation of resources toward the education of affluent and white students and community schools serving the most affluent white residential districts.

        In every case where a large urban school district has become more segregated by race/ethnicity, the result has been a more unequal distribution of resources and worse outcomes for most students, especially African-American students.

        But right from the start the community schools plan has had the backing of Sharon Sayles-Belton, a Democrat and the first African-American and first woman to serve as mayor of Minneapolis. The entire membership of the school board and all but one member of the Minneapolis City Council are Democrats.

         However, support for the school re-segregation plan from the Mayor and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party machine wasn't enough to sell it to a significant part of the African-American community, put a stop to protests against the school administration, and assure passage of a referendum to increase school funding through a property tax hike in the fall of 1997.

       The public relations problem facing the school board was a decision it made a few years earlier to chose a business enterprise called the Public Strategies Group, headed by Peter Hutchinson, as the superintendent of schools. Leading figures in the African-American community and others opposed the hiring of Hutchinson's group, noting that Hutchinson lacked the qualifications minimally required by the Minnesota constitution to fill the post of school superintendent. An unqualified white male was chosen for the job over several qualified applicants, including persons of color.

       In June of 1997 the Minneapolis School Board accepted the resignation of Mr. Hutchinson and his firm as School Superintendent. Although the Board's members expressed surprise about the resignation when Mr. Hutchinson made it public, it appeared that the Board already had a replacement in mind. Before the end of the month the job was offered to and accepted by Carol Johnson, who left a high-level administrative position in the Minneapolis Public Schools a few years earlier to become the superintendent of a suburban school district.

      There was virtually no public criticism about the appointment of Carol Johnson without the formal process normally used to select a school superintendent. Carol Johnson is highly qualified for the job, is known to and respected by many school employees, and didn't need to spend much time learning the ropes. Ms. Johnson also happens to be an African-American, and is expected to make an effort to sell the school board's resegregation policy to the general public.

        According to Johnson, the community school plan is about rallying the community around the cause of improving education. How could anyone be against that?

       The change at the top of the Minneapolis Public Schools organizational chart has calmed the political waters, but it doesn't signify a change in the course plotted during Hutchinson's tenure as superintendent. In fact, the new administration is encountering virtually no criticism under circumstances where Peter Hutchinson would have faced a storm of protest.

        A good example is the failure to fill teaching jobs and allowing classrooms to be filled with more children than the referendum-mandated maximums. According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of 9 October 1997, the Minneapolis Public Schools faced an acute teacher shortage six weeks into the school year, with 102 unfilled jobs for teachers, 92 jobs for educational assistants and 28 child development technicians.

       The school district claimed that the problem was caused by a slow hiring process and a too small pool of qualified applicants.  However, according to an article in the Star-Tribune of 11 October 1997 the Minneapolis Public Schools Human Resource department received 75 calls from job seekers in less than 48 hours, about half were licensed teachers.  A Human Resource department spokesperson reported that, "A lot of the callers were for elementary education, which is not our area of great need, although we're certainly interested in talking to them [about becoming substitutes]."

        Despite the non-shortage of elementary teachers, many classrooms are filled beyond the mandated maximums. During a hearing on the State Board of Education's proposed Diversity Rule on November 17, 1997; one teacher of an early elementary grade from a school on the North side of Minneapolis mentioned in passing during her testimony that she had 24 children in her classroom, including two white students.

        District-wide, the average class size for early elementary grades was 19.5 students in 1995. The current referendum-mandated maximum class size for early elementary grades is 19 students.

        Another reason for over-sized classrooms in the public elementary schools in Minneapolis is that the school administration has been cutting down the average number of class rooms per grade level that it's trying to fill at elementary school sites because many sites are serving children at more grade levels. This change at the school sites makes it hard to keep class sizes within a desired range, which the school administration would like to keep fairly tight for cost containment purposes, and for the same reason the school board prefers that classes be above rather than below the target range.

        One excuse that the Minneapolis Public Schools does not have for failing to comply with referendum-mandated class-size limits is too little money on hand. In 1994 The Minneapolis Public Schools planned to increase its reserve fund from about $500,000 by a million dollars a year until it had $8 million in the reserve fund. During the Fall of 1997 Carol Johnson reported that the reserve fund would increase to about $41 million dollars in the current fiscal year.

        One initiative proposed by Carol Johnson in the Fall of 1997 was the creation of 5 sub-superintendent posts, and the creation of 5 sub-district offices that would handle student registration, address complaints and do community liaison work. The sub-district boundaries also coincide with the boundaries between areas of high and low concentrations of poverty.

       Although Ms. Johnson calls the creation of sub-district offices "de-centralization," it is actually adding another layer of bureaucracy onto the central administration and accompanies moves to relocate some decision-making authority from school sites to the central administration. For example, there is now a district-wide coordinator for gifted and talented programs for the first time since the early 1980's, and there is a strong possibility that school sites where most of the staff and parents don't want gifted education will get stuck with gifted programs, even though gifted education hasn't been mandated by the legislature.

        The district applied for a matching grant for nearly $250,000 from the State of Minnesota for Gifted and Talented programs, which includes the international baccalaureate programs. This grant program is the first appropriation of money specifically tagged for gifted and talented programs since the late 1980's. Most school districts in Minnesota didn't have gifted and talented programs and didn't have any use for the money which the State had appropriated specifically for these programs.

       The Minneapolis Board of Education faces the dilemma that students identified as gifted and talented (college-bound) will be most heavily concentrated in community schools that serve affluent white communities. The Board will have to choose whether to a) spend more money on the whites-mostly/whites only schools, b) reduce the availability of these programs to students in the whites-mostly/whites only schools, c) create as many opportunities to participate in these programs for students at schools in poor, mostly non-white neighborhoods, d) or scrap these programs [as some elementary schools have done].

       The most likely response is a) spend more money on whites-mostly/whites only schools, because it will give affluent white people a reason to stay in the city and keep their kids in the public schools.

        Another burning financial question is how to distribute compensatory funding to the school sites. Under the formula now in use, some of the compensatory funding follows children from low-income households. This money should be used primarily to upgrade the quality of education provided in the classroom during the school day. It can be spent on such things as cutting class sizes, more and better supervision and training of inexperienced teachers, and programs to evaluate and improve teacher effectiveness.

       However, a lot of compensatory money is being spent on after-school tutorial programs, and Carol Johnson has called for an expansion of these programs and the assignment of more home work. However, "tutorial" programs for children who are falling behind is not really tutorial in nature.  A tutorial should reinforce what a child is, or should be, learning in the classroom.

      And after-school tutorial programs that are designed to help children catch up are not reinforced by what is taught in the classroom.  A longer school day, after school tutoring programs and more home work will not do much good when classroom instruction and learning activities during the normal school day are ineffective.

Themes of the Fall 1997 Election Campaign and Diversity Rule Debate

       On the first Tuesday of November 1997, Sharon Sayles Belton was re-elected Mayor, Democrats captured 12 of 13 seats on the Minneapolis City Council and all but one of the open seats on the school board. The Mayor was very out front with her support of the School Board's resegregation policy and "excellence in education," the latter phrase coding for gifted and talented programs.

       Campaign statements related to public education made by Sayles-Belton and just about all of the other Democratic and Republican Party candidates revolved around the need for greater parental and student responsibility: more homework, more truant officers, fewer social promotions [that is, allow the schools to require a lot more students to repeat grade levels, and repeat grade levels more often].

         However, school officials and politicians rarely have anything to say about the classroom environment, which is the primary responsibility of school employees, and haven't done much to look into how the classroom environment effects academic achievement, student behavior problems, drop-out rates, etc.

         To the question: What accounts for disparities in academic achievement? the stock answers are parental involvement, home life, cultural diversity, and just about anything and everything that does not happen in school. That was generally the point of view articulated last Fall in the many newspaper articles and commentaries for and against a proposal to revise the State's Diversity rule.

       At a hearing to consider the need and reasonableness for the proposed Diversity Rule, representatives of the big city school boards raised objections to the most substantive change in the rule: a requirement to track information about student performance, suspensions, drop outs, rates of participation in academic and non-academic programs, and other education-related data by race/ethnicity, gender, disability, English proficiency and income.

        According to a front-page article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of November 18, 1997, "Few Back Diversity Rule," St. Paul School Board chair Mary Thorton-Phillips opined that most of the record keeping required by the Diversity Rule would be a waste of time and money that could be better spent on improving the home life of the students.

         However, editors at the Star-Tribune and the Pioneer Press favored the Diversity Rule as proposed by the Minnesota Board of Education. An editorial in the Star-Tribune of November 23, 1997 noted that the Minnesota Constitution requires an effort by the Minnesota Board of Education and local school boards to provide an adequate education to all children. The collection and analysis of data required by the proposed Diversity Rule is necessary to determine whether the remedies employed to reduce disparities between groups of students are effective. It will effect how records are kept, but in most cases add little to the volume of data collected, according to the editorial.

         Another Star-Tribune editorial argued that it would be wise to adopt the proposed Diversity Rule because it would dampen support for the NAACP lawsuit and help the Minnesota Board of Education to get the Court to dismiss it.

        But an anti-Diversity Rule campaign backed by the Governor reduced support for the new Diversity Rule on the Board of Education, and a couple of pro-Diversity Rule Board members were replaced. The Governor appointed new Board of Education members who opposed the proposed Diversity Rule, which is now dead and buried.

No Confidence in Democrats and Republicans

        K-12 education in the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools effectively denies opportunities for higher education and employment to most working class youth, especially African-Americans and other non-white people, who are easily identified and targeted for unfair practices in the hiring process and on-the-job. This situation gives employers a means to bid down wages across-the-board.

        A better, more equal education for the great majority of K-12 students in the public schools is in the interests of everyone who has to work for a living. But that's not what decides educational policy in this country. The political establishment in this country follows the golden rule: those who have the gold make the rules.

         No confidence should be placed in capitalist politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, to reform the educational system in a way that benefits the poor and the working class as a whole.  Class and racial privileges were knowingly made a part of the current educational system. Politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties introduced these policies and have consistently defended them.

        A serious fight to improve the quality of education for most children in the public schools will have to be undertaken independently of politicians who are tied to the Democratic and Republican parties. Such a fight was carried out as part of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, but its leadership was largely co-opted into the Democratic party, and mass support for the cause was dampened by token concessions and channeled into electoral activity.

         To achieve the aims of the educational adequacy lawsuit filed by the NAACP, it will not be enough to have our day in court. It will also be necessary to organize teach-ins, picket lines, rallies, and street marches. It will be necessary to build a movement from the ground up that is dedicated to the proposition that everyone deserves a good education.

Education is a right, not a privilege!