I’m writing as a member of the Racial Justice Network to ask the question: What is Minneapolis Public Schools’ black agenda?
Why this question? Because while the MPS website states that there are 35% white students in the district and 35% black and African-American students in the district, every other data point on the district’s own report card shows this is the only thing that’s equal for these students in Minneapolis Public Schools.
White students continue to succeed at exponential rates and black students continue to be marginalized and fall behind at exponential rates.
Based on MPS’ own data we know that:
• 75% of white students are reading at proficiency, while only 18% of black students are reading at proficiency.
• 75% of all behavior referrals and disciplinary actions involve black students, while only 9% involve white students.
• Over 50% of the 1,200 students who left the district in 2019 were black.
And the list goes on. We know there are many unmet needs across all groups of students of color in our district. In no way do we intend to diminish those needs. Our goal is to call district leaders’ attention to this opportunity to make a significant impact with the largest group of students of color who are experiencing the most drastic disparities in outcomes.
We are calling on leaders to move beyond the broad-brush solution of school closings and mergers at the center of the current Comprehensive District Design and bring laser-focus to the learning and well-being of black and African-American students by implementing an African-rooted curriculum across the district in 2020.
This is not a complicated or untested strategy. Research shows that curriculum that honors the history, culture and current realities of black students supports student learning, self-confidence and personal agency, and positively impacts all measurable outcomes.
We applaud the school board’s stated commitment to “develop culturally responsive curricula”and “critically analyze curricula through an anti-racist and proactively equity-focused lens,” but from our perspective, the solution is not to simply run conventional white-centric curriculum through an ethnic, anti-racist filter and then make adjustments. The solution is culturally rooted curriculum. The point is to begin with African-centered curriculum in the same way the district has invested in Indigenous-centered curriculum and programming for native students at schools like South High.
African-centered curriculum is key to black and African-American students’ success. The work must begin now for K-12 students, and experienced black curriculum designers and educators like Professor Mahmoud El Kati must be engaged to select and develop the curriculum, train teachers and facilitate the implementation.
This investment will not only positively impact students, it will accelerate the district’s progress in recruiting and retaining teachers of color. The materials exist, the experts exist, and certainly, the need exists.
District leaders, what is your black agenda?
Cheryl Persigehl is a member of the Racial Justice Network and the parent of a Minneapolis Public Schools student.