Incoming Minneapolis School Board: Attend

Two items the fresh meat for the MPS mill might want to read carefully

What a bummer we didn't elect Carla Bates to the Minneapolis School Board earlier this month. Not that she was running: According to her bio at Twin Cities Daily Planet, Bates is an instructional technology coordinator at the University of Minnesota and the mother of three MPS students. She's also the site's education editor, in which capacity she's penned an agenda for the new board's first 100 days that's ambitious and sensible--if politically sticky. You can read it here.

The gist: Bates proposes tackling the rest of the to-do list rejected superintendent candidate David Jennings laid down on his way out of his interim posting, most notably closing 10 half-filled schools and doing something about the Dickensian teacher-student ratios at the others. She also just comes right out and says a few things that seem obvious to most of us but don't seem to be appropriate topics for discussion among many educators and district administrators: Someone needs to help foot the bill for shipping erstwhile MPS kids to charters and for the disproportionate amount of special ed the district provides. Oh yeah--and pay some serious attention to in-school disciplinary issues.

Why didn't Bates run? Who knows, this is the first she's come to our attention. But there's a better than middling chance she, like most sensible critics of the district, would have gone screaming in the other direction if approached. The majority on the outgoing board may well be remembered as the cabal that robbed the listing ship at 807 Broadway of its meagre remaining credibility. They ignored Jennings, hired an unstable replacement whose drawn-out departure caused tectonic shifts in race relations in Minneapolis, drove talented staff to the 'burbs, and only accelerated families' rush to pull kids out of MPS schools in favor of any half-attractive alternative.

Which provides a tidy segue to the second item of interest on the 'net today: The Twin Cities have been selected as the site for a new Knowledge is Power Program school. To Bates' list we'd like to add an item: Close those half-empty schools if you must, but move heaven and earth to snare the new KIPP school for MPS.

Here's the PiPress' explanation of KIPP:

The Knowledge is Power Program started with one school in 1994. It now has 52 schools in 16 states and is recognized for having improved the performance of low-income and minority students....

Students at KIPP schools have longer school days and school years than their peers at other public schools. They're in class from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday and four hours every other Saturday. They also have school for three weeks during the summer.

KIPP also is known for intensive training for teachers and school leaders and for setting high expectations for staff. Teachers are given cell phones and are required to have them on at all times so students can call with homework questions.

Volumes have been written about what does and doesn't work in terms of reaching the disadvantaged students who are increasingly clustered in districts like MPS, and it's tempting to write off the buzz surrounding KIPP because of its resemblance to the rhetoric used to promote No Child Left Behind and other save the schools by killing them strategies. And KIPP, which gets huge foundation support most public school principals would sell their souls for, may still turn out to be the brave experiment du jour. In any case, the approach is conveniently detailed in Sunday's New York Times, and not all of it is going to be immediately palatable to the average practitioner of Minnesota Nice:

The schools...are not racially integrated. Most of the 70 or so schools that make up their three networks have only one or two white children enrolled, or none at all. Although as charter schools, their admission is open through a lottery to any student in the cities they serve, their clear purpose is to educate poor black and Hispanic children. The guiding principle for the four school leaders, all of whom are white, is an unexpected twist on the "separate but equal" standard: they assert that for these students, an "equal" education is not good enough. Students who enter middle school significantly behind grade level don't need the same good education that most American middle-class students receive; they need a better education, because they need to catch up. Toll, especially, is preoccupied with the achievement gap: her schools' stated mission is to close the gap entirely. "The promise in America is that if you work hard, if you make good decisions, that you'll be able to be successful," Toll explained to me. "And given the current state of public education in a lot of our communities, that promise is just not true. There's not a level playing field."

You can read the rest of the Times piece here.