MPS might fix its budget mess by cutting support services to black males

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After three years or so of overspending, the Minneapolis Public Schools have a problem.

It’s a $33 million problem that has district leaders scrambling for good china to sell, jewelry to hock, and useless programs to cut.

Guess what might not survive?

Insiders say the Office of Black Male Student Achievement could quietly shut down.

It’s been three years now and Michael Walker, the OBMSA’s Director, and his staff have failed to wipe out the racial disparities it took the district a century of neglect to create.

With a budget Armageddon pending, programs that don’t work must go. Or, so the internal narrative says.

MPS Superintendent Ed Graff practicing a trite brand of confessional and practiced transparency sent a public letter back in February to announce the problem:

….for the past five years, MPS has routinely spent significantly more money than it has – resulting in mid-year budget shortfalls that jeopardize the stability of our schools and their management. You may recall seeing the audit of last year’s finances which found a $21 million shortfall mid-way through last year. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. During each of the past five years, auditors uncovered similar mid-year shortfalls totaling anywhere from approximately $326,000 to $38 million.

Don’t worry though, Graff has a plan for resolving the budget problem.

A 10% reduction in costs from central administration, 2.5% skimming from school budgets, and a squandering of the district’s reserves for the rest.

Of course, the incessant whispers about a certain MPS’ Board Chair who got far too cozy with the previous Chief Financial Officer (to the point of acting like a paid employee rather than an elected board member), which resulted in the district being broker than broke, isn’t the worst of it.

The real problem, the one that justified establishing the OBSA, remains the same.

Black kids in MPS are drowning academically and socially.

The MPS is a district of “schools,” and as such you expect them to be teaching, and for students to be learning, and by any measure that isn’t happening – especially for the high-potential students Walker is nurturing to health.

Just look at this nonsense:

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One in five black students proficient. Even fewer prepared to be scientific.

It’s hard to imagine the Minneapolis Board of Education has time to discuss anything other than [black] student achievement, but this isn’t really a “black” or “achievement” oriented board.

Ok, so it’s not all bad news.

Looking at overall suspensions the trend is going in the right direction with fewer suspensions, out-of-school removals, expulsions, referral to law enforcement, and administrative transfers.

 

See the good trends for yourself:

Overall

That’s something to celebrate.

We can’t be sure that Walker’s (all-black) team of professionals made that happen, but it’s progress.

Back when Walker’s office started MPS black students had an average 1.9 GPA, a 36% 4-year graduation rate, 5,701 days of missed because of suspensions, and 20,893 referrals for discipline.

Since then the OBSA has engaged the black community – elders, parents, leaders, barbers, you name it- and internal stakeholders. They have trained 1,200 teachers with strategies for reducing bias against black males.

But, happy stats aside, real problems remain.

For instance, 2017-18 looks bad for Washburn High School. Their suspension, removals, and calls for law enforcement point upward:

Washburn (2)

Southwest High School seems to have obliterated suspensions by punting kids into police paddy wagons and waving them adieu.

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And, North High, the really tiny school with small class sizes and more funding than any school in the district?

A damn trainwreck.

Here are their suspensions:

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And, their academic outcomes?

Scandalous:

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To that we say….

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This looks like a district that needs Walker and his office more than the other way around.

Listen, it’s obvious MPS has a problem with black students, and those problems won’t be solved by starting and stopping programs that improve the culture of schools and provide critical mentoring and support.

In the past, BAE raised holy hell to get a realistic budget for Walker and the OBMSA. We feared the district was treating this work like a vanity project only to give the illusion of equity.

We won’t stand for that now.

Every city with a black male achievement program says the same thing: the work takes time and district leadership has to be in it for real.

Walker and his team are doing their work, building something that is essential, and they deserve to keep their little $1.2 million budget to continue.

This board, this superintendent, and all their careerists need to find a way to fix the budget mess they created without robbing the OBMSA to do it.

We’re watching.

 

Black student pushes back when her suburban school asks her to colonize Africa

A student at a suburban school district in Minnesota says her high school’s social studies teacher asked her to participate in an assignment where the goal was to colonize Africa. Wayzata high school where she attends has less than 7% black students, and as one of them, she wasn’t having it.

She put her school on blast in a Facebook post saying “so im in world history and our teacher tells us we playing a game. I thought it was sweet till he passes this out!!!”

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The game was called come from a learning unit called “Race for Colonies in Africa and Education” produced by a teacher-led curriculum provider called The Center for Learning who says their mission is to “help teachers succeed in the classroom.”

The rules of the game: “Today, you are going to enter a race for colonies in Africa: however, you must claim colonies in the order below and with the limitations noted. Your goals are to get the best land, minerals, and resources that you can. Good luck.”

Apparently curriculum vetting in Minnesota is so poor no one saw how such a lesson would offend black students.

It isn’t the first problem with curriculum in the Northstar state. Last year Minneapolis Public Schools had to issues that generated public protest.

The first happened when a middle school student refused to play a social studies computer game that virtualized slavery. In that game students were asked to take the role of a slave girl who won points by being appropriately deferential during encounters with racist white southerners.

In another incident parent activists shut down school board meetings demanding Minneapolis school officials end their contract with a curriculum company that sold the district a reading series full of racially insensitive portrayals of people of color.

“Why is this okay? How does no one see the problem with this?! literally telling a room full of white kids to go “colonialize” and take what they want is not a game and its not funny,”the Wayzata student wrote.

“[T]here are way more productive and less damaging ways to learn this BS. why is this real life?”

Making matters worse, her white peers weren’t supportive. “I refused to play and my teamates caught attitudes,” she says.

Thus is the state of integration in America.

BAE joins CJP in filing a Department of Justice complaint against Harrison school

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If you read the website for Harrison Educational Center you might get the impression that it represents the best Minneapolis Public Schools can do for students with extensive special education needs.

It says “At Harrison Education Center, we treat ourselves, each other, and our school with respect. We take responsibility for our learning, honor our community, and strive for a safe and positive school for all.”

Besides creating a respectful “community” the school also touts its academics.

“Harrison provides students with a comprehensive educational and behavioral program designed to improve their academic skills and support appropriate school behaviors,” the site says.

One problem.  That rosy picture is it disputed by students and observers who have had a very different experience with Harrison. At least one student, “J.G.” a sixteen year old formerly assigned to Harrison, says his experience was far from respectful. In fact, he says students were routinely stripped of their basic civil rights.

According to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights division Harrison has an abusive environment that denies students of their federally protected right to a “Free Appropriate Public Education.”

The complaint was filed by the Community Justice Project and supported by Black Advocates for Education on March 20th.

This isn’t the first time these issues have surfaced. In recent years there have been news reports, community advocacy, and even a lawsuit to call attention to conditions at Harrison- but no systemic change.

Student attorneys, headed by BAE co-founder Nekima Levy-Pounds, along with BAE members, expect threat of action from the DOJ will give MPS leaders a push to change how special education students, and those who are black and poor, are educated in Minneapolis.

See the full complaint below.

Statement of support for the #MOA11 and #BlackLivesMatter

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The Black Advocates for Education (BAE) was formed to pursue educational justice for black children, and to challenge the white supremacist structures that diminish lives in our community. We see no greater expression of that challenge than the courageous organizing carried out by a new generation of social activists who fuel the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They have bravely stepped forward at a critical time in history when the collective consciousness of oppressed people is rising, and the stoic indifference of oppressors is being disturbed.

We stand firmly united with them. We believe all people who envision a moral and just universe should do so.

Just before Christmas last year about 3,000 #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators gathered peacefully at the Mall of America. They came together in a show of solidarity with others across the country who were also gathering to assert the sanctity of black life. Symbolically, there could not have been a better time to assert the unsurpassable worth of black lives than during the season when good people celebrate the birth of Christ, who is the eternal champion of the poor and the oppressed.

Further, there was no better location to hold such a demonstration than the Mall of America, a symbolic capital of our country’s gross materialism which places desire for things above care for people, strivings for wealth above submission to compassion, and selfish individualism above the achievement of a beloved community.

It troubles us that the response of Mall of America property owners and public officials has been to use the power of law to suppress the voices they care not to hear. They are pursuing criminal charges against 11 courageous demonstrators who have been singled out for prosecution by the City of Bloomington’s attorney. One of those demonstrators includes a BAE founding member, civil rights attorney and law professor, Nekima Levy-Pounds.

The founding members of Black Advocates for Education stand with our sisters and brothers who are facing charges, and all of their supporters. We join their call for a boycott not only of the Mall of America, but also the City of Bloomington.

We heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said “somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.”

We are black advocates. We know #BlackLivesMatter, because Black Lives Matter! We intend to be God’s relentless co-workers until first are last, and the last are first.

More power to the #MOA11 and the millions they represent in the U.S. and around the world.

Peace.

Hooray! MPS children have been emancipated from virtual slavery

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During black history month we were incredulous to learn that Mission 2: Flight to Freedom, a “game” that virtualizes slavery and places students into the role of slave, was being used in at least one Minneapolis public school.

On February 18th BAE members sent the following message to Minneapolis Public Schools:

Dear Chair Arneson and Interim Superintendent Goar,

It has come to our attention that a student at Seward Montessori school has asked to opt out of participating in the use of Mission 2: Flight to Freedom, a software that simulates slavery.
We are disturbed that any children in the MInneapolis Public Schools would participate in the gamification of a human atrocity. For black children this “game” can be harmful and cause a hostile learning environment.
We would like to call your attention to two pieces of information:

First, a blog post by Rafranz Davis points out the problems with this slavery simulation software. Educators of color have widely rejected this software.

Second, she also highlights the fact that years ago black parents in Arizona sued for discrimination after their schools used slavery simulation software.

We call on you to end the use of this demeaning and debasing software in Minneapolis Public Schools. Please send a directive for all your schools insisting they stop using Mission 2: Flight to Freedom and any software that simulates slavery.
In the interim a deeper analysis of this story was done by Beth Hawkins writing for MinnPost. You can read there here.
We are happy that the Minneapolis Public Schools have done an investigation into the use of offensive slavery simulation software and concluded it is not appropriate for students. See their letter below.

MPS Slavery Simulation Complaint by Black Advocates for Education

Who thinks ‘slavery simulation’ software is a good idea? The MPS of course.

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Last year the cracker jack team of BAE launched an offensive on the Minneapolis Public Schools.

To express our outrage for the persistently substandard conditions of black students in Minneapolis, and the system inequities that hurt them, we gave birth to the hashtag #JimCrowJr.

When Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson talked about her decision to resign after earning over a million dollars to preside over a district in decline, she mentioned our hashtag as something she thought was crossing the line.

Things might be bad in MPS, but insinuating that the district is anything like the white supremacist systems of the Jim Crow era is clearly over the top.

So, imagine our surprise to find out that MPS is using slave simulation software that is widely criticized by black educators nationally.

Yes, you read that right. Slavery as a computer game is a thing.

First, some context. The game is called “Mission 2: Flight To Freedom and it is intended to be “an interactive way to learn history.” It first came to our attention from Rafranz Davis, a teacher with expertise in instructional technology. She called out this software in a blog post that was shared widely on Twitter among educators of color and allies.

She said:

Flight to Freedom is a simulation of slavery meant to give students an interactive look into history. It features everything the “edtech” buzzword community loves…role playing, badges, student choice and reevaluation of failure. The problem here is that IT’S ABOUT SLAVERY…one of the darkest times in American history that STILL holds deep wounds…irresponsibly presented as a “too easy fix” on the part of the slaves themselves through decision making. Yes, Lucy…you’ll get a beating and it’s not because you are a slave who is owned by an evil slave owner…but because you chose the wrong path…thus, consequences.

Davis tested the game to investigate. At one point her character “Lucy” (a 14 year old slave girl) is approached by a “random white man.” He asks to see her walking papers. Davis chose to keep the character quiet, an action that was rewarded because her white inquisitor prefers “quiet negroes.”

mission 2Lest you think we make too much of the issue, Davis points out that black parents in Arizona have sued public schools for using slavery simulation software.

So surely we would not have this problem in the liberal north.

Alas, while this story circulated a MPS parent alerted us that this software is being used here. She raised the issue with her child’s teacher and he told her the student could opt out, but he would continue using it with other students.

Isn’t it interesting that this district thought the #JimCrowJr hashtag was harsh, but thinks putting black children – any children really – through a simulation where they will be called a “niggress” and subjective to the painful legacy of slavery is peachy.

Getting the MPS to focus on great leadership, and systemic change

This time of year is always hopeful. There is Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday that brings many inspiring recollections of powerful civic action. Then we roll into black history month, a time to honor the outstanding contributions black people have made in the world.

Then nothing. The rest of the year is business as usual. Our people languish beneath the poor leadership and competing agendas of the powerful.

We know it doesn’t have to be that way.

BAE realizes we can’t challenge everything, all the time, but we can focus on the places where advocacy can change the game. For us that place is in education. There is nothing more important than the success of our children in public schools. We know their future won’t be bright without great schools, great leadership, and community accountability of our public systems.

Sadly, the way things look in Minneapolis Public Schools right now, our children are not getting the education or care they deserve. That must change.

We expect better for our students and we won’t stop until they have what they need.

Two days ago we sent the letter below to the Minneapolis school board calling attention to a few things we think matter most (for now).

Our short-term concern is with the hiring of the next district leader. That process should be transparent, community-inclusive, and focused on acquiring a fully credentialed, experienced superintendent who has a record of addressing educational disparities.

Our long-term focus is on systemic change that focuses on improving outcomes for black students.

Stand with us folks. Help us to advocate for better education in Minneapolis.