The North Side Initiative is another attempt to improve the education of African-American children. Many others have failed or resulted in only minor progress.
What is wrong with a school system that doesn’t do well with many Black children, as well as poor children of all races?
It’s unfair to place all the blame on the schools for broader issues in society. The increase in use of illegal drugs, single-parent families, poverty and crime on the streets are among the problems that are beyond the reach of the schools.
But is there something the schools could be doing better?
Chris Stewart, a Minneapolis Board of Education member, answers the question bluntly. “The ivory tower” and the more recent “ebony tower” (Black school administrators) assume they know what’s best for Black kids, Stewart said, and this arrogance is hurting the children. “Black poor kids are a cash cow. There are a lot of people earning a living off them.”
Bill English, co-chairman of the Coalition of Black Churches/African-American Leadership Conference, said school policies are “detrimental to Black youth.” Specifically, he would like to see a timetable established by the Minneapolis schools or the state of Minnesota for ending the achievement gap between minority and white children. If there is no timetable, English said, no one will organize the resources to achieve the goal.
His other ideas include “cultural competence” training for teachers. Colleges do not teach about subcultures in America, he said. English also recommends a more flexible seniority policy so fewer Black teachers will be laid off when enrollments decline, as well as innovative ways to reduce suspensions of African-American students. The suspension rate of Black male students is very high.
The lack of cultural competence is one reason why teachers don’t respect or listen to African-American parents, English said. “The teachers judge them based on grammar and dress. Until we change the culture of the Minneapolis school district, nothing is going to happen.”
“This is a multi-generational failure in American history,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, who represents part of the North Side. “We need to develop practices to teach poor people who have been here for more than one generation.”
Unlike more recent immigrants, African-American families often have experienced many generations of living with poverty and discrimination, Samuels said. “They have little concept of the hopefulness of America.”
While the city of Minneapolis does not run the public schools, it can help with public safety and other problems that affect the schools.
City Council Member Ralph Remington said that the city can reduce concentrations of poverty with its housing policies. “We can put affordable housing in wealthy and middle class neighborhoods. And we can encourage the migration of upper class and middle class residents to areas of poverty.” One way of accomplishing the latter would be subsidizing renovation of older housing and amenities like coffee shops, boutiques and green space.
Unsafe streets are a major concern for some parents whose children have to walk to school. Remington, who represents the Uptown, Lyndale and east Harriet neighborhoods, said the city needs to continue to increase the number of police officers on the street.