Richard Mammen: Response to Achievement Gap questions


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?

Successful schools, healthy families and thriving communities are all necessary for raising student achievement. They are inter-related and must be addressed comprehensively – and collaboratively – if we are to actually make significant gains. Public schools can be the foundation of how we build all three.

Briefly, I believe successful schools have these essential supports:

Professional capacity – Strong, experienced, skillful teachers –  with can do attitudes and confidence in professional judgment.

School leadership – principals that are inclusive, facilitative leaders who create a sense of community in the school.

Parent-Community ties and involvement – supportive families and neighborhoods that are present, providing social support and high expectations while ensuring attendance

Student-centered learning climate – friendly and welcoming places, providing safety and order as well as student engagement in creating results.

Instructional guidance and shared learning– promoting innovation and best practice application and using data driven decision making,

Cultural competency – staff and community supports that reflect and embrace the cultures and diversity of the students, families and school community.                                                     

Relational competency – building social capital through inclusive and trusting relationships that are “audited” regularly, with problems  addressed and successes celebrated.

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

The MPS Strategic and Changing School Options plans are promising, dynamic and measureable. District leadership needs to implement and work the plans, ensuring accountabilities and honest communication of performance. The board should expect results, adopt policies and provide resources that support district goals.

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

This depends on the results we’re looking for. Some should be immediate – enrollment, parent engagement and attendance, positive school climate, etc. Others – ie. individual math/reading scores, graduation rates, school readiness – will take time as momentum builds and metrics develop. That said, we better see positive results in the next 2-3 years.


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?

The “zero-sum” budget and class bias thinking that I suspect is at the base of this concern has to be challenged. All children can and deserve to be challenged academically and we have the capacity to do so if the “system” is focused on the learner rather than the system itself. One size doesn’t fit all so we must be flexible and creative. The supports that students need, inside and outside of the classroom, have to be recognized and addressed. Tutors and mentoring, advanced learning opportunities, pull-out programs, inter-school collaboration, after school programs, summer camps, social services and all the community resources available have to be recognized and employed. Every child must succeed.


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.

The current teachers’ contract is a complex document that has been built over a number of years and defines multiple operational processes in addition to compensation and benefits. A central cost neutral issue in current negotiations appears to be management’s right to hire, fire and place teachers where they see fit.

Seniority is a value that I respect because the teaching profession has been built on it. Experience creates expertise like nothing else. However, I don’t believe that it should be the only factor in school assignment (bidding) or lay-offs. “Last hired, first fired” limits our capacity to balance talent and experience as well as build a workforce that is diverse and change oriented.

This is a major reform and should be addressed thoughtfully and creatively. Its my understanding that a current memorandum of understanding provides a combination approach in interview and select with some recognition of seniority in schools that are being “fresh started.”  What are the results? How can we build on them? What works for students is more important than who’s in charge.

I continue to expect MFT59 and MPS to find a balanced, fair, respectful and accountable practice that best provides for strong schools throughout the system.


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?

The research I’ve seen clearly shows that lower performing students benefit from more “time on task.” As a board member I would encourage our academic leadership to present research-based alternatives in structuring the school day and calendar, utilization of technology and distance learning and any other method to get stronger academic results. If new policies are needed to promote innovation, experimentation and flexibility to get more positive results I will support them.


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?

Too many kids start kindergarten already at a severe disadvantage. Quality early childhood education is one of the soundest investments our state, community and district can make relative to strengthening later learning capacity and eliminating our achievement gaps. I support district involvement in assuring that ALL children have access to quality programs.

b.      How can there be better alignment between pre-k programs and the K-12 system?

MPS can achieve this internally by building partnerships with other organizations and locating programs in MPS facilities. Opening up our existing buildings and co-locating programs will provide comfort, familiarity and trust resulting in stronger enrollment numbers and “market share.”

Also, MPS should recognize the benefit that pre-K programs bring and work to engage stronger external relationships with providers and communication with parents of young children. I especially would work to engage Ready for K, Way To Grow, the MN Early Learning Foundation and other partners and repair the relationship between MPS and PICA-Head Start.


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

a.            Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

I don’t favor or oppose charter schools but I do recognize their existence as a public education movement that is here for the long haul. As one who witnessed the birth of the charter school movement in Minnesota when it was introduced as an idea by American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker at the Itasca Conference in 1990 (as a means of “teacher-led” educational reform) and as the founder of a charter school (Cyber Village Academy) on behalf of MPS in 1996, I remain befuddled by the animosity demonstrated by MPS staff and boards towards charters. The competition and resulting loss of students could have been avoided if MPS had behaved differently.

b.      What should the relationship be between the charter schools and MPS?

It should be respectful, collaborative and accountable. The New Schools department is an encouraging development and I look forward to their stewardship in building mutually responsible relationships with successful charter schools that benefit Minneapolis children.

c.       Do you favor or oppose self-governed (teacher-led) schools?

I favor strong teacher leadership in all aspects of the enterprise. I’m casually familiar with the emerging French Immersion school recently approved by the board and the development of the New Schools department. I’m supportive of other new teacher led initiatives and the promise they hold. I’m also very interested in the discussions occurring about MFT59 becoming authorizers of charter schools.


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?

With curiosity and supportive help. The parents, residents and other stakeholders are stepping up to address MPS’s mission. Let’s participate as a collaborative partner.

b.      Is it appropriate for the School Board to make special efforts or investments in a particular portion of the city?

The geography isn’t what’s important.  It’s the mission and leadership that matters. The District should invest as it can in any strategy that promotes greater success for its lowest performing students and their families. 


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?

Bussing and school choice is evolving as evidenced by the Changing School Options plan. I’m terribly disappointed by the resegregation of many of our schools but I’m reminded that Minneapolis is one of the most racially and economically segregated cities of its size in the country. It has been for over 150 years. Unless our other governmental partners comprehensively address economic development and housing issues I don’t anticipate a change. The diversity of our students and families is an asset that we must find ways to take advantage of. We must improve the quality of schools in low-income neighborhoods and make them attractive to increase integration.

As local resources become scarcer I’m interested in learning more about the development of regional school districts as suggested by Myron Orfield and his colleagues. Change is inevitable.


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?

Communication, transparency in decision-making, accountability, public trust and appropriate staff-board protocols are challenges that need to be addressed. Pushing more decision-making down to schools and closer to students, teachers and parents with HELPFUL administrative and board support is a personal goal for me.

b.      Are there different governance models that you believe are worth exploring?

We should constantly be curious about successful models and be willing to change structurally if student and school success is enhanced. Form ought to follow function and mission.

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?

Based on the current structural realities of municipal government in Minneapolis I don’t think it’s a sound idea.


10.  Your role in the school board

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

As a governance body the school board has 3 primary roles: 1) to set policies that guide the mission and management of the district; 2) to establish the budget and provide fiduciary oversight of management; and 3) to hire and supervise the superintendent. Consistent with these roles is an ultimate accountability for the district’s “health” and success in achieving its mission and goals. 

As elected officials and representatives of the public, board members also have responsibilities to provide constituent service – including effective protocols for communication with students, families, teachers, employees, collaborative partners and the broader community. Board members should be advocates for the success of the organization as a whole and not act as an intrusion on discrete operations or issues. 

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

20-25 hours on average.

c.       If elected, how many terms do you plan to serve?

I haven’t really thought about it past one but will serve as long as I feel I can be effective.


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

Elimination of the achievement gap; 100% graduation rates; balanced enrollment in all high schools; all students are bi-lingual; young families moving into all Minneapolis neighborhoods because of the schools.