The quest to close the achievement gap in north Minneapolis

Communities rally for better education opportunities after years of obstacles

The quest to close the achievement gap in north Minneapolis
Ava Wichmann

A sore throat only half explains why Terry stayed home from school on a Thursday. Each week, the harassment he suffered at the hands of a whole family of school bullies grew worse. If yesterday's punch in the stomach was any clue, showing up today would surely invite hell. Terry no longer liked school.

According to Terry's mother, Debbie Howell, this is a kid who used to refuse to miss a day. In fact, only a year ago, a different school across the street from her north Minneapolis home was pulling her son toward an improbably bright future. A student at a zero-tolerance, packet-of-homework-a-night charter school, Terry leapt out of bed every morning at 5:30 a.m.

Events this summer put a stop to that. Given the high test scores reported by the two-year-old Minnesota School of Science, it shocked Howell when her son's school doors were slammed shut by the Minneapolis school district for failing to properly serve the children of north Minneapolis.

Perhaps she shouldn't have been so surprised. Terry has attended three North Side schools in four years, and MSS is the second to close abruptly. Terry's first school, Cityview — which was once located in the same building as MSS — also closed for failing to properly serve the children of north Minneapolis.

A 9-year-old black boy living on a struggling side of town, Terry is ripe for salvation by his neighborhood school. He's the subject of a fight for the future. The effort to close the historic achievement gap is a battle for the legacy of our public education system.

But as initiative after initiative and new school after new school cycle through north Minneapolis, it's become unclear how many more surprise gut punches await kids like Terry.

Says Howell, "I just don't want my son to get lost."

For 14 years, Cityview was at the pointy end of the Minneapolis district's numerous stabs at closing an embarrassing gap in test scores between low-income kids of color and middle-class white kids. But today the school sits empty.

With park space on two sides, two Baptist churches, a Buddhist temple, and a family resource center across the street, the building that once housed Cityview and MSS looks like the school that could turn it all around.

Moreover, it's located in a largely black, heavily low-income community in north Minneapolis, exactly the demographics that fall furthest into what's known as the achievement gap. According to statistics collected by the Minneapolis district, the average African American student in Minneapolis is half as likely as a white student to become proficient or advanced in reading and math and half as likely to graduate from high school.

The two schools that the building once housed were shuttered for different reasons, but it was nationwide obsession with school accountability that doomed each.

Rosilyn Carroll, a member of Minnesota School of Science's board, blames a kind of systemic entropy.

"When we really get to it, it isn't about educating students; it's about muck," she says. "It's like in the swamp and there's slime and muck, and as long as you can keep me in the slime and muck of education, then I can't get down to the business of educating."

In its last year, Cityview was a mess, living up more than ever to the bad reputation it had long held among people who'd never set foot in the school. Three principals cycled through. A teacher was caught having sex in the building during school hours.

The chaos was punctuated by the infamous spring 2011 tornado that ripped apart the homes of much of the student body.

In December of that year, the Minneapolis school board voted to close the K-8. With less than a quarter of students scoring proficient in state reading and math tests, Cityview had become a target in a nationwide effort to root out problem schools.

"You could tell when you walked in," says Liz Wielinski, the mother of a now 14-year-old son who attended Cityview's autism program. "The kids were bouncing off the walls."

For kids with autism, even a slight change in the day's schedule can lead to a meltdown. The impact of a new teacher — let alone a new school — is tremendous. The district attempted to mitigate the upheaval by allowing its seven special education classrooms to stay in the Cityview building as the rest of the school was phased out. Minnesota School of Science, which would move in the following year, signed a one-year agreement to "mainstream" the special education students, allowing them to spend part of their day in the charter school's general education classrooms.

To Wielinski, the damage was already done. "For my son to have the classroom teacher gone, the special ed teacher he'd had for three years pulled out, the school changed, the principal gone, half the teachers gone — he was a mess," she says. "It was like wasting a year."

Cityview had more students with disabilities than the average district school because of its citywide special education program, which aggregated kids from across Minneapolis whose needs were significant enough to merit separate classrooms.

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19 comments
tjswift
tjswift

Hell, just make it a gay magnet school. Dibble & Co. will have it 14k gilded in two weeks.

kurt124
kurt124 topcommenter

The Per Pupil costs are around $22,000 in Mpls.  Most of the money does not make it through administration and Union Bennies before getting to these poor kids in class.    The Democrats and their Unholy Alliance with Unions are hurting our kids.    Ever wonder why these Democrats oppose School-Choice with every fiber in their fat  "compassionate" bodies?  

stephansonprop
stephansonprop

So busing didn't fix everything like Harry Davis told us in the 70"s? Go back to neighborhood schools maybe.

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

Minneapolis spends about $21,000 yr/pupil.  Unfortunately, most of the money goes to administrators and huge out of control retirement packages, crafted by teachers unions.

It's the government system that's failing.  This is the very system that demands more and more money - to deliver the same old inferior product.

How it works:  If they do well, then they should be rewarded with more money.  If they do poorly, then they need more money to improve.

Funny how the other minority students (like Asian) don't seem to have the same problem.

LaJuanda
LaJuanda

The civil rights issue of our time-- Closing schools based on racist tests??  ALL kids need stable, loving schools. Stop closing our schools based on your damn tests.

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@kurt124 The kids graduate and can't make change for a dollar.  Forget about sales tax computation - that's way over their heads.

Unfortunately, many of them are not even worth minimum wage.  

This is what they received for 12 years of gubmint scrool. 

But hey, TPTB have a new plan, new rules, new tests - same old result.  I know - let's all memorize the state capitols!  

kurt124
kurt124 topcommenter

@Truth_Teller_1 That is correct.  But the Democrats stranglehold on this demographic will not release.   The Democrat Unholy alliance with Unions, and their using the kids for more $$$$ has got to stop.   Ever Wonder why the Democrats oppose School Choice with every fiber of their fat bodies?  

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@kurt124 @Truth_Teller_1  Unions are tied to dems cuz they both represent the middle class.  To get kids educated, you need good teachers. It is the unions that are training the new & ferreting out the bad teachers. My wife & son are both teachers & they see the unions doing the work to help kids. In return they ask for a decent wage & benefits. The American way. School choice is to allow for white flight to schools that wont take minorities or special ed, leaving that for public schools to fund with fewer dollars. You dont have a pension? why not? I bet your Dad did. What makes him smarter than you...

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@Truth_Teller_1    I gave up on you because you dont respond to my points. You start new ones & are off on such tangents that your wasting my time. You are too easy to refute & you know it. Teaching is too easy? Try it, you wouldnt last 5 minutes. You cant handle a 65-70 hour week(nationally is average for teachers). Oh, an now you attack cops & firefighters too. You are out of your league pal. Get a job or 2(like me) & volunteer to mentor some kids if you are so smart. 

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@midwestexplorer81:  Unfortunately this is what liberals are about: control, total control, managed by 'the government'.  Notice that TNELSON3 refused to respond to many of my points, while I responded to many of his.

I've noticed (since 9/11)  this phoney line: thank our first responders, thank our teachers, thank..... fill in the blank.   Like these people are any more important than a dish washer.   I think not.

IMO, teaching kids basic knowledge is soooo easy.   These government school teachers would have you think otherwise.   How was it that I and my classmates got degrees in Engineering and Comp Sci - without a single video, with nothing more than books?  No fancy teaching methods, just plain common sense.  

midwestexplorer81
midwestexplorer81

@TNELSON3 @Truth_Teller_1There are a few European countries that attach the money to the kid and let the parents choose the school that best suits the kid and their type of learning and career interests. It works. The competition to satisfy students and parents weeds out the really bad schools and teachers by depriving them of funds and good schools thrive. All kids get money for education and they get educated. There is no reason we can't do that here in our big metro areas except because of unions.

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@Truth_Teller_1 @TNELSON3  WOW, the Depression was pretty much over by 1937. read a book. Einstein couldnt make change, so what?  Guess what? take away tax incentives & business will stop offshoring. Charge a tariff for any american business that makes something & tries to sell it here. Many companies are already moving back. By 1999 we were on track to pay off the deficit by raising the tax on 1% by 3%. Masses are uninformed? Start a group, go door to door, educate them. The bike paths are being funded by Blue Cross to keep us healthy. Yes being healthy keeps me happy. Take off you tin foil, come out of your mom's basement & cheer up. Hard work will make things better. Oh and turn off Rush...

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@TNELSON3 We didn't fix the economy in 1929 - what turned it around was WWII.  The 100 year industrial revolution is dead.  The tech revolution took much less longer.

Raise the minimum wage?  First, as I said, many of the government school graduates can't make change for a dollar - they aren't worth much.  Secondly, the minimum wage would need to be $15 - $18 hr for someone to have a lower middle class standard of living.  $9 hr isn't going to help.  What will happen is that more of those jobs will be automated / self serve.  Look at the gas stations - remember when there was an attendant?   How about self checkout lanes - Home Depot had only one check out clerk. to other day.  Restaurants are experimenting with self ordering terminals at each table - no more waiter - just someone who runs the food.

Raise middle class income and 22 million jobs:  Those jobs have been offshored - they aren't going to come back.  They have been lost.   'Our' government allowed the big corps to export technology and capital abroad. 

Unfortunately, you can take all the billionaire's money, and it won't run the US government for more than a couple of months.

Our entire 'system' is lying and cheating itself.  Lies can only go so long.  

Voting doesn't work.  The masses are too ill-informed to have an educated opinion, and the political class is too entrenched to break.   Thus we return lifetime elected officials to office.  A start would be if you receive unearned entitlements (welfare, SNAP, section 8, medicaid) you give up your right to vote.  Voting for entitlements or the entitlement canidate, while you receive entitlements is a direct conflict of interest.

We need a really big crisis.

200 miles of bike paths: I never did get the bike thing- seems like a socialist endeavor. Not serious transportation - especially in a climate like this.  But it makes liberals feel good because they have done something.

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@Truth_Teller_1 @TNELSON3  Wow, how do you get out of bed. Yes, we are at the end of a 80 year cycle but people are waking up as they did in 1929 & we fixed the economy(with deficit spending) & things got better. Want to get people off the dole? raise the minimum wage & a whole bunch will not be eligible for SNAP anymore. Raise middle class income(its been flat for 30 years) & the deficit will shrink(this years deficit is record low). add 22 million jobs like happened w/Clinton & the deficit was on track to be paid off(til Bush gave the surplus all to the 1%). OIL? buy a Nissan leaf. want more jobs? Do like Germany & keep your manufacturing in your country. Politicians lie? Elect new ones or run yourself. Cant afford to feed the poor. Corporate profits are at record highs yet they pay no taxes. GE gets a rebate(negative taxation). Grow up, my group has re-built 30 miles of streams for cleaner water in the last 5 years & the county planning commission that I chair is building 200 miles of bike paths. What are you doing to make things better?

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@TNELSON3 @Truth_Teller_1 I can say is Google the "Fourth Turning" or look it up on Amazon.   We are in the Fourth Turning, and the crisis is going to get worse, before it's going to get resolved.

What you are not understanding is that the status-quo doesn't work anymore - not for education, not for endless oil, not for big banks, not for the manipulated economy, not for employment.  We can't have a country where more than 50% of the people receive a government check.  We have more people on SNAP than the population of Spain.   More on disability than the population of Greece.  The labor force participation rate is at a 40 year low. 

Does anyone believe the lies?   Our President lies, the BLS lies about unemployment stats, the cost of food and energy has been removed from the CPI inflation index. 

Where do you get the idea that I vote for wars?   I didn't vote for the Medicare Part D give away either.

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@Truth_Teller_1 @TNELSON3  I agree but  we elected them, both parties. Though they will do what we want if we bug them enuff. Organize, look what the teaparty did(though the only winners there were the big biz types that funded it). You need 4 degrees to teach college, unfortunately we have cut funding to colleges & they only hire part time. His 4 degrees gets him the highest class GPA in the St Paul school district. Voucher bills have been for $1500/year only and have been a complete failure where they passed(see Milwaukee). Cretin is about $30000/year.  Unfunded wars for nothing(which your vote supported) put us in a big hole too. 

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@TNELSON3 "They have produced many of this countries business & govt. leaders."  Like Obama?  Like the leaders (of both parties) that have spent all the money in the SS retirement system, and replaced it with worthless IOU's.  Like the leaders who are driving our country into bankruptcy with a $12 trillion deficit - and $75 billion a month of QE?  Like to big to fail banking leaders?

"They produced my son who has 4 degrees" Who in the hell needs four degrees?  Unfortunately, the university system has also been corrupted.  They make a lot of money for selling paper.  Your son has been wasting his time / money.

"Vouchers: the amount you get won't cover the cost of most private schools".  For the $$22,000/yr that Mpls spends per pupil, I bet the free market would be ready to satisfy the demand.

TNELSON3
TNELSON3

@Truth_Teller_1 @TNELSON3  They have produced many of this countries business & govt. leaders. They produced my son who has 4 degrees. Most teachers have worked part time & full time jobs while they got their degrees(so what). Knowing how to wait on a table or manage a shoe store wont make you a better teacher. Wanting the same job forever? Yes, lets not have dedicated job holders. Doctors should also become brick layers. Vouchers: the amount you get wont cover the cost of most private schools. That way they can keep out the riff-raff. When my son got his 3rd masters for his license, most of the other students were private school teachers trying to escape private schools. Pensions were fine til your over-lords in the financial sector collapsed the market & the pensions lost 40-50% of their value. Why do you hate the middleclass? 

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@TNELSON3  Wake up man!!   The gubmint and the teachers unions have been in control of the scrools for many, many years - more than 50 yrs.  And what have they produced?

"In return they ask for decent wages"   -  It's a free country - they can pursue  any career they want - for what ever decent wage they want.  The truth is 99% of the gubmint scrool teachers never held a real job other than baby sitting the captives in their scrools.  They have no real world job skills - they want to have the same job forever.

How about vouchers for all - black, white, whatever.   The parents can choose.  Truth is, teachers and unions can't stand competition.  Quick, get some more laws / requirements on the books to eliminate completion.

Pensions, which have bankrupted cities like Detroit (and soon Chicago, and maybe Philadelphia) are soon going to be a thing of the past. 

 
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