New Website, New Blog, New Voices - New, New, NEW!
02.01.2012 | Posted by Pam Costain, AchieveMpls CEO
With the launch of our brand spanking new website, AchieveMpls is excited to enter the world of blogging. We will be sharing a variety of perspectives from our staff, guest bloggers, young people who participate in our programs, activists and academics. We want to encourage a lively and productive discussion about various issues impacting youth, public education, workforce development, equity, social justice and the future of our community.
To get us started, we encourage you to check out a lively exchange between Steve Kotvis and me that was published recently in the Hill and Lake Press. Steve is a Kenwood resident who serves on a number of boards and committees relative to public education and offers a monthly perspective in the Hill & Lake Press “Minneapolis Minds” column. Steve questions whether the focus on the achievement gap and the implicit notion that middle and affluent kids are “just fine” doesn’t damage our ability to carry a message of the importance of public education to all people in our community. I respond with a reminder that while our responsibility is definitely to ALL kids, we must place special attention on the needs of those who are farthest behind.
Read it and let us know what you think.
“They’ll be just fine,” but where?
By Steve Kotvis
Published in Hill and Lake Press, November 2011
Just over a week ago, Pam Costain spoke at the near-monthly “Committee on the Achievement Gap.” As President and CEO of AchieveMpls (and past Minneapolis Public Schools Board member), Ms. Costain spoke of the need to address the achievement gap. After citing statistics describing the student body -- 65 percent living in poverty, one of every 12 students who are homeless or highly mobile, 23 percent who are learning English, and 16 percent who are in Special Education -- she said something that’s been nagging me like a splinter under the skin. So small to be possibly ignored as inconsequential, yet bothersome. In noting that our district also has among its population some of the highest achievers in the nation who come from affluent households, she kind of wrinkled her nose and said with a nod, “they’ll be just fine.”
That nagging splinter was nudged in further the following day. I was seated among tens of tables sponsored by corporations and individuals at $100 per plate at the AchieveMpls luncheon, where Boston Public Schools superintendent (and former MPS superintendent) Carol Johnson spoke about public education as the civil rights issue of today. It was there that Ms. Johnson echoed the sentiments. “I am not worried about” the IB students at Southwest High School, she said. “The ‘all’ strategy is no longer best.” We need to target to the low income, she stated.
Undoubtedly, we have a most pressing need to raise achievement among many students. Far too many are not completing high school, and too many are not completing high school with the skills they need to be adequately prepared for their lives ahead. And it is apparent that changes in how we educate some students are overdue. In the name of sanity, we cannot keep doing the same and expect different outcomes.
The irritating splinter has grown sorer as I think about the new language being used to address our achievement gap challenge. Language that says “they’ll be fine” and “I’m not worried.” Does anyone else sense a seemingly cavalier attitude? Can good come from simply dismissing those with the means? Do we really wish to disregard families who bring their children up with advantages, believing that in the end, as privileged and empowered they can be expected to find their own way?
I realize, in the context of today’s socio-economic turbulence (See “We are the 99%” campaign) that it’s become more fashionable to hold contempt for those on the top rungs of our socio-economic ladder. But, in the context of public education, does this new language impose unnecessary costs and barriers to solving our problems? In saying, top achievers, go fend for yourselves, are we creating a productive and sustainable model for public education, or are we creating a welfare state that relies on social conscience over embracing it?
It would seem reasonable that instead of using language that divides and alienates, that we consider ways that we may be more productive in appreciating the many levels of academic performance. While the needs among top performing students may not seem as dire, the consequences of dismissing them could unfold very undesirable consequences. After all, the needs to bring up the bottom require resources, much of which that comes from residential property taxpayers, individual donations and goodwill, and corporate giving.
To this point, much of the support of education and of efforts to raise the performance of at risk kids has been, not because it’s been about their kids, but rather because it’s been “the right thing to do.” “Given the fact that only about one in five households contains school-age children, and given that two-thirds of families with children do not live in underserved urban neighborhoods, or otherwise do not stand to benefit from the gap-closing agenda – the result is a tiny potential constituency for achievement gap reform, made up of perhaps 6% or 7% of American households.” (Source: “Our Achievement Gap Mania,” by Fredrick Hess in National Affairs, Fall 2011.)
This past year’s $14 million in grants AchieveMpls received from Target Corporation, Cargill and General Mills was not about it being about their kids. Let’s ask, how many of the top executives of those organizations have children who even attend Minneapolis Public Schools, much less live in Minneapolis? The Strong Schools Strong City Referendum that brings in $60 million in property tax revenues to the district each year would not have passed in 2008 without the high voter turnout and support of the euphemistic “Golden Crescent” -- households in our city with the highest education, wealth and student achievers.
While I understand the need to focus and target in times of limited resources, I can’t help but ask that we don’t do so at the risk of creating an unsustainable resource development model. Create one that everyone is a member of and one that everyone owns and embraces. Please don’t simply believe that the high achievers will be fine on their own. Please keep a place in our hearts and worry a little about the IB students at Southwest and the like.
Students achieving at all levels need to look at MPS schools that are places where they will be challenged and supported. It’s not a threat to say that students who are not challenged or don’t feel they belong will leave. A whole lot of them, many at the highest level, already do, either by attending the private schools, or the families who simply do not see Minneapolis as a viable option to raised their kids and move to suburban districts. Loosing the top performers. That would be a way to close the achievement gap. But not one I will sit by and witness without raising concern.
My Kids, Your Kids or Both
A response by Pam Costain to Steve Kotvis. Published in Hill and Lake Press, December 2011
I appreciate Steve’s thoughtful piece and am glad to have the opportunity to respond. He raises some important issues that deserve a lot of conversation and debate.
I have tried hard through my years of work with the Minneapolis Public Schools to hold an essential tension: how do we meet the needs of each and every child in the district, while at the same time putting extra effort/resources/focus on the children who are farthest behind? How do we raise academic achievement and standards for every student regardless of whether he or she begins the educational journey behind grade level, on track or far ahead?
How do we create a focus on equity, knowing that while all children deserve a high quality public education, there is a crisis of unacceptable proportion for children of color and those living in poverty? How do we create a “beloved community” in our own city where the needs of the least of these are prioritized, so that we all may share the benefits of our common bond?