This week, I presented my vision for the future of the Minneapolis public school system to the Board of Education. It’s time to restore the dream that education represents to every child in our community, because a dream delayed is a dream denied.
The trigger for this discussion comes from our district’s updated strategic plan, extending what was started in 2007. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about what’s working and what’s not, and it’s time to act faster.
First of all, the Minneapolis public schools (MPS) commit to every student in their care that at graduation that student will be ready for college and a career, with global competencies for the 21st century.
Our strategy to meet these visionary expectations will include new ideas that can drive educational improvements throughout our district, with big goals, big change, big obstacles, big challenges and big opportunities. This plan demands greater expectations of everyone: parents, teachers, graduates and students, administrators and specialists, and city leaders. Our success will depend on the active engagement of everyone affected by and interested in public school education.
We at MPS also believe that we can best achieve these aggressive goals by giving principals and schools more freedom and support to tailor programs to their unique student populations.
Specifically, we will:
• Give schools greater autonomy to meet the needs of their students in exchange for accountability.
• Increase learning time for students.
• Utilize student-based allocation to match funding with student need.
• Provide resources to support teachers.
• Enhance community engagement.
Some of these important adjustments were added midyear last school year, including Spring Break Academy; stronger enrollment pathways for neighborhoods, and new policies focused on behavior standards. Others are launching this fall, including shifting more funds to schools; the newly created Office of Black Male Achievement, and new support for advanced learner and English language education programs.
Beginning in 2016-17, student-based allocation, also known as weighted student funding, will ensure better predictability and transparency in funding, with schools receiving resources based on the needs of their unique student population.
That means schools that have higher percentage of students who cost more to serve will receive more funding. Some schools may receive less. The budgeting criteria will be decided by a diverse group of stakeholders; community members will have opportunities to engage in the discussion, and there will be special funds available to protect against large shifts in funding. This student-based-allocation model is based on research, having been adopted in other large, diverse urban districts around the country, such as Boston and San Francisco.
Achievement 2020 also depends on building community understanding through extreme openness. The district also proposed 47 specific scorecard indicators, representing both academic and operational measures outlined in the strategic plan.
One of the key components of this plan is annual student performance targets that are understandable and achievable, but high. We will hold ourselves to a 5 percent annual increase in students meeting state standards in reading and math, an 8 percent annual increase for students of color, and a 10 percent annual increase in the four-year graduation rate. Easy goals and targets are a thing of the past.
With this plan, we aspire to change attitudes.
By 2020, city leaders will say: Our leadership works. Public schools are a driver for the success and development of Minneapolis. We are proud of the results the schools are getting.
By 2020, teachers will say: I love working for MPS. I know I am making a meaningful difference. I get the support and training I need to meet the needs of all students.
By 2020, MPS students will say: Teachers care about me; they have high expectations and push me to think. My studies give me a connection to the real world.
By 2020, MPS parents will say: I feel a strong connection between my family and our school. My kids are receiving great educations; they are learning and being challenged.
By 2020, MPS graduates will say: I am ready for the future and have many options available to me. I am proud to be a graduate of MPS. I want to come back and teach at MPS and help those who follow me.
We are energized by this effort and the challenge before us. Our biggest goal of all is restoration of the dream, the power and the hope that education can provide.
Bernadeia Johnson is superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools.