Statement of support for the #MOA11 and #BlackLivesMatter


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.


Hooray! MPS children have been emancipated from virtual slavery


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.


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.

CSI Part II: The money changers won’t change a thing


After weeks of bird-dogging Governor Mark Dayton and community “leaders” to show us the elusive $26 million proposal sent to him by a small fraternity of men, nothing has been released. More troubling, we hear the governor is considering approving the proposal.

Our calls for transparency have been met with complete radio silence. Yet, we did receive what is said to be a leaked copy of the proposal (see copy below).

The 27-page proposal starts with something true and ends with something false. The truth is that we urgently need investment into developing new structures in the black community. Our community’s unique disparities are well documented and warrant a plan with real solutions.

But it’s false that the proposal authored by a select circle of men (women, as usual, were relegated to peripheral roles in this male power grab) represents an honest attempt to address our issues. Nothing proves that more than the super secretive way in which the plan was put together. And, to be frank, some of the names attached to this proposal have long histories of hustling, not helping.

CSI on a bigger scale

The recent breakup between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Community Standards Initiative brought the issue of backroom dealing into focus and painted an ugly picture of how our “leaders” get so intoxicated by personal interest that they forget the mission is to serve our people.

If there is $26 million to be had for the purpose of improving black lives, we need it. But not as a result of a handful of intermediaries seeking to enrich themselves (or the handful of legitimate individuals they have enticed into participating). The investment must have a transparent and competitive process that allows for all the agencies, programs, and individuals in our community to have a fair shot at gaining scarce resources.

The Black Advocates for Education began as a response to the lackluster investment Minneapolis Public Schools was making into their efforts to improve outcomes for black males. The district earmarked only $200,000 for the effort, but gave $375,000 to the CSI. We were outraged by the weak funding for real programs, and the larger allocation for a political vanity project. We demanded the district find at least $1 million for their Office of Black Male Student Achievement. Now we have word that the district will attempt to do just that, if they can find the money. That’s progress.

So, our question is why would there be a $26 million plan that would include absolutely nothing for this effort? Not even $1 million out of the total to support it. If you search the names of the 11 men who stand to gain millions under the plan you will find several who have never achieved results for our people, yet the current proposal would pay them before funding something critical like the effort to save black males in the public schools.


New leaders, better outcomes

We need a paradigm shift that deconstructs the nonprofit industrial complex which in many ways is a middle-class jobs program for professional activists and public administrators of public and philanthropic funds.

And, we need white politicians and funders to stop doing the politically expedient thing. They need to stop choosing our leaders for us, and stop using middlemen to buy the community. They must realize little has changed under the tenure of the current names associated with this proposal. Doubling down on these individuals as the chiefs of our community is a fool’s investment.

CSI should be the final testament in a long book about no-bid, non-competitive processes that continuously feed a few barons, but rob our people of the resources they need to truly improve the direction of our community. We need a plan with real metrics and measurable outcomes. We need to know there will be some accountability beyond the high hopes written into the current plan.

And we need a plan that breaks the cycle of poverty pimping, not continues it. Our stance is firm: no more business as usual.

In a recent city council meeting one Northside city council member said “there are a lot of people doing work in north Minneapolis, getting a paycheck, patting themselves on their back because they’re doing the right thing. But it doesn’t trickle down, and the superstructure, the infrastructure, does not represent that community.”

We agree. Now is the time to end the game of sloppily written money-seeking proposals and strive for real progress. That starts with transparency and real leadership, two things the current proposal lacks.


Community Proposals for to Gov. Mark Dayton

Let’s flog the system, not parents


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.


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:


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.

Bernadeia Johnson: Teachers in struggling schools have the lowest average performance


A communication from Bernadeia Johnson to Minneapolis Public School teachers informs them of a pending story in the Star Tribune that might show teachers in struggling schools have the lowest average performance. The implications are huge.

For years MPS has endured battles of equity among competing school constituencies, with those in wealthier parts of town accused of using politics to gain advantages for their schools. This includes the ability to get poor performing teachers removed. Those teachers are suspected to end up in poorer schools where the political power of parents is routinely defeated by district brass.

The revelation that Minneapolis may be housing its least effective teachers in schools with high populations of poor children of color follows national research that shows students who need the best teachers often get the least effective their districts have to offer.

To that end a study from the Center for American Progress has found that the “data confirms previous findings—in many places, poor children and children of color are less likely to be taught by a highly effective teacher.”

Here is Johnson’s letter to teachers:


I believe one of the most critical factors in improving student achievement is through the continued development of our teaching force. You are doing the highest-impact work in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), and it is my job to ensure that you have the tools and resources you need to excel in your role.

I want you to be aware that the Star Tribune recently requested and received aggregate teacher evaluation data. We are required by the Minnesota Data Practices Act to comply with the data request.

MPS’ General Counsel was in communication with attorneys from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) to determine the level of information that we were required to release in accordance with state law.

We expect the Star Tribune to publish its story in this Sunday’s paper.

I know you are working extremely hard to prepare our students for their futures. Teaching is a selfless profession that takes heart and demands greatness, and you deserve credit for choosing to dedicate your lives to our students. We all know that a strong education is a gateway to infinite possibilities. I visit many classrooms throughout the school year, and I am inspired by your quality work and commitment to our students’ futures.

Our interest is to support you to be the best possible teacher you can be. Throughout the data request process, we made it a priority to protect our teachers’ privacy. I want to be clear that individual teachers cannot be identified in the data, and that only school-level data was provided to the Star Tribune.

 The data provided to the Star Tribune represent information generated for school reporting purposes from Standards of Effective Instruction (SOEI) observations and student surveys. These reports, along with school-level aggregate value-added data, represent a good-faith effort to fulfill the Star Tribune’s data request.

It is my understanding that the newspaper may publish a map that displays average teacher performance by school, which will show that schools in high-poverty areas have lower average teacher performance.

 This type of map does not accurately reflect the diversity in skill and performance of our teachers. The story will likely include the status and significance of teacher evaluation at state and national levels.

The newspaper does not represent MPS’ interests or my personal views, so I want you to hear from me about why our teacher evaluation system is important to the success of our teachers and students.

The system is one of several components needed to make the appropriate systemic changes to accelerate growth, but more importantly, it’s in place to support all of you. The teacher evaluation system helps us:
· Identify teachers who are making significant gains with all of our students, especially our lowest-performing students so that we can learn about and replicate your practices.

It also helps us identify teachers who are not making gains with students;
· Give you meaningful feedback to strengthen your teaching and provide you with targeted professional development to support your professional growth;
· Recruit highly-effective teachers to coach and mentor colleagues; and
· Build stronger and more effective teacher teams and schools

I hear from many of you that you welcome the opportunity to develop and strengthen your skills. You take pride in your work, and you want to be the best teacher possible for your students. This is the type of mindset and expectation I have of all of our teachers.

 On occasion, there are teachers who struggle, and we provide help for them to improve or transition them out of the profession.
Many MPS teachers have been involved in the creation and implementation of our teacher evaluation system. We couldn’t have built this system without your engagement and input.

As with any big system change, we continually adjust and improve the system to ensure it is beneficial to teachers, leaders and ultimately, our students. I appreciate hearing from teachers about this system’s successes and challenges.
Thank you for choosing Minneapolis Public Schools as the place to make a difference in the lives of students—they deserve you.

 Bernadeia Johnson.