Plan for Minneapolis schools: Test scores up, achievement gap down

  • Article by: TERRY COLLINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 6, 2007 - 8:17 PM

After hearing an ambitious set of goals for shoring up the district, board members said the whole city must pitch in.

By 2012, 80 percent of all students in Minneapolis public schools will be proficient in math and reading and score high enough on entrance exams to get into college.

Low-performing schools will either close or be overhauled, and the achievement gap between white students and those of color will be slashed by 75 percent.

Those were among a list of recommended goals the school board received Tuesday as part of the district's much-discussed strategic planning initiative.

The nine recommendations in a 24-page report are a follow-up to a study the district received in September on addressing "tough truths" -- a severe learning gap, continued enrollment decreases and financial shortfalls.

Board Chairwoman Pam Costain said the recommendations -- some to be implemented over five years -- show that the district is taking dramatic and aggressive steps forward.

Boston public schools took up to 10 years before 10th-grade students reached more than 80 percent proficiency in reading and math, she said.

"Incremental change is not going to get it," Costain said. "Principals, teachers and students alone can't reform our schools; neither can parents or district staff. This is going to take a partnership that involves the entire city. We can't do it by ourselves."

Board member Theartrice "T" Williams said that with such goals, the district needs to build "stronger relationships" with colleges and universities.

Another recommendation is stabilizing the district's financial situation. While the district predicts a $100 million shortfall over the next four years, suggestions include better management of health insurance costs and reimbursement of costs for special education and services the district provides to Minneapolis students who attend suburban schools.

Stressing more transparency, one recommendation includes publishing easy-to-read "report cards" to evaluate schools and the district's overall performance.

Board Member Lydia Lee, a former district staffer, took some issue with the report cards, saying they would make hardworking staff members feel "beaten up."

Royce Holladay, the district's strategic planning director, said earlier Tuesday that the "report cards" would not single out schools, but rather would be "honest with the public each year on how we're doing and how we're continuously looking at ways to get better."

Other recommendations include hiring managers at schools to deal with administrative issues while allowing principals to work more on instruction and leadership and allowing school staff and district brass to give feedback to each other.

The recommendations have already been well received by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, district staffers said. The board is expected to vote on many of the recommendations on Dec. 11.

"There's going to be some tough decisions that you're going to have to make," Lyndale Community School Principal Ossie Brooks-James, a member of the district's strategic advisory group, told the board. "We're up to the task before us because there's a downward spiral that must be halted."

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790

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