The Minneapolis School Board on May 12 approved by a 6-3 vote the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan. Its features include reducing magnet schools from 14 to 11 and “racially isolated” schools from twenty to eight; and introducing new academic programs.
The plan will result in roughly 21% of MPS students switching schools, district officials noted. MPS will begin implementing the CDD plan in the fall of 2021.
“The plan is creating a structure for the district that will support integration and improve academic achievement,” explained MPS Accountability, Research and Equity Chief Eric Moore. “It creates a framework for stronger community schools and stronger magnet schools. It is shifting money from transportation to the classroom.”
Proponents of the CDD plan, initially introduced a couple of years ago, argue that it will help close a longstanding achievement gap between Black students and their counterparts.
“I’ve been in the district for eight years, and I have been talking about the achievement gap for eight years,” Moore said. “I’ve been talking for eight years about the fact that 21% of African American students are reading at grade level in third grade.
“We know that parents are leaving the district because they feel we are not academically rigorous enough. They feel we need to do a better job on keeping the children safe, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. They also feel that every parent should feel respected and valued when they come into the district,” said Moore.
However, the new CDD plan has from the beginning been met with “significant opposition” by families, among others.
“The first thing that I honed in on when I was first presented with the plan was the fact that I did not see an academic plan,” said local attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, an outspoken critic of MPS and its achievement gap between Black and White K-12 students. She had hoped that the district would have focused more on improving Northside schools rather than integrating others.
“Getting more White kids in the classroom next to Black kids or students of color is not going to magically close the academic gap,” Levy Armstrong said. “You need an overhaul of some of the systems, policies and the curriculum, and the discipline policies that are in place. You need a more diverse teaching corps. You need to focus more on providing adequate student support.”
Moore responded that $3.6 million will be directed toward magnet schools, three of which are located in North Minneapolis: Hall, Bethune and Franklin, as well as a new career and technical center at North High School. Another $7 million will be invested in community schools. He also said MPS will invest a million dollars each in K-2 literacy, mental health support for students, and equity training for all staff. Moore said the funds will be taken from the transportation budget.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the plan,” Levy Armstrong continued. She complained that the May 12 school board vote, given the current uncertainty due to the pandemic outbreak, bothered her. “There are a whole host of things that have families’ attention right now, and they shouldn’t have to worry about a decision on something this big while we are in the middle of a crisis,” she said.
Levy Armstrong stated that the community should have been more involved in the CDD planning. She said she and others aren’t yet sold on the plan, feeling “it is not in the best interest of the students of color.”
“We’ve had 10,000 voices” through an estimated 2,000 listening sessions, Moore pointed out. “We have a decade of under-educating folk of color in Minneapolis Public Schools. You have to have a sense of urgency to address the issue. We can’t afford another year to wait on not giving our students what they need, and not responding to what our community has been saying for 10 years.”
“We always take feedback and always will listen. I will always listen to the community,” Moore said. “There will be extensive opportunities for folk to become engaged in helping us implement the Comprehensive District Design.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.