Chanda Baker: Response to Achievement Gap questions

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1.      The Minneapolis Public Schools have struggled for some time to raise the achievement of low-income students and students of color.

a. What in your opinion are the most important factors in raising student achievement?

b. What measures should the school board take to improve student outcomes?

While there are many in-school and non-school factors that are important to raising student achievement, I believe that the MPS school board should focus on the factors on which MPS has the greatest influence.  These factors include:

  • Ensuring that all MPS schools and educators share the belief and mindset that all children can and should learn at high levels and reach their full potential, regardless of family background, income or ethnicity.
  • Ensuring that all MPS students benefit fromengaging and rigorous teaching and learning on a daily basis, regardless of which MPS school they attend.
  • Ensuring that all MPS schools build trust, relationships and partnerships with parents and the community to support the students who need it the most.
  • Providing the MPS leadership with the consistent support and stability in its work to succeed at the above factors-and holding them accountable for results.

 
c.   If the school board follows your suggestions, how soon would you expect to see significant results?

The newly elected school board should continue the efforts of the current board to fully implement the current MPS Strategic Plan priorities, including raising expectations and rigor, improving teaching and school leadership, and transforming the most struggling schools. MPS should expect to see significant student learning results by 2012.

2. Some people are concerned that focusing on academic achievement for low-income students means that insufficient attention is being paid to the needs of average and high performing students. How do you respond to that concern?

This is a very legitimate potential concern. For example, MPS continues to lose large numbers of gifted/talented students. MPS must enable and expect all of our schools and educators to engage and challenge all students to reach their full academic potential, regardless of their initial starting place.

 

3. It has been suggested that certain provisions of the teacher’s contract prevent the administration from staffing the schools adequately to meet the needs of students. Please comment on your opinion of the current teacher’s contract.

We need to ensure that teachers are always treated and compensated fairly.  We also need to ensure that teachers are treated as the knowledge professionals that they are.  I don’t believe that making seniority effectively the only factor in teacher assignment and retention is helpful in elevating the status of the teaching profession or in maximizing student learning.  We need to give our teachers and schools more flexibility.

 

4. One idea to improve student outcomes is to spend more time on task. That might mean a longer school day or a longer school year. Do you favor increasing learning time for students, and if so, how would you like to see that happen?

Minneapolis has among the shortest learning days and years in the country-which has the shortest learning year of any major country.  At the same time, extended learning time is not a silver bullet.  Let’s give our schools and teachers the flexibility to provide that option, especially for the most under-resourced families and communities.

 

5. Early childhood education is often offered as an important strategy for addressing the achievement gap.a. What are your views on investing in early childhood education?

I strongly favor an early investment in early childhood education, especially for under-resourced families and communities.
b. How can there be better alignment between pre-k programs and the K-12 system?

  • Developing wholistic “Age Three to Grade Three” schools and literacy programs
  • Early childhood programs offered on site at our schools

6. Some people suggest we need more flexible or innovative models of delivering education.

a. Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

I favor good schools, regardless of type, and improving or transforming struggling schools, regardless of type.  Our goal should be to provide a great public school for every Minneapolis child.  Charter schools are and will continue to be part of the mix of school options.
b. What should the relationship be between the charter schools and MPS?

We are one city.   All of us need to work together to create great learning experiences for every Minneapolis child, regardless of school type.  Minneapolis cannot afford finger-pointing and continuing conflict.
c. Do you favor or oppose self-governed (teacher-led) schools?

I favor good schools, including self-governed schools.  This is a very exciting development.  I commend the current Board for approving Minnesota’s first self-governed school this spring.

 

7. A group of Northside residents have formed a Northside Achievement Zone, aiming to replicate some of the outcomes experienced by the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. a. How should the School Board respond? The board should be supportive and informed
b. Is it appropriate for the School Board to make special efforts or investments in a particular portion of the city?

The needs in each part of the city is unique that that particular area.  The school boards decisions should reflect the specific needs of that area.  I do not believe that one area should be prioritized over another-no parent want to feel that their child is not the priority.  The school board needs to work with the community to determine maintain equity…

8. With 65% students of color, the Minneapolis Public Schools face significant challenges with regard to integration. Some people prioritize integration efforts, while others argue that that it is more important to improve the quality of schools in low income neighborhoods. What is your opinion on this? Do you favor efforts to increase integration in the city schools? If yes, what steps would you take to make that happen?

Integration is a good thing, and so is neighborhood and family stability.  I believe every neighborhood and family should have access to a great public school without having to travel too far.  The central MPS focus should be on ensuring that every child attends a high-performing school, regardless of student ethnic composition.

9. Improving governance of our public schools is a big topic of discussion.
a. What in your opinion are the main governance challenges for public education?
b. Are there different governance models that you believe are worth exploring
c. The Governor recommended that the Minneapolis and St. Paul school district be managed by the cities’ mayors. What is your opinion of this recommendation?

I believe that public schools-and, at their best, elected boards-are the backbone of a healthy city and a healthy democracy.  The instability, micromanagement, and often plain incompetence of past MPS school boards have given elected MPS boards a bad name for many.  If the MPS board stays focused on implementing and ensuring the success of the very strong plan they adopted with widespread community support and consultation, more than two years ago, this recommendation is unlikely to be adopted.

 

10. Your role in the school board
a. How do you define the role of a school board member?

An MPS school board member should seek to uphold the MPS mission at all times: ensuring that all MPS children are college ready and high-achieving.  I believe this mission is both measurable and attainable.   The board must remain focused on the mission and setting policy to help MPS leadership achieve it, rather than on hundreds of smaller issues that constantly threaten to divert members’ time and attention.

b. How much time each week do you expect to spend on school related matters?  

I am confident in my ability to be a strong school board member, regardless of how much time it may take from week to week.  It should not take more than 25 hours per week in general.

 

11. Finally, what does success in the Minneapolis Public Schools look like to you.  

A high quality learning environment that understands it’s purpose and is focused on academic and social success for all students, including; 

  • All students College ready: 100% graduation rate and 100% proficiency rate
  • Effective governance: boundaries and clarity
  • Strong accountability: incentives and consequences
  • Community support: Strategic partnerships, a community of support for students and teachers.