T. Williams: 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?

  • Qualified classroom teachers who can teach children with different learning styles
  • Engaged parents or caring adults
  • Wrap around social and health services readily accessible to the students
  • Community institutions actively engaged as partners with the schools in support of student learning
  • A system that holds all participants in the educational process accountable for measureable outcomes

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

  • Implement and accountability systems that can adequately assesses the performance of all parties involved in teaching and learning
  • Set policies that will promote training and development of teachers qualified and capable of teaching students of diverse racial, social, economic and languages backgrounds
  • Aggressive strategies to improve student attendance and lessen student mobility
  • Provide the resources needed to achieve the goal

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

  • I would expect immediate changes in student performance from those students who have good attendance records
  • Initially I focus on individual student progress as compared to previous performance

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

  • I don’t see that as an issue. I think we have the capacity and the commitment to accomplish both. In fact there may be way to connect the two and look for ways to engage the higher performing students in working with the lower achievers. It has been done before.

3.      It has been suggested that certain provisions of the teachers’ contract make more difficult the staffing of schools adequate to meet the needs of all students.  What is your view?

  • It can be more challenging when schools cannot select the teachers believed to be the best fit for a particular school without consideration of contract provisions. MPS is partially addressing that issue through a Memorandum of Understanding with MFT to allow for Interview & Select. This allows and individual school to interview and hire the teachers it feels are a good fit for the school.

4.      One idea to improve student outcomes is to have 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?

  • Research shows that there is a positive correlation between student learning and the amount of time on task. The challenge is find a way or ways to increase the opportunity for more time on task. That could be done by restructuring the current school day creating more time on task or by extending the school day or school year. I would opt not to prescribe a fix, but allow for experimentation and overtime select what works best.

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 believe in and support expanded early childhood education as the most viable long term strategy for closing the achievement gap.
  • More affluent families routinely provide early childhood education for their children often through daily routines and rituals common to the families using their own resources. A parent is the child’s first teacher and parents who are more knowledgeable about what it takes to be ready for school will do better in preparing their children. For other parent support may be needed for helping them prepare their children.

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

  • Co-locatepre-k programs in MPS schools so that children will begin to experience the school culture early and the provider have a sense of the relationship between pre-k and K-12.

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

a.      Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

  • Charter schools are an important part of the public education system and the focus should not be on whether I support or oppose them, but how can we make the a more effective tool in the overall delivery system of public school education.

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

  • I think it should be one of collaboration and cooperation. There should be curriculum sharing. The mobility between charter schools and MPS make it imperative that MPS and charters have shared understanding of curriculum so that proper assessments can be made of students as they move from one system to the next.

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

  • I support it. The School Board recently approved a teacher-led self-governed school.

 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?

  • Find ways to embrace, support, collaborate and participate in the effort.

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

  • As the opportunity might present itself, yes.

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?

  • I’m a life-long supporter of integrated education. It’s in my genes, but I’m a realist. There no longer is neither moral nor legal imperative to work toward integrating our schools. In the absence of such imperatives, the more logical approach is to apply a regional strategy to school integration. Minneapolis demographics make integration highly problematic because it would require massive bussing of students. Historically students bussed for integration have been students of color. White students are reluctant to attend schools where they are not the numerical majority. Think one west-metro school district. There are several examples across the U.S.

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?

  • Stability and continuity in school board membership
  • Communications among school board members
  • Accountability

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

c.       The Governor has recommended that the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts be managed by the cities’ mayors. What is your opinion of this recommendation?

  • Not much. There is no evidence that mayoral appointed school boards are any more effective.
  • It certainly does not take the politics out of it.

10.  Your role in the school board

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

  • The school board a governing board with the responsibilities of selecting a superintendent and setting policies that govern the work of the District. It is responsible for approving the superintendent’s annual work plan and assessing the superintendent’s performance. Each board member shares equally in the process.

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

  • The time that one spends doing board work may vary, but expect to put in a minimum of 10 hrs. per week, which can escalate up to 20 or more hrs. per week.


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