The past year has been a mixed bag of successes and setbacks for Minneapolis Public Schools, according to a report delivered October 2 by Superintendant Bill Green. Before a crowd of forty or so Minneapolis school district officials, reporters, and interested citizens at the Minneapolis Central Library, Green outlined developments in five key areas MPS will use to measure its progress in repairing the school system.
In all but one area, though, little progress had been made by the end of the 2007-2008 school year. The improvement came in graduation rates, which increased from 67% of all high schoolers in 2007 to 73% in 2008, four percent higher than the district’s self-imposed target for the past school year.
According to Green’s slideshow presentation, much of the increase comes from an 18% increase in graduation rates among Hispanic and Latino students, from 33% in 2007 to 51% in 2008.
Looking to the future, Green said the numbers of five-year-olds prepared for kindergarten, third grade literacy rates, eighth grade algebra proficiency rates, “college readiness” among graduating high school seniors, and high school graduation rates, are “key milestones” in a child’s education. The district will measure progress by comparing future years with data from spring 2007 in each area.
“Today is a time of progress and promise,” Green said, emphasizing the six percent rise in graduation rates, as well as the small steps taken in kindergarten preparedness and college preparedness. He acknowledged setbacks in the numbers of third graders reading at grade level – down six percent from third graders in the spring of 2007 – saying the district was attacking the problem by placing literacy coaches in schools to work directly with teachers and principals.
The improvements in eighth grade algebra proficiency, college preparedness, and kindergarten readiness were small by any standard. After the presentation school board Chair Lydia Lee acknowledged that the District’s self-imposed targets were “a bit arbitrary.”
“I think we looked at where we wanted to be [by 2012], and divided it up, I think, 1/5 for each year,” Lee said. “We were looking at how we were going to implement a plan.” MPS’s strategic plan, passed in May 2007, is centered on making “every child college-ready” by 2012.
Lee echoed Green’s remarks, saying that the district would be building fundamentals in the first one or two years of the strategic plan’s implementation. She cited math teaching, in particular, where the district has recently adopted a new district-wide curriculum.
Deputy Superintendant Bernadeia Johnson agreed. Making sure the curriculums in all schools is on the same path from kindergarten to twelfth grade, she said, would keep students from having to repeat classes when moving from one neighborhood school to another, or when moving from elementary to middle to high school. For example, teachers will be able to focus remedial help better, she said, if they know what a child’s previous math teacher has taught.
Carla Bates, a candidate for one of the two open seats on the Minneapolis Board of Education, was also in the audience. She was “pleased,” she said, that Green had “stuck with the projected numbers [in the five categories], even though it didn’t make them look great.”
Green’s presentation was “much more transparent” than MPS has been in the past, she said, and called it a step in the right direction.
“We need to talk more about graduation rates and [reading and math] proficiency,” she said. “I’m afraid the dropout rate is where the non-proficient students are going.”
James Sanna is a freelance writer and an intern covering education issues for the Daily Planet.