It has been announced that Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) have reached a tentative agreement on a new contact. Teachers will soon vote to ratify the agreement and the Minneapolis School Board will vote to accept the deal on April 17th. As an advocate over the years for all students, I believe this agreement essentially sacrifices the advancement of underachieving African American students to the benefit of adult teachers. If the board accepts this agreement it will not be in the best interest of those African American and other students who are not at grade level in reading and/or math. The Board should reject this agreement and send its negotiators back to the table to secure an agreement that will accelerate the academic achievement of underperforming students in district schools.
There are many reasons the Board of Education should reject this proposed contract and the following will demonstrate exactly why our students will be sacrificed, or shortchanged, if MPS accepts the proposal.
Further, we know that the research clearly demonstrates that extending instructional school days does accelerate student achievement. Moreover, Minneapolis public schools have historically had one of the shortest school years in the state. As a consequence we were encouraged when the district started contract negotiations by asking MFT to agree to extend the school year by 12 additional days for its 16 high priority schools. (These high priority schools are schools that have some of the lowest academic proficiency scores in the state and some of the highest populations of African American students in the district). Those two factors alone suggest that extending the school year by 12 additional days was at best less than half of the days that the evidence demonstrates is necessary to accelerate achievement to the appropriate level of state mandated proficiency. One can make a legitimate argument that they should have asked for the full thirty plus days extended instruction if we are to really end this achievement gap. What is most disturbing is that MFT would not even agree to the 12 plus days and negotiated the district down to four additional days of extended instruction. Any reader here can easily discern that if thirty is needed, you ask for twelve and you settle for four that our students’ advancement is being sacrificed for the benefit of adult teachers and for the district to reach an agreement. In this writers opinion to settle for this pitiful increase in instructional days is both disgusting and immoral.
This proposed contract because does not meet the objectives the district initially requested. The district originally requested that 16 so called high priority schools would be staffed by teachers selected by the district. Additionally, teachers at these 16 schools would not be subject to the usual rigid seniority system that allows excess teachers to bump those with less seniority. The reason the district requested these rule changes was to provide these (16) schools with a stable instructional team that were committed to the school for a minimum period of three years. Research supports that schools with low teacher turnover and a stable staff increase student achievement.
The current proposal does not give the district the right to achieve the initial objective. Rather this new deal would create a committee that would determine staffing and stability criteria. This would be a joint management and teacher committee. When will the Minneapolis School Board and district administration shoulder the managerial responsibility to take control of the chaos that exists in our underperforming schools?
The Minneapolis school district’s contract with the teachers union is one of the largest (in terms of pages) in the country. It contains language that commits the district to collaborate with the union on many issues that should not be subject to negotiations. To its credit the teachers union has achieved its contract goals and the district has subjected normal management prerogatives to a joint committee or arbitration. This kind of agreement would be fine if it achieved the goal of great student outcomes for all of our children. But it has not, in spite of having the highest salaries for teachers on average in the state, Minneapolis has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation for African American and other students of color. When issues are decided by a vaguely defined joint committee, the implication is that no one is in charge or accountable. That is why African American children in Minneapolis are failing and these business as usual work rules and hundred page contracts have not served our students to a level of academic excellence.
The current chair of the school board has stated publically that he will not apologize for collaboration with the union on this contract. I agree: he should not apologize. However he should recognize that by collaborating only with the union and not engaging the parents of the 16 high priority schools on any level, he ignored a very important group of constituents. While Director Monserrate exhibits considerable promise as chair of the board he has failed our children if he supports this deal.
How long should the African American community wait for children to achieve academic proficiency that will lead to high school graduation and either college or post-secondary training? The district touts its goal of “every child college ready,” but graduates less than fifty percent of African American students. In reality they are condemning our students that fail to graduate to a lifetime of poverty and or prison. The pipeline from failing to graduate to prison is well known to MPS and to this board. How many more African American students will they leave behind because they are unwilling to make bold changes that they know will improve student success.
It is one thing for the board and administration to know what it takes to accelerate student achievement for all students of color. It is another when they have neither the courage nor the fortitude to make the bold changes necessary to achieve it. That is why those of us who developed and promote the Contract for Student Achievement are disappointed with this deal. That is why we are asking that this contract be rejected and they go back to the table and achieve a contract proposal that accelerates the growth and achievement of our students.
We recommend that the district propose the same number of instructional days for these 16 schools that Harvest Prep students receive. That would be 35 more instructional days. We also demand that the district and the board take control of these 16 schools that are totally failing our students and hold the principals, teachers, staffs and families accountable for ending the achievement gap. They can do this by granting guaranteed stability in the instructional staff by requiring a minimum of a three year commitment to the school site by all the teachers selected. They should commit to placing the best teachers in the district in these sixteen schools and pay them well for their three-year commitment, longer school year and bonuses for accelerating student achievement.
We also challenge this board that so often speaks about parent engagement to ask the parents at these 16 schools their preference for the shorter or longer school year and teacher stability as called for initially or the mushy deal currently on the table. In other words broaden their collaboration to those parents and students most affected by their decision.
Finally, this board can show its real commitment to bold changes by rejecting the current proposal. It can demonstrate its responsibility to end the achievement gap. This is no longer a new board. This board owns the achievement gap and must be held accountable for ending it. We cannot afford tinkering around the edges of change we must make bold changes that is evidenced based and has demonstrated it can make a huge difference in our students education. If the board really believes this proposal advances student achievement then allow those board members with children to place them in one of these 16 schools, which they are so willing to impose on our children. But beyond that, if this experiment fails will they admit failure and step down to allow bold changes with a real sense of urgency to occur in these sixteen schools that are so desperately in need of change, dynamic leadership and accountability.