Let’s flog the system, not parents

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Minneapolis’ superintendent of public schools is fond of saying we should send her kids who are well-rested, well-fed, and “ready to learn.” She strikes a Victorian tone when she talks about the number of absences students have, how it impacts their education, and how it tanks school performance.

She’s not alone in viewing parents and families in terms of their deficits.

A recent visit to Lucy Laney K-8 school prompted a Northside “leader” to post a message that called for a return to days where parents could be punished with public floggings.


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For the record, BAE does not support public beatings for parents when their children are late to school. We don’t condone private beatings either. Violence against women is always wrong.

It’s true that some parents and students behave in ways that are challenging for schools. It’s also true that schools are a hot mess and failing even the students who show up each day “ready to learn.”

Black children who attend Minneapolis’ public schools experience many compounding in-school inequities that could be corrected if district and community leaders had the political will to accept responsibility for their system. We can’t blame parents until the system (and all its $100,000 salaried personnel) do their job.

For instance, on a recent visit to Lucy Laney BAE members learned that their students have been complaining about being hungry after lunch. When their principal looked into changes in their lunch program she found out that district nutritional guidelines call for a range of food portions, not hard rules for how much kids get to eat. But the enormous red flag of inequity was that Laney students, who are among the poorest in the district, get portions in the low end of the range.

Her 8th graders are eating kindergartner sized meals. Let that sink in: poor black children are getting less to eat than middle-class white kids.

Who do we flog publicly for that one? Which part of poor parenting can we blame for schools that feed rich kids better than poor?

If you need other examples, here are a few:

Suspensions and the criminalization of young black, brown, and American Indian students is persistent enough in MPS to trigger an investigation with civil rights officials in the Department of Education.

Special education is so bad for black students in the district that the Federal government took notice. The finding? Black students here are identified as behavioral disordered at a rate three time higher than black students nationally. According to the Star Tribune the rate is “higher than any other state in the country, according to the most recent federal data available.

And, there are problems with how MPS allocated the most precious resource: teachers. Research shows that teachers have a great impact on student behavior and learning. Yet, in MPS the distribution of quality teachers is one more way the system fails to live up to its rhetoric about “equity.”

report from the University of Minnesota concluded 10 years ago that teachers in classrooms with the highest number of low income students of color were paid less than teachers with the whitest classrooms. MinnPost followed up on the story this year and found disparities in teacher salaries from poor school to wealthy schools persist:

…a MinnPost analysis of 2012-2013 MPS salary data shows the teachers with the highest salaries clustered in the wealthiest, whitest schools. These are the teachers with the most experience and the most advanced degrees. Meanwhile the lowest paid, least experienced are concentrated in the district’s most challenged schools.

We know classroom instruction is the most important in-school contributor to student achievement. So why is the school system cheating the students most in need of great teachers?

At the high school level black students are in schools with the fewest course offerings. For instance, South and Southwest High Schools have well over 230 unique course offerings. North High School has 88. Please remember that when politicians come kissing babies, shaking hands, and proclaiming how much they love the Northside. Some times the “equity agenda” they speak of does not exist in their policy making.

See for yourself:

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These types of systemic issues put children behind. The best behaved, well-rested children with the ideal parents would be impacted by a public education system that gives them less of everything needed to produce high levels of learning.

So, while it may be tempting to pull out the old world maternalism of a superintendent who channels Mary Poppins when speaking of our children (calling for them to be suitable for schools rather than the other way around), or the get-off-my-lawn paternalism of well-fed suburbanite community “leaders” who lord over inner-city programs and advocate classist violence against the stereotypes of urban black mothers, let’s consider focusing on ensuring the school system taxpayers fund is not so incompetent as to compound societies inequities rather than mitigate them.

Lucy Laney is a great school to consider all the ways in which a district can pile on the discrimination. Kids there have less access to the best paid, most effective teachers. They’ve get assigned students in a pattern that makes the schools more segregated and full of students with challenges. They even get fed less.

None of those problems are caused by parents or students.

At the end of the day these “leaders” earn nearly $200,000 annually. That comes from government and philanthropy. At very least we can expect more than rhetoric from them that blame shifts while entire systems misfire.

It’s just a thought.

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