St. Paul school board candidates discuss achievement gap


St. Paul school board candidates discussed the achievement gap between white students and students of color at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center on October 17. According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), the current proficiency rate among all students in the St. Paul school district is 44 percent in math and 37 percent in reading. Proficiency rates among white students in math and reading are 71 percent in both categories, while the rates among black students are 26 percent proficiency in math and 25 percent proficiency in reading. (Statistics from Star Tribune app.)

Two of the candidates in attendance, O’Connell and John Brodrick, are incumbents, while Chue Vue, Terrence Bushard, and Greg Copeland are challengers. Three will be elected to the school board in November. All of them agreed that the achievement gap was a crisis to the St. Paul school system, but each had different ideas of what causes it and what should be done to fix it.

Jean O’Connell said that the school board will continue to study the data relating to the achievement gap while working toward a goal of 75% proficiency for all students.

Bushard pointed to a lack of motivation and direction in students of all races, emphasizing that schools have to “find a way to motivate these kids,” if they are to succeed. Copeland believed that the achievement gap stems more from poverty than from racial differences.

Brodrick suggested that the first step in attacking the achievement gap is to create a “mutual sense of respect,” between students, parents, and teachers. “Students must feel welcome, safe, and confident in order to learn,” he said.

Vue emphasized that the blaming and pointing fingers must stop first, because, “we need everybody at the table,” in order to find a solution. Vue said that the solution must be multifaceted, because the achievement gap cannot be fixed by focusing on just one issue.

In July, The St. Paul Board of Education approved a new Racial Equity Policy. O’Connell said that the school board has been doing many things in addition to the Racial Equity Policy that are going to help students be successful, such as the new free breakfast policy for students of all incomes.

Copeland said that the school board has been misusing its resources. He would like to see the board spend more money directly in the classrooms. Copeland said that the board should be spending the money raising teachers’ salaries and providing the assistance they need in the classroom. He also brought up that there needs to be a way to “provide help to the parents who can’t be engaged because they’re just trying to survive.”

Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.