Improving the schools is, well, a school thing

  • Article by: GARY MARVIN DAVISON
  • Updated: November 13, 2013 - 5:33 PM

The mayoral race aside, there’s positive change in Minneapolis.

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Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Floating in the ether of public discourse in Minneapolis at present are the notions that you, city voters, care a great deal about public education — and that Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges can do a great deal about the state of our K-12 schools.

You don’t and she can’t.

I am skeptical when I read assertions that the electorate in the recent mayoral contest was greatly concerned about public education. We have now traversed 30 years since the federal government published “A Nation at Risk,” which in 1983 sounded the alarm about the sorry state of education in the United States.

During this time you sat in a haze of confusion as “outcome-based education,” “total-quality management,” the Profile of Learning, Minnesota State Standards, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, No Child Left Behind, “best practices” and (now) the Multiple Measurement Ratings System have filled the jargon-infested world of K-12 education — without your taking time to investigate the exact nature of any of these. Any perception that now, after all of this time, you are finally getting religion on the need to educate all our precious children is dubious.

What’s clear is that you have no idea where the locus of change is right now in K-12 public education in Minneapolis. It is not in the office of the mayor. Hodges’s proposed initiatives to promote healthy prenatal experiences are worthy, but they are only tangentially related to favorable change in the Minneapolis public schools.

The amazingly good news is that change is taking place — right before your eyes. Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has articulated a highly promising program to attract, retain and reward truly excellent teachers — particularly at high-priority schools (those with the highest percentages of students on free or reduced price lunch and chronically lagging academic performance). She is also moving forward with a liberal arts curriculum of much higher quality, ably assisted by such first-rate talents as Mike Lynch, director of teaching and learning, and Sara Paul, associate superintendent for school innovation.

Officials are training teachers in the delivery of this curriculum through “focused instruction,” whereby teachers throughout the district impart coherent skill and knowledge sets to students at each grade level.

An excellent education is a matter of excellent teachers imparting a rich liberal arts curriculum in logical grade-by-grade sequence. Johnson and her staff are right on target.

So those who take umbrage at my doubts about your actual interest and understanding of public education and sincerely want to prove me wrong can do the following things:

 

1)Internalize the definition of an excellent education as focused on excellent teachers and a rich, coherent liberal arts curriculum delivered in logical sequence.

2)Understand that an excellent teacher is a professional of broad, deep knowledge with the ability to impart strong academic content to all students.

3)Go on the website of the Minneapolis public schools and learn all that you can about “focused instruction” and efforts to generate a quality staff to deliver a coherent curriculum.

4)Be aware that today will bring the first all-day mediation session of officials of the Minneapolis School District and representatives of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to negotiate a new contract.

5) Become informed about the key issues in these mediation sessions as they relate to teacher quality and high-quality curriculum.

6)Be ready to support the superintendent and her staff as this contract becomes an issue in public forums.

 

Taking all of these steps toward better understanding of the truly important issues in public K-12 education would do far more than casting any ballot for mayor. In the meantime, pay no attention to gadflies buzzing through the ether, spraying insidious messages about the inadequacy of inner-city families and the virtues of “vouchers” that would send prospective public school students to private schools.

Overwhelmingly, families at all economic levels love their children and respond to professionals who are genuinely working in their best interests. Revitalized central school districts are in the best position to deliver quality education to a large quantity of students.

Hope for the future of education in Minneapolis lies with supporting a visionary superintendent and encouraging her to make this the permanent locus of her career.

 

Gary Marvin Davison is the author of eight books; he was writer and researcher for “The State of African Americans in Minnesota” (Minneapolis Urban League, 2004 and 2008 editions). For eight years he has served as teacher and administrator for the New Salem Educational Initiative.

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