Thursday, January 12, 2012
Our four year integration plan is up for renewal this year. The plan must be submitted by the end of the year. At the same time, the state has the entire integration revenue program under review. I have been advocating, for four years now, that integration above all should be about assuring that students attain high levels of achievement, and that means working as hard and long as it takes to catch up and then excel. The most effective route to integration is for students to be able to master English, science, math, and social studies at high levels. If we have a million dollars to spend, the very most effective thing we can do to achieve true integration is to use that million dollars to assure that minority students master literacy goals and then develop the problem solving and analytical skills to succeed in post-secondary learning and employment.
I’ve been interested and involved in integration issues since my college days, when I worked in Mississippi at a time when schools were completely segregated. Since that time, I believe that educators have lost sight of the original reason that civil rights activists risked their lives and livelihoods to make school integration a reality. The primary goal of school integration has been to make sure that minority students participate in demanding courses of rigor. Those of us who were integration activists back in the 1960's were not thinking that putting black kids in the same classes as white kids would have any benefit, unless the minority students were given the opportunity to have the same challenge as all other students, so that they could work just as hard as majority children, or harder, to realize their dreams. We knew that because of 400 years of oppression, that meant that likely those students would have to work harder, do more homework, not less, and spend more time learning to catch up. Too often, integration programs instead seem to proceed on the theory that if we put kids in the same classroom, somehow magically the kids who are behind are going to jump ahead, and that is not the case. Learning requires time, effort, persistence, in an atmosphere of high expectations. Catching up requires working harder and longer.
And so, I have been advocating, for four years now, that integration above all should be about assuring that students attain high levels of achievement, and that means working as hard and long as it takes to catch up and then excel. The most effective route to integration is for students to be able to master English, science, math, and social studies at high levels. If we have a million dollars to spend, the very most effective thing we can do to achieve true integration is to use that million dollars to assure that minority students master literacy goals and then develop the problem solving and analytical skills to succeed in post-secondary learning and employment.
I’ve supported past integration budgets reluctantly, because I felt that the approach developed by our leadership deserved a chance to work. But I cannot support a new integration plan this time, unless there is a different approach to developing the plan and a different set of governing principles.
As I consider whether I will support the new budget, these are the things that I will be looking at:
(1) Coordination of Compensatory revenues, special education, integration revenue, access grant funds, Title and other funds in a unified coordinated comprehensive education and learning focused effort. To the maximum extent, these revenues should work together. The central focus on learning should drive the use of our revenues, rather than the desire to run multiple programs and program bureaucracies.
(2) Genuine Central Focus on Direct Instruction and Literacy: We should look with great skepticism at any line items of the budget that are not focused on direct instruction: classroom teachers, actual mentoring, teaching, etc. Other expenditures, in my view, must carry a heavy burden of proof that there is an absolute necessity. We need to emphasize literacy and learning. I do not accept the claim that the State Department of Education will force us to use money for non learning purposes. Minnesota plainly allows the use of integration revenues for closing the achievement gap.
(3) Extending Learning Time. There should be a significant increase in learning time for students who are not making adequate progress. This should involve increases in the amount of learning time for these students during regular school hours, an increase in the length of the school day, and where necessary, after school learning. We should be examining the approaches that other school districts are taking across the country in this regard. Where State regulations and law create impediments, we should be asking for waivers or law changes. The integration budget, working together with all other funding sources, should be leveraged to increase learning time.
(4) Parent and Students Supporting Learning. Families served by compensatory, Title, integration revenue, all day kindergarten, and other programs serving students not making adequate progress should be required to enter into (a) a parent/guardian school and study support agreement. (b) students should enter into learning commitment contracts similar to the KIPP agreements. After a review of Title and other program requirements, I no longer accept the claim that only charter schools can insist on parental support requirements.
(5) College Access Integrated into Everything We Do. College access and opportunity should be systemically integrated into our curriculum and all aspects of what we do.
(6) Implementation of Special Education Study Recommendations–Top to Bottom Review. The special education study recommends that we re-examine how we are using our resources. We should engage in a top to bottom review of how we are using resources with a focus on maximizing learning. Integration revenue should be coordinated with the reforms that are developed in response to the special education study.
(7) Students Speak Fluent English We should accelerate our efforts to assure that all our students speak English fluently.
(8) Regular Reporting on Academic Progress Engendered with Integration and other Revenue