First Monitors forum targeted achievement gaps

Photo by Demetrius Pendleton Senator Jeff Hayden (forefront) moderated the forum

Since its inception in 1955, the Monitors Club has had a mission to support the advancement of African Americans and other people of color. This school year it is doing so by taking a look at public education to see what they can do to improve outcomes for Black and Brown children.

They began by sending out invitations to 12 schools in the Twin Cities. “Our strategy originally was to start for the central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and try to collect as many first-ring suburbs as we could,” said Robert Doty, the event planner and a Monitors Club member.

“We were also looking at where we had relationships. The superintendent in St. Cloud was an example of that.” 

The plan was to have several conversations among superintendents with the intent of developing strategies to improve educational outcomes for Black and Brown children. The first superintendents’ forum was held at the University of St. Thomas on October 25.

Both the St. Paul and Minneapolis superintendents were attending the Council of the Great City Schools conference in Louisville, KY on that day, so they sent their assistant superintendents in their stead. Panelists included Superintendent Dr. Steven Unowsky of Richfield Area Schools, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mike Favor of Roseville Area Schools, Superintendent Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed of Hopkins, and Robbinsdale Area Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins.  

The moderator, Senator Jeff Hayden (District 62), began by comparing the state’s ranking among the top five in the U.S. for high ACT scores to the persistent gaps in education between White and Brown and Black students. He then asked why these gaps persist and invited suggestions for closing them. 

Unowsky admitted some awkwardness as the only White man on the panel speaking first and telling the primarily Black audience things he felt they already know. “Let’s be honest about what the state of Minnesota is,” he said.

“[If] we look at basically every indicator within the state, the systems of racial oppression are so wide that they are everywhere. So, while I am pleased to be on a panel where we are talking about this in terms of education, if we are going to be realistic and try to tackle this problem, this is a holistic problem.”

He said the Metropolitan Council, the chief of police, people from the justice system and the legislature would all need to be involved in the conversation. Focusing on education alone would mean looking at systemic racism in the classroom, made prevalent by low expectations for kids of color and the facts that 80% of Minnesota’s school superintendents are men and 96% are White.

Photo by Demetrius Pendleton Dr. Steven Unowsky

“And I’m the one on the panel,” Unowsky said. “So, all aren’t in this conversation, aren’t acknowledging the problem. And until we do—statewide and education wide—this is going to continue to be a problem, and it’s going to continue to be pervasive.” 

Dr. Favor agreed with Unowsky in setting higher expectations for kids of color and making sure that they not simply meet standards but exceed them. He said it is also important to listen to students and parents and create pathways for workforce readiness. 

“Oftentimes we are pushing people into discussions around going to college and discussions about getting into college,” he explained. “But one of the things that I had to reflect back on, some of the mistakes I made as a leader is making sure that we are putting an emphasis on career and workforce readiness.” 

Mhiripiri-Reed started by referencing the play “Pipeline: Is There No Way Out?” at Penumbra Theatre. “The elephant in the room is not the achievement gap, but the fact that everybody, even our best schools in this state, are allowing or are pushing boys out of school,” she said.

“[This is] a state that is mostly White, a state that has no shame for failing our kids of color. A state that has over 90% of elementary teachers [who are] White and female. And so, we have a huge cultural mismatch that our students experience from the get-go.” 

At the beginning of the school year in Hopkins, Mhiripiri-Reed showed her staff data of the 171 students from kindergarten through second grade that had two or more office referrals.  Though 71% of them were students of color, only 47% of the population are students of color. Similar to the play, the long-term negative experiences that may begin in preschool often lead to a “strong negative orientation toward school.” 

Photo by Demetrius Pendleton Hopkins Superintendent Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed

Dr. Jenkins said the problem is that Black children are invisible. He referenced a report released October 11 documenting educational disparities for Black and Brown students in Minnesota.

“I met one professor here tonight,” he said. “I would have thought every professor in the state would be here tonight. I would have expected that everybody who was really interested and who could see children of color would be here tonight. 

“Part of our problem, we don’t see us,” Dr. Jenkins said. “We don’t see children of color—Black, Brown, Indigenous—we don’t see them, so it’s hard to have high expectations for what you don’t see.” 

This was the first of many dialogues that the Monitors Club will sponsor in an effort to improve the school experience for students of color. Since the forum, Doty said both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts have agreed to have a combined conversation at an upcoming Monitor’s meeting. St. Thomas has agreed to make the forums part of their urban studies curriculum. 

During the forum there was also a question of what the Monitors could do to support the superintendents. One response was to partner with and support a school, a classroom, or a student. As a result of that conversation, “We have had a request from one of the schools to have the Monitors partner with their high school to come into the school and be mentors,” said Doty.    

“I was pleased with the relationship that we built and are building with the superintendents,” Doty continued. “Part of what the Monitors are trying to do as best we can is to be a voice for the community. We can pull the community together to have that kind of a dialogue on a recurring basis. I’m really pleased that we’ve started the first steps in doing that.” 

4 Comments on “First Monitors forum targeted achievement gaps”

  1. Monitors might be in a position to consider data suggesting that trying to change achievement gaps may not be productive.It’s unlikely that additional funding and other interventions will result in closing the achievement gap. Data support that assertion.
    It is useful to consider national trends in average performance for students who take an internationally recognized test, such as the SAT, for example. .As indicated in the table, below, the All Student average for SAT Critical Reading hasn’t changed materially in recent decades— true as well for average scores of groups
    classified by race/ethnicity – except for Asian-Americans, who have closed one reading achievement gap and opened another! They now lead the pack! How did they do it? Quien sabe.

    Table 1. SAT Critical Reading average selected years
    1987 ’97 2001 ’06 ’11 ’15 ’16
    507 505 506 503 497 495 494 All students
    524 526 529 527 528 529 528 White
    479 496 501 510 517 525 529 Asian
    …………………………… ……. 436 Hispanic
    .457 451 451 454 451 448 Mex-Am
    436 454 457 459 452 448 Puerto R
    464 466 460 458 451 449 Oth Hisp
    471 475 481 487 484 481 447 Amer Ind
    428 434 433 434 428 431 430 Black
    SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education
    Statistics.(2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001),
    Chapter 2. SAT averages for college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years,1986-87 through
    2010–11 Data for 2015&2016
    Note 2016 data were no provided for Hispanic subgroups.

    If SAT averages haven’t changed materially for almost 30 years, despite the effort, time and money expended
    to improve educational programs for all students, it seems reasonable to assume that we shouldn’t expect any
    meaningful change in average level of this critically important ability in the foreseeable future.
    An unpleasant realiy: achievement gaps may be here to stay.
    Another source…provides evidence indicating that per pupil costs/expenditures
    have increased at a 45 degree angle since the 1970s, average reading, writing and arithmetic scores have
    been stable; and it appears that the achievement gap obtains at all income levels For additional detail, see https://lesacreduprintemps1

    These unpleasant truths can’t be acknowledged publicly, but articles emphasizing achievement gaps need not be published regularly. And schools might de-emphasize going to college and create an atmosphere and diverse curricula consistent with “be all you can be”.

    1. So you basically posted all that data to tell black folks to just shut up and accept our place in society? See how I cut through the chase?


  2. The issue is the American school system wasn’t built for us as black people, so why are we surprised when it doesn’t give us the outcomes we desire? I’m a substitute teacher in a neighboring state and witness institutionalized racism on a daily basis in these facilities, from curricula, to disciplinary actions. It really has me reconsidering public school teaching as a profession.

    The sad realities are that most U.S. teachers are white females raised in localities, states, and a nation in which black life is debased on a daily basis. Black people~particularly boys and men~are to be seen skeptically, warily, and feared. You can’t build high achieving classrooms and schools if you fear the children you have been given the awesome responsibility to teach. We need a reconstruction of our minds as black people as to how and where we educate our children so that they’re prepared for the workforce, and to create businesses and jobs for our people.

  3. Whenever there’re structural inequities against a group, the affected children will invariably bring their problems with them to schools. If a child is living in a household where they have moved five times during the school year, due to financial problems, for instance, that child is not going to be able to focus well in school. He or she might be worried that the family will be put out on the streets, once again.
    I attended the Monitors Forum, my question to the superintendents was that history isn’t being taught truthfully in schools, and what are they going to do about it? Minoans (Blacks) were before the Greeks. The Etruscans (Blacks) were before the Romans. Egyptians are incorrectly depicted as white in movies and in schools, etc. We don’t need Black superintendents, if they’re not addressing the critical issue of white supremacist doctrine being taught in schools. They’re contributing to the marginalization of our youth when they don’t ensure the full story of Black history is presented.

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