MPS admits to disastrous outcomes for Black students


News Analysis

District Design plan rumored to remedy inequities

Last week, local media featured pictures from the most recent Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) board meeting showing White parents expressing outrage at rumored plans to change the status quo. Based on the outcomes for Black students in the 2018-19 school year, however, it seems it should have been Black parents and their community up in arms.

“The current design of MPS disadvantages children of color,” wrote the MPS under the heading “Reexamining Our Policies with an Equity Lens” in its Comprehensive District Design plan. “Too many can’t read or do math at grade level, and others don’t feel valued in their schools or receive the individualized support they need to succeed.”

When the MPS announced last fall it was going to attempt to make educational outcomes more equitable for Black students and students of color as part of its yet-to-be-unveiled Comprehensive Plan, it simultaneously exposed a level of failure on the part of the students that was both stunning and frightening.

According to the district’s statistics, 23%, or fewer than one in four students of color, were proficient in math, while three out of four White children met the basic standards indicating math proficiency. Even more astounding, only 28% of students of color were proficient in reading, while nearly 79% of White students were reading at expected grade level.

In other words, the statistics indicate that only one child of color out of four attending school in the Minneapolis Public Schools District can read!

The graduation rates were just as racially disparate: While 87% of White kids graduated from MPS last year, only 62% of non-White students graduated after four years of high school. The numbers for those who took six years were just as disproportionate.

MPS Superintendent Ed Graff admitted in a school board meeting in September that “The policies and practices currently in place are yielding inequitable results. We believe that the system is designed to produce the results that we are seeing and advantaging some and disadvantaging others.”

This was reinforced on the district’s website in the section labeled Comprehensive District Design, which explains and outlines the need for changes. The website includes an astonishing admission: “MPS’ current structure deprives a significant number of students—especially students of color and low-income students—of a well-rounded education,” wrote the district.

The website details several strategies the district proposes for reducing these glaring deficiencies. “The new plan aims to and is supposed to show equity across the district. My concern is that the programming is placed where it is needed,” said Minneapolis School Board Director Kerry Felder, who welcomes change in the district. “I was elected to advocate for our students, and as a Northsider, I have a particular interest in their success as well as the whole district.

 “We as Black people have to be on top of this. We have to watch the educational system with care. We can’t just send them and hope for the best,” explained Felder. ”Sometimes I feel like I am standing by myself, and standing by myself is depressing.”

The director said she thinks there are several reasons for the current inequitable state of MPS. She has kids in the system and related that one of her kids was promoted to another grade before she was at grade level in math. Felder said social promotion ought to be eliminated.

She also placed some of the blame on parents who send unruly children to school, which she says affects the children who are beneficiaries of better home discipline. Felder recommended summer school for kids who have fallen behind.

“We need summer school and STEM summer schools, which are all located in South [Minneapolis].” She said that their location was an indication of classism, since more of the White and privileged kids have immediate geographical access to the Southside-located Minneapolis STEM schools.

“We have to make sure the schools have what they need to be successful,” said Felder. “We don’t have enough guidance counselors. We don’t have enough mental health support, full-time media center personnel, or full-time librarians. We need more people in the neighborhood in the role of Educational Support Professional, like teacher’s aides and special education assistants.”

The Northside director also indicated that having more full-service schools that provide social services to parents and students would help limit the distractions that hinder some children’s ability to learn.

These schools help meet the needs of kids who come to school with other issues. Bethune Community School and City View Elementary, located on the North Side, are full-service schools.

Compounding Minneapolis’ problems with educating all of its students is its large number of homeless students. According to Felder, there are “tons of homeless kids.” 

While the entire district strategic plan will not be revealed until next week’s board meeting, there is lots of speculation about proposed changes. The most recent meeting was filled with parents who have heard that their specialized schools, which include Windom, Barton and Dowling, would be affected by the proposed Comprehensive or strategic plan.

Parents whose children attend the district’s magnet schools, which have special programming like Spanish immersion, STEM, or music, are concerned that they may be downsized, eliminated, or altered to become more equitable and integrated. There is also speculation that attendance boundaries for community schools will be redrawn, which would result in a large percentage of students being reassigned to new schools to fill those that are under capacity.

Superintendent Graff has indicated that the goal is to create changes in the school system that will offer all parents the same ability to access resources and to increase the outcomes for kids of color. He also indicated that he wanted to make changes to slow the losses of children due to parents enrolling them outside of the district or in charter schools.

Felder said that, like most everyone else, she does not know the details of the Comprehensive District Design. “From what I know of it, educational justice should be reflected with this plan. It’s what I hope will be reflected in it.”