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It’s time for a paradigm shift in public education

Too often, rather than celebrating children and their gifts and talents, their aggregate data is used to shame them and their families and to reinforce false notions of inferiority.

It is no secret that many parents, educators, advocates and policymakers are concerned about the current state of public education. Indeed, we have a right to be concerned. Education, after all, is one of the most important gateways to upward mobility and opportunity in our society.

Nekima Levy-Pounds
Nekima Levy-Pounds

For a child born into poverty, having access to a high-quality education may be the difference between being locked out of mainstream society and gaining the opportunity to become a contributing member. A high-school diploma may also be the difference between a child being on a pathway to prison or a pathway to college, as studies show that a black man without a high-school diploma is six times more likely to end up in prison. Young people who graduate from high school, at a minimum, have a decent chance of finding entry-level employment, going to college and identifying a career path.

Although graduating from high school should be the bare minimum expectation for those attending our public schools, for far too many of our youths it is a goal that appears out of reach. From my vantage point as a parent, educator and civil-rights attorney, this is unacceptable.

Systemic and structural issues

The current climate in public education makes it easy to ignore the systemic and structural issues that play a role in determining whether a child will graduate not only with a basic diploma, but more importantly the knowledge, competencies and skills to compete for the jobs of today and the future.

Additionally, my own experience in navigating the public school system and encountering prejudicial attitudes and preconceptions based on race has given me insights into the barriers and hostility that parents of color generally face when advocating for their children. I have also seen how structural racism can be reinforced through policy decisions, and yet remains invisible to the naked eye. Some examples include an inequitable allocation of resources, such as schools in more affluent communities receiving a disproportionate share of monies and institutional support, policy decisions that exclude children (particularly children with special needs) from classrooms, limited access to gifted and talented programs and advanced placement options in under-resourced schools, and too many children crammed into classrooms.

Structural racism also manifests in harsh, punitive approaches to minor disciplinary infractions, leading to excess suspensions, arrests and administrative transfers of children of color, and particularly African-American boys. Additionally, structural racism manifests through a lack of cultural competency (too few teachers of color and teachers’ inability to engage students of color), limited access to college and career counseling, and a disturbing disconnect between parents, community, educators and administrators. I would posit that within the public school system structural racism is hidden, and it wears a mask – which some label as the achievement gap.
Solvable problems, if there is political will

The gaps are symptoms

The achievement-gap terminology, although a misnomer, is used so often by those discussing the challenges within public education that it has become a term of art or catch-all phrase to explain away the disparities. Yet, the racial gaps in reading, math proficiency and graduation rates are not the actual source of the problems; they are merely symptoms of systemic problems that reinforce inequality. Surprisingly, these problems are actually solvable. But is there political will to do so?

Instead of working collectively to eliminate the barriers and to strengthen the quality of the educational experience for all children, and especially the most vulnerable, what we find too often is a skirting around of the real issues and bickering by adults who ought to know better. At the end of the day, either we care about the well-being of children or we don’t. I hate to say it, but it feels as though concerns about vulnerable children are secondary within public-education debates. Our perspectives would drastically shift if we were to view children as clients that we must serve instead of pawns that we can use. Taking this approach would put the best interests of children at the forefront, as opposed to on the periphery of the issues.

Too often, rather than celebrating children and their gifts and talents, their aggregate data is used to shame them and their families and to reinforce false notions of inferiority. And if children live in poverty, our prognosis is one of doom and gloom and we act as though there is no hope, which defies logic and negates the purpose of education. Certain parents are blamed for nearly every challenge their children encounter and are often made to feel that defects in character, judgment or morality are responsible for the poor outcomes their children face.

Beyond complacency

Beyond that, the current paradigm in public education discourages critical reflection and intellectual curiosity about whether white children are actually being as well-educated as they could be or whether we are satisfied as long as their test scores remain above a certain level. The prevalence of expensive tutoring centers in many suburbs prompts the question of whether many white parents are forced to obtain supplemental support to enhance the educational outcomes of their children.

I do not have all the answers, but these questions must be raised to push us from complacency toward a new asset-based paradigm that reframes the discussion and operates through an equity lens that reshapes the system to accommodate the needs of all children and validates their worth and full potential.

Nekima Levy-Pounds is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas and the founder and director of the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil rights legal clinic.  


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Comments (67)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/28/2014 - 09:21 am.

    It is time for a paradigm shift

    I appreciate the writers concern for education and her observations regarding the current and manifold shortcomings in our union/government/trickle down education model.

    However – a paradigm shift that simply “reshapes the model” will not suffice.

    A new model of education is desperately needed. A model of education that empowers children and families, rather than unions, education lobbyist and politicians is required.

    Technology will soon provide quality education outside the government model. It will be interesting to see how the unions adjust to maintain their power and influence while “failing behind” the empowerment and technical model of education that is on the horizon.

    • Submitted by Eric Andersen on 04/03/2014 - 10:07 am.

      Technology in Education

      I will believe that technology will supplant teaching when I see professional sport teams firing their entire coaching staff and giving their athletes I-pads and links to videos on Youtube. There are very few self-motivated learners and those numbers seem to be dwindling every year. I have 196 students and I would say that only 5 are self-motivated learners. All the rest need the caring encouragement of teachers/parents to succeed in school. A vast majority of those students, if given the choice between an engaging learning experience and doing nothing would choose the later.

  2. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 03/28/2014 - 11:17 am.

    kids and education

    Excellent piece!! Poverty and both economic and racial inequality are huge problems affect kids and schools. And while I’m at it, I can’t resist adding that our school year is based on 19th and early 20th century economics–when agriculture was a dominant occupation for many. Parents worked near home and could teach children as they worked. Today most parents work outside the home as do grandparents. They don’t have the time rural parents did for many of them commute long distances. School is child care as well as education. Finally, there is sexism. Teachers are mostly women and women are supposed to take care of the kids. It’s time we got real, quit blaming and face up to the fact that education is like research and development for businesses. We are raising the next generation of citizens and workers and this is the responsibility of everybody, not just parents if we really believe in democracy.

  3. Submitted by Chris Stewart on 03/28/2014 - 03:26 pm.

    Are we ready for change?

    Great job Nekima!

    I agree that it is certainly time for a shift in thinking about education.

    Unfortunately, the current debates about our schools are hostage to zero sum politics and social trading amongst the privileged. To compound the problem, distribution of resources and decision-making power is exclusive to the most advantaged, and the system responds to their needs first (including the system’s “workers”).

    This is not yet a child-centric system of developing our youth.

    We also have a problem with the Minnesota narrative about children who do not succeed (specifically children of color and the poor). If the system does not work for them it must be due to their deficiencies, not the system itself (which is perfect, right?).

    Until we are willing to admit that even good, well-intentioned, educated, “progressive” people can run disastrous, inhumane systems of education that value children differently, we are not ready for an alternative future.

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/28/2014 - 04:42 pm.

    Paradigm shift in Public Education or Parental Accountability

    This article is sad to read.

    Are we as a society still going to pretend that the most significant barriers to minority education in a state like Minnesota are structural. That’s really sad. And i mean really really sad.

    I am not donning any rose colored glasses here. Just as in any society there are funding inequalities and racism. I raised a kid for a few years in St. Louis Park and i saw the games played there. However are those massive barriers to education for minority youth. Absolutely positively not.

    Large populations of minority youth come to school unprepared. And spend the day in school not preparing for a future. That’s the hard truth. Its not racism, nor school funding or any of that mumbo. When such students and their parents are the problem are we now going to try yet another new paradigm. That would be like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Look at the awful test scores for minority kids. Are we claiming that the majority percent of the gap is because of racism and lack of funding ? i will grant probably they could be raised say 10 percent if there were more funding. But what about the other 90 percent of the gap.
    You can’t simply have a society where kids come to school unprepared and pretend that its all someone else’s fault.

    Actually rather than racism, i would say there is reverse racism in Minnesota schools. My experience and those of others is that teachers in schools yearn their darnedest to see minority kids succeed. I’ve seen them go out of the way to help and guide such kids. Unfortunately those kids are less than ten percent. For the others teachers simply can’t do or say anything when those kids come unprepared.

    The achievement gap is in actuality an aspirational gap. When such kids are unwilling to step up to the plate and do the least bit to succeed in school, naturally they are going to fail. And we’re blaming the system ?

    Finally in the suburbs (yes those vast land of evil racists), the highest performing kids are minority kids. If there was so much racism in Minnesota school how so ?

  5. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 03/28/2014 - 05:58 pm.

    Agreeing to Disagree

    I’m sorry Raj, but we are going to have to agree to disagree. It’s too easy to sit behind a computer screen and point the finger at families and children who have very little input in how the system functions, the quality of the learning experience, or decision-making authority regarding how resources are allocated. On a personal note, two of my children attended public school in Minnesota, and even though they are exceptionally bright and did well on their standardized tests, they were still lumped in as suffering from a so-called achievement gap. I knew from having lived in other states and from having grown up in poverty that this was a fallacy and incorrect language to define a problem that is largely structural and systemic. Throughout my children’s time in public school, they often encountered teachers who had very low expectations of them and failed to challenge them to reach their full potential. I had to personally work to undo the negative effects of bias and low expectations on their self esteem and outlook. When one of my daughters was in 8th grade, her teacher (a white woman) gave her and the other students a third grade worksheet to complete. Can you believe it? I was outraged and flabbergasted, so I called the teacher and the school to complain about how unacceptable that was. The teacher was ultimately removed. My other daughter was in an honor’s English class, but only had to write one major paper all school year. It was not a rigorous academic environment, even though, contrary to the stereotypes you rely upon, my children came to school 100% prepared, as I expected nothing less. These are just two examples among many of what I encountered. I finally pulled my daughters out of public school and placed them in a private boarding school out of state where they are both on the honor roll, safely outside the confines of the so-called achievement gap paradigm. They are free to learn and be challenged in an academically-stimulating environment, and will be well-prepared for college as a result. I placed my two youngest sons in Harvest Prep and Best Academy, charter schools in North Minneapolis in which over 95% of the students are African American, majority free and reduced lunch and excelling, in spite of the odds. These are the same children that are typically stereotyped as being unable or unwilling or unprepared to learn, and yet they are excelling at standardized tests, largely because the structure of the school is different than most and operates from an Afro-centric paradigm that accommodates their heritage and culture. The schools also expect the students to excel in spite of the obstacles they may face due to race and socio-economic status. These schools help to bust myths such as the ones included in your commentary about whether kids and parents value education and are capable of being successful. My sons are now proud of who they are and even at 9 and 11, they know that their teachers and administrators expect them to attend college and to be successful. I really feel bad for the thousands of children who are stuck in a false paradigm that makes every excuse in the book about why the schools are failing and even sinking so low as to blame innocent children for a system that was not designed with them in mind. It’s time to get real and stop hiding behind myths and hyperbole. When you have personally lived through the problems and have seen how things work from the inside out, its much easier to speak with conviction about what needs to change within the public school system. We need to raise the bar and ensure that even white children are receiving the best education possible. Until we are willing to critically examine the ways in which we do business and to make the appropriate, and albeit radical changes, things will remain the same. Which of us can afford to let that happen? It’s time to get real and do all we can to shift the paradigm in public education. I personally refuse to take no for an answer.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/28/2014 - 08:49 pm.


    It’s interesting to note that Ms. Levy-Pounds contradicts herself in her response. She gives examples of her daughters who were not taught properly in public schools but it was along with the rest of the children. It shows that the education system is flawed but it has nothing to do with racism or lack of money as she tried to present in the article itself. On the other hand she says that she personally cared for her kids’ education and all her children succeeded in other (private) schools. Again, it shows that the point about parents’ not doing their job is absolutely valid because she (and parents of other kids in private schools) care and help their kids and their kids succeed, regardless of their race or wealth.

  7. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 03/29/2014 - 09:28 am.

    No Contradictions Here

    My children were not taught properly along with the rest of the children- which in one school, 99% of whom were Black and low income. What happened in my daughter’s school when she was in 8th grade would not fly in high income suburban communities. Could you imagine this happening in Minnetonka? Because these children were mostly poor and Black, not all actors within the system actually cared about the *quality* of the education they received. My other daughter was in a mixed race honor’s English class in which they weren’t challenged, which supports my other question: How do we know that white children are receiving the best education possible– given all of the flaws in the public school system? Finally, who says private school parents care more about their children’s education? Please remember that having more money and resources is not necessarily indicative of caring more, being a better parent, or being more involved. It simply means that you can afford better options for your child and schools with more resources and teachers with higher credentials. So let’s please put that myth to rest. Additionally, as I referenced earlier wealthier parents can also afford private tutoring to supplement their children’s education. Yes. I was heavily involved in my children’s education, because I know how the game is played and I teach in higher ed. & practice law which gives my kids an advantage when I advocate for them. Parents shouldn’t have to be lawyers to ensure that their children receive a proper education. So again– let’s stop making excuses for the system and start making changes instead.

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/29/2014 - 12:12 pm.


    That was exactly my point – the education system is flawed throughout, not in some particular locations or towards particular group of people. You again confirmed that point by saying that your daughter was in a mixed race class. So the white kids do not receive the best possible education either. And in rural schools, the requirements are reduced, too.

    As for private schools and tutors, the very fact that parents are willing to PAY shows that they are interested in their kids’ education. And that is conveyed to kids (we pay for you so do your work). And parents’ interests is what makes the difference – that is why charter schools are doing so much better than public ones: parents have to make an effort to get their kids there even if they do not pay and that proves that they are interested.

    So let’s stop bringing a race card into education and do indeed try to fix the system by bringing more accountability, parent involvement, and discipline.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/29/2014 - 05:35 pm.

      I want to take the opportunity to agree with you, since…

      …I almost never agree with your views !! I fear this chance may not come my way again !!

      There is ample, long-standing evidence that parental involvement, and even parental training, is a key factor in educational achievement. Besides, common sense and experience tells us this is true. This approach can be used without delay while building a better system. Why on earth would we ignore this central factor ?? A couple examples:

      “…National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS:88) data, analyzing data on 13,500 families as their children progressed through school. She measured the value of the six types of parent involvement and also concluded that techniques to enhance learning at home had the strongest effect. For older students, these techniques largely focused on enabling parents to convey high expectations to their children, encouraging them to take and succeed in rigorous courses with an eye toward college.” (from

      Also, the incredible success of the Harlem Children’s Zone shows that parental training is a very significant contributor to overall success for the children, all through their school years and even before, starting when the mother is pregnant.

      One more thing: I am extremely doubtful about the author’s reference to “punitive approaches to MINOR disciplinary infractions, leading to excess suspensions, arrests…of children of color”. (my emphasis in caps added) Really ? Children are being ARRESTED for “MINOR” infractions ? This beggars belief, but I’m open to hearing more about such egregious excesses. My anecdotal information conflicts with this statement. I hear of episodes of violence and unruly behavior, but this is only anecdotal and may not represent the whole picture. I AM assuming the author doesn’t regard violence or unruly behavior as “minor” matters. If any children are being singled out for unfair, irrational discipline for “minor” infractions, I think immediate corrective action should be taken against the administrator(s) who are doing it.

  9. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 03/29/2014 - 04:42 pm.

    One Point We Agree On

    Yes. The system is flawed throughout to a large degree, given that it is based on antiquated methods that may no longer be applicable to the needs and circumstances of many children and families, as one commentator illustrated above.

    However, the flaws in the system tend to weigh more heavily against poor children of color.

    It is not true that most charter schools do better than most public schools, with the exception of schools like Harvest Prep, Hiawatha Leadership Academies & a few other notable exceptions.

    Having more money to spend on education does not equate to caring more. Please stop blaming the poor for having more limited options for their children.

    Finally, race does matter in what happens to children in public schools
    Kids of color are subjected to harsher disciplinary treatment for conduct similar to their white peers; have lesser access to gifted and talented programs/ AP classes; face discriminatory treatment from teachers in some circumstances on account of race– as recent news accounts and studies show. If you’re still unconvinced, revisit the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education and then tell me how much has changed since then.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/30/2014 - 09:15 am.

      No. I don’t agree.

      Flaws in the system. A nice statement. However. We are talking just achieving the basics. Basic reading, writing, arithmetic. What are the flaws so tremendous that stops ANY child in Minnesota from achieving the basic competency.

      Blaming the poor. Let’s dig a millimeter deeper. What of these limited options prevents them from doing homework and coming prepared to class. I can understand if there were large number of minority students who could not get into say AP Calc because of limited resources. But basic math, reading and writing. What is the limiting factor here ?

      Disciplinary Treatment. Again, how does that prevent basic competency. Are u saying vast majorities of minority kids are sent straight to detention all thru the year that they can’t do reading, writing and math. Its just another excuse.

      Talented programs and AP classes – This statement is not true. In St. Louis Park, teachers would do hoops if they had minority kids enrolling in large numbers in these programs. However, even if we disagree, if basic competencies are not achieved, what is the point of complaining of access to AP and talented programs.

      I’m unconvinced as ever. Plenty has changed since Brown. Albeit for those who wish to make use of opportunities. Minority children dominate competitions like Spelling Bee, Science Olympiad and college admissions. Colleges practically will pay full tuitions for minority kids who show up. That is if they can find minority kids with ability to show up.

  10. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/29/2014 - 05:26 pm.

    All over the place

    Frankly Ms Pounds your responses are all over the place. But one thing for sure, they do not address one simple question. What is the great structural deficiency or racism that prevents minority youth from coming to class prepared ?

    According to you, in city public schools, teachers had such low expectations. Well the students and their parents could’ve proven them wrong with their homework and test scores. Sadly that is not the case. So who do you blame. The teachers ? Test scores don’t lie.

    You claim i sit behind a computer screen and point a finger. Well Ms. Pounds those kids and their parents had just as much access to the education system as mine did. My input into my kids’ education, especially in the later years, was to make sure everything got done. That’s it. I don’t think that’s to high a barrier for any family regardless of race or economic status to shoot for. If minority families can’t get that done then blaming everyone and everybody else is just an excuse.

    Even if all the resource and other decisions did not go their way lets remind ourselves that the State spends at least 10K per student. Thats enough money to question the totally dismal showing of minority students. And you can’t blame that on the teachers or the school system or discrimination or whatever.

    You claim to have this great insight into how schools are run. I never cared for such insight. I just made sure the kid was ready for school. An requirement that you do not seem worthy to impose on minority parents. But would rather advocate for some nebulous overhaul of a system for the vaguest of reasons.

    Nothing, i repeat nothing in the Minnesota education system prevents a kid from showing up to class unprepared. Which sadly is the case for a large portion of minority kids. And you wish to blame everything and everyone else.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/30/2014 - 10:43 pm.

      Sad Example

      A lower income white family that lives near me provides a sad example. The Parents honestly thought that learning was the child’s and school’s responsibility. The kids wouldn’t do there homework and the parent’s would blame the school for the challenges of their children. Rdale schools and teachers would reach out and the Parent’s resisted.

      Every teacher I know would love to have engaged children and parents, no matter their color.

  11. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/29/2014 - 10:39 pm.

    I agree

    with Raj and Ilya, the school system does have it’s challenges. However as are Supt once said while speaking to us at an elementary in the more affluent side of the district… “We won’t be having this same communication meeting in some of the schools on the East side. We have tried repeatedly to engage the Parents, however they just do not come when invited.”

    As I commented in here.

    I believe 20% of the problem is in the system and 80% is with the Parents and our culture.

    It is interesting that Nekima brings up the funding issue, since as my Conservative commenters point out. The highest spend per student typically is in the urban schools. Of course they also have the hardest job and the fewest donors/volunteers.

  12. Submitted by dan strombeck on 03/30/2014 - 08:04 am.


    I think the author has several ideas that have merit. Racism is rampant and schools are not equals. We already know that these things are true and we would like to see them change but I am not in a position to influence It. The author has done what I continue to see as THE problem- blame someone else for your lack of success. I am a product of an integrated Mpls. Public School system and my lack of success was directly attributable to my lack of effort and attention to my studies. The lack of success in school for anybody is directly related to their lack of effort or intelligence. Nothing more than that. Let”s stop blaming anyone but the person responsible for their own success or lack there of. If you want to know why some kids don”t do we’ll in school look at their home life. Poor or rich, good parents raise good kids. The school system will always be flawed in some way so let”s put the responsibility for success where it belongs, on the families that send their kids to public schools. And, I”m sick of hearing about the achievement gap. Is the gap there because of a terrible system, or is it because some kids aren'”t putting in the time and effort into their studies that they should be? The achievement gap is an awful thing but it will never be fixed if blame is misplaced on why it is happening.

  13. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/30/2014 - 12:50 pm.

    Education system

    There is no rampant racism in education system – teachers will bend backward to help a minority student. And certain groups of minority students do great in schools and everywhere in life. And a lot has changed since Brown vs. Board of Education – don’t we have a Black President?

    Sure, suburban districts have more money than intercity schools but one doesn’t need more money to do homework – just caring parents. And that is the problem. Poor parents may push their children as much as rich parents but quite often they don’t. So no one blames them for having limited resources but rather for not getting involved with their kids. But some kids’ priorities are also to blame: if having good grades equals to “acting white” among some groups of kids, it is obvious that a huge problem exists. Where is Al Sharpton when we need him?

    And finally, when I said that the system is flawed, I didn’t mean that it is antiquated. In fact, its problems come from way too many “innovations” based on nothing but the desire for change for the sake of change. That old system served the mankind well for millennia – why all of a sudden we keep changing things almost every year?

  14. Submitted by Chris Stewart on 03/30/2014 - 07:34 pm.

    A $600 billion investment

    What a sad, but symbolic thread. For years poor Irish, Italians, Jews, and Germans who could barely speak English or help with homework or attend teachers’ conferences sent their unruly children into American public schools to be socialized and taught the three R’s.

    The schools didn’t demand parental involvement then because the schools were designed to be parent-proof. At the same time that public schools were taking the raw materials of disparate European cultures and manufacturing white people, the system was also under-educating and under-resourcing black children.

    Today the United States invests at least $600 billion annually into the education of children. That investment pays off in some places, and it does not pay off in others. We’ve learned so lessons about what works and what doesn’t.

    One key lesson: there is zero evidence that blaming parents makes any difference. We know for sure that the best schools in the highest performing countries concern themselves mostly with recruiting the worlds best teachers from the top of the cognitive pool; developing airtight curriculum; and providing resources equitably across their systems. Exactly the things we do poorly in the U.S.

    The highest performing countries spend zero time lamenting the poverty students or behavior of parents. They design schools that get the job done.

    Likewise, schools in the U.S. that are doing a great job educating poor children of color have transcended the regressive parent-bashing that takes place in threads like this one.

    Unfortunately, Minnesotans are stuck in this discussion. We too often believe our systems are colorblind and high performing. Some of us can be more smug than folks in other states who are doing a better job of educating kids of color. Maybe that old superiority and self-congratulatory spirit will wear off as our state’s demographics change and we can no longer deny the need to modernize schooling.

    Then we can get to the business of creating the next education system that is a success for all.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/31/2014 - 11:32 am.

      Ignore parental involvement & ignore an important part of…

      …the solution.

      The comments here about the key matter of parental involvement are, far from “parent-bashing” or “blaming”, as your narrow view would have it – they are about what can be done to improve results in the education system. It’s about what works. Parental involvement is an extremely important factor.

      It IS NECESSARY to identify root problems in order to accomplish root solutions.

      Many of us can confirm that an excellent teacher figures in motivation and achievement, from our own experience and observations. OF COURSE we need our best and brightest to become teachers.

      But to ignore the role of parents, to operate from the idea they have little to do with positive or negative impact on student achievement is simply an unsupportable view. (See below.) So when someone brings it up as a factor which should be part of the solution, and in your world it’s mere parent-bashing, I have to figure this is a matter of political ideology, something you’d rather not discuss or prefer to ignore, as it doesn’t suit your narrative.

      All you have to do is web-search on “does parental involvement affect school performance?” and you will see HUNDREDS OF STUDIES which universally confirm the positive effect of parental involvement on student achievement. Quite a number of them suggest parental training. Since there are obviously a number of factors, and this IS one of them, why would you so strenuously resist the idea that parental involvement is part of the solution ??

      Then, from

      “Examples of successful parental-involvement programmes throughout the world are given throughout the report:

      Ireland: Legal recognition of parents as partners
      Israel: Family as Educator
      Japan: Homeroom teachers
      Korea: School support for parental involvement
      New Zealand: Working with Maori extended families
      Poland: All of Poland Reads to Kids
      Romania: Parenting programme in early childhood education
      Sweden: Las For Mej, Pappa
      United Kingdom: Bookstart
      United States: 826 Valencia
      United States: Harlem Children Zone
      United States: The National Network of Partnership Schools
      United States: Cool Culture
      Worldwide: Reggio Emilia approach”

      Finally, a New York Times piece rolls up the conclusions of a number of sources:

  15. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 08:03 am.

    Changes and Hours

    Are you okay with taking the power away from Education MN then? We will never get the best Teachers, ensure they stay highly effective and pay each Teacher the appropriate amount with them in power. Tenure, Steps, Lanes, Termination Barriers, etc simply waste money that could be used more effectively.

    Simple math:
    School Hours: ~1400
    Non-School Hours: 7360

    Parents can not get a free pass or we will not succeed. Besides Teachers had a lot more tools available to correct bad behavior in the “good old days”, and the Parents would support the Teacher’s discipline choices. Now… Not so much so. It is likely the “deadbeat” parents would sue the school.

  16. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 03/31/2014 - 11:32 am.

    Normalizing failure and pathologizing other people’s families

    Great piece, Nekima.

    But this thread is the perfect example of an all-too prevalent Minnesota mindset on this issue.

    As I’ve said before, if only 50 percent white boys were graduating from high school on time, we’d have already changed the system to work better for them. We would have changed, the staff, the curriculum, the length of school day or year, the standards, the testing, I mean, whatever it took.

    Because if only 50 percent of white Minnesota boys were graduating on time, it would be a Major Crisis. We’d think, holy crap, something is truly not working in school system where thousands of kids who come from thousands of different families keep systematically failing.

    Yet, when 50 percent of Minnesota kids of color are failing, too often the attitude is, “Nothing’s wrong with the system. It’s those dysfunctional, pathological parents.”

    Or the response is to shrug sympathetically, but say “We can’t do anything until we first solve poverty.”

    This is a Minnesotan response that “normalizes” academic failures—-when it’s happening to brown or black kids. If it was happening to white kids, we’d go nuts.

    But this level of systematic failure is NOT normal nor is it inevitable. And that’s Nekima’s point. We have schools right here in our community that are getting very different results with the same demographic of students that so many commentators on this thread seem to feel are unreachable because their families are so pathological.

    This should make us excited. This should make us hopeful.

    At this point, we don’t lack the knowledge of what to do.There are good working examples here and elsewhere. We lack the political will to do it—because this would involve changing a system that was designed by white middle-class people for white middle-class people and is overwhelmingly staffed by white middle-class people. (And I say as a standing member of that class.)

    Instead of talking about what’s wrong with other people’s families, we need to ask why is stopping us from designing public schools that actually work for the kids we actually have?

    And why are so many commentators on this thread so invested in the idea that we are all helpless to turn this around? I mean, it’s weird.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 03:36 pm.

      Your Thoughts?

      One of my favorite questions is “Why do you believe poor people are poor?”

      We know that poverty and low academic performance are correlated, if not causal. What behaviors, beliefs, paradigms, factors, culture, etc result in people being in poverty? What behaviors, beliefs, paradigms, factors, culture, etc result in poor academic performance? Which do they own? Which do the schools own? How can we break the relationship?

      Please note that I am indifferent to race when asking this question. I work with people of every race regularly and appreciate them all.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 04:05 pm.

      Try Two

      “We have schools right here in our community that are getting very different results with the same demographic of students ” Please prove this.

      My belief is that the demographics have a distinct and critical difference, and it is not race or income. It is that the Parents of those children cared enough about the academic success of their children to do “something extra” to get their children into that school. And they care enough about the academic success of their children to ensure that the child is not expelled.

      That is the one clear benefit that Privates, Magnets, Charters, etc have over the traditional Publics.

      RDale has 2 magnets and they have a terrible time getting the demographics of these schools to match the district. The “poor” parents simply don’t take the effort to sign them up. (and I don’t mean financially “poor”)

      • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 03/31/2014 - 05:30 pm.

        Examples of schools that are getting different results…

        Harvest Prep and its affliated schools
        Hiawatha Academy and its affiliates
        Friendship Academy

        These are all in Minneapolis.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 06:33 pm.

          Random or Self Select

          Do the Parents need to apply to get the kids in these?
          (ie self select into program vs random allocation)

          Do these schools reserve the right to expel students if the student or parent does not fulfill certain promises? (ie volunteer, homework, behavior, effort, etc)

          I’ll do some homework…

          Could these different results be due to their parent / student body and not due to the school/teachers?

          Remember that it is much easier to help someone that wants help, than to help someone who is indifferent or resists.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/31/2014 - 07:43 pm.

            Check out the Harvest Prep “Parent and Scholar Handbook”.

            It is on their site at under the header “For Parents and Students” and a link there will open it for you.

            You’ve got to read the whole thing, including its policies on Attendance, Discipline, Family Involvement, Homework, PARENT/GUARDIAN CONTRACT FOR ACADEMIC EXPECTATIONS and the “Parent Letter of Commitment”, which reads, in part…

            “We expect much from our scholars. In turn, we also expect much from our families in order to ensure the success of our scholars and the success of our school. Our school requires commitments from parents/guardians that may not be required in other schools.”

            “Harvest Preparatory School’s formula for success is built on three basic principles: strong basic skills instruction, African culture and heritage, and in-depth involvement of parents.”

            “We have very high expectations for scholar behavior, and we “sweat the small stuff” to create and preserve a focused learning environment.”

            To see what they mean by “sweat the small stuff”, their “Nia” point system is brilliant, positive, and obviously, highly effective. Read it all. This is a system of behavior intervention which aims to correct the big problems by correcting the little problems – you know, sweating “the small stuff”, as in…

            “Scholars are expected to always respond respectfully to the authority and direction of school staff. Behaviors that are considered disrespectful include, but are not limited to, rolling of the eyes; smacking lips or sucking teeth; making inappropriate remarks or sounds in response to a request; walking away from a staff member before a conversation is over; talking back to a staff member; or questioning a staff member’s action or authority. Such disrespect will not be tolerated, and demerits, detentions, and other consequences will be issued appropriately.”

            Although we have heard in this column that only system solutions will suffice, here is a school, a “system”, if you will, that places an extremely high priority on personal responsibility from both scholars and parents !! So those of us who see personal responsibility as a sine qua non could not only accept, but get behind, a “system” like this, which puts individual responsibility front and center.

            NO WONDER this is a successful school !!

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 09:19 pm.


              Now that is what I call a good “old time school”….
              Next they will have the kids cutting their own willow switch.
              Thank you for confirming what I thought…

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/31/2014 - 08:43 pm.

            Hiawatha Academies

            Hiawatha Academy also requires specific commitments from parents as well as students. A rather long list of behaviors and accountabilities, as in the case of Harvest Prep, makes it clear they are serious about specific expectations of responsibility.

            See and in their Handbook, there is a literal contract: “For families who want to join HLA, they will be required to sign the Commitment to Excellence Contract”.

            There is a link to the Handbook on this same page.

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/31/2014 - 09:00 pm.

          Need i say more…

          Hiawatha Academy

          Parent/Guardian’s Commitment
          – If our child’s teacher or school leader requests a meeting, we agree to meet within 48 hours.
          – We will check our child’s homework every night, sign his/her agenda, and let him/her call a classmate or teacher (until 8:30pm) if there is a question or problem with the homework. We will try to read with our child every night.
          – We, not the school, are responsible for the behavior of our child.

          FriendShip Academy

          – Here at Friendship Academy, we know that parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.
          – Family involvement is critical to learning.

          Harvest Prep

          Homework Policy
          Homework is regularly assigned except on
          Wednesday, with the exception of math.
          Amount and time required will increase with
          age and grade level. Parents should
          supervise their children’s home study, using
          it as an opportunity to work with and support
          their children and to keep informed about
          what their children are learning.

  17. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 03/31/2014 - 05:31 pm.

    Too Many Blinders When it Comes to Race & Education

    As Chris and Lynnell illustrated, some of the comments on this thread that tend to place the blame for inequities within the public school system on parents and children are deeply disturbing, unduly harsh, and underscore the challenges of changing the way we do business in our state. It is clear that rather than looking at the facts that have been presented, some commentators would prefer to repackage arguments that support maintaining a system that is woefully inadequate in addressing the needs of our most vulnerable youths and preparing them for success. As a parent of African American children, I have seen the challenges and experienced bias and the impacts of low expectations up close and personal. Regardless of how hard one may try, it is difficult to argue with experience. Beyond my own experience, I have heard from scores of African American children and parents who have relayed instances of discrimination, harsher disciplinary treatment, and concerns about being racially stereotyped within public school settings. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, race is still the elephant in the room and plays a role in how certain children fare within the public school system. The fact that we have an African American President in the White House has little to do with the day to day effects of racism and bias experienced by some parents and children of color.

    Further, although the signs that were in place during the Jim Crow era may no longer be visible, the debilitating effects of the system of “separate and unequal” continue to permeate our public school system and hinder children of color from reaching their full potential in life. These children are often clustered together in segregated schools, with a high concentration of children who receive free and reduced lunch, have teachers with less experience and lower credentials on average than teachers in wealthier school districts, and fewer discretionary resources to enhance the quality of the learning experience that students receive. Just a few days ago, Beth Hawkins wrote an article that critically analyzed the inequitable distribution of resources within Minneapolis Public Schools and the impacts on schools with higher concentrations of children of color who live in poverty. How dare we blame parents for the negative effects that such decision-making will have on their children’s educational experience? How dare we blame innocent students who are often forced to attend the schools closest to their homes, even if those schools are failing? It’s not their fault. It’s ours. While these types of injustices occur, many would rather sit by and do nothing, ignore the root causes of issues, place blame on the most vulnerable, and pretend that the crux of the problem lies with the individual and not with the system itself. Change can happen, new paradigms that redesign school systems can be effective, but I ask once again, is there political will to make the appropriate changes rather than simply making excuses?

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/31/2014 - 06:44 pm.

      Blinders are on whose eyes…..

      Its a sad day when people who propose “total reform” cannot, rather refuse, to see beyond the narrow vision of their “reform”. A “reform” process that ignores the most important concept of parental involvement in a child’s education but would rather belittle anyone who brings it up. “Reformers” who posit contradictory examples of success. Because each of those success stories, like private schools or charter schools, reinforce the active role of parents involvement in a child’s education.

      Continually using minority race and poverty as an excuse or as a sledgehammer is actually indicative of a failing argument. Because other minority groups have succeeded on the very principles of parental engagement that Ms Pounds, Chris and Lynnell deem unworthy and unnecessary for raising a successful child.

      The guilt trip argument is not going to work either. Cause most of us too are parents who raised children. We did not raise them with daisies in our ears and psychedelic glasses over our eyes. And using words like “innocent students” and “vulnerable” does not change the fact that “reforms” (god knows what they are) are not based on any semblance of reality.

      Political will always has existed in this state. Despite the repeated insinuations of racism. What people don’t buy into is the steady stream of excuses that place the blame and guilt trip on everyone else.

      • Submitted by Chris Stewart on 04/01/2014 - 12:39 pm.

        The Bottom Line


        It seems very important that you validate the argument that parent “involvement” is important. Consider that affirmed.

        So, where do we go from there? With a steady and growing production of citizens flowing from our K-12 system who will not find a space in the mainstream economy, say “oh well, they have bad parents”? Is that a tenable economic strategy for Minnesota?

        Or, do we call all their parents into a meeting at the Mall of America and give them a good talking with several emphatic waves of the finger and personal stories of how awesome we are as successful parents?

        Perhaps. That certainly might make us feel better.

        But, the day after, when the schools are still producing students ill-prepared for a global economy, white and black and brown, then what?

        I’d suggest we look at the data anew. It will let us know that there are wild variations in quality of teachers and schools regardless of the family background of the student. And, there are teachers and schools succeeding with students who have sub-optimal home lives.

        No country, city, or district with high performing schools is using your line of reasoning. Why? Because your bad parent theory is immaterial to the designing of better schools.

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/01/2014 - 02:43 pm.

          Far from the Bottom Line


          When u claim that when it comes to parenting all we can do is call them to the Mall Of America and give them a good talking. Then it shows that you’re stuck in an ideology of rigidity and blame. Identifying bad/inadequate parenting on my part does not mean indentifying it and walking away from it.

          However i’m not going to sit here and read spiel after spiel of how its all the schools fault, racism, resources, urban vs suburban and never has anything to do with parenting deficiencies. It leads me to question (rightly or wrongl), in what world do some people live. Acknowledging that poor parents have gaps is not an excuse for fault finding. Its an acknowledgment that whatever society does should address that factor also. Not just racism, racism, racism, racism………

          When you claim teachers are succeeding with students with sub-optimal lives those have been mainly in situations where the parents have been involved or cooperated as pointed to repeatedly by me and others.

          When u state no country, city or district with high performing schools is using your line of reasoning. Are u kidding me. Firstly no school district is going to start a program called “screw the parents”. So you’re basically setting up a false theory. However any high performing school district corrolate heavily with parent involvement. And you want to remove the highest corrollative factor from the equation.

          If it were a issue of just resource and racism. Then why do the same minority groups perform badly even in suburban school districts. Racism there too? Cause you can’t blame the resources. So what would your excuse there be ? It can’t be resoures. Racism, racism. racism ?

          The countries you probably would point to are Norway (and other Nordic countries), Singapore etc. In each of those situation parent involvement in their childrens social upbringing is high. And Singapore has high conduct rules for the kids and for the parents too. You can’t pretend that the Nordic model happen in a vaccum. And an FYI the arrival of immigrants into these Nordic countries has started protests and threats of school withdrawals and changes too. So there goes your utopia.

          Being prepared for a global economy includes being willing to tell the harsh truth. But i guess thats something that no one in the inner citiy circles are willingn to hear. You’re asking us to discount all our experiences in raising our kid at the altar of political correctness.

          I know the “elite/racial” politics in the city/school. I didn’t just sit my entire life pontificating. I’ve been there and acheived stuff. I didn’t pursue issues just for my one kid. If u want change you cannot be unreasonable. Allow everyone to bring something to the table. Else people use that as a valid excuse to justify walking away.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2014 - 06:58 pm.

      Food for Thought

      There are many contributing factors to this problem, including some racism. However if you close your eyes to the poor parenting issue, you also are denying a key part of the problem and doing a great disservice to the highest need children. (ie unlucky kids w/ questionable parents)

      By the way, I do agree with you that some systemic changes would help. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like steps, lanes, tenure, employment contracts, etc are going anywhere anytime soon.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/31/2014 - 11:06 pm.

      “pretend the crux…lies with the individual and not…”

      “…with the system itself.”

      The schools another commenter here cited as examples of schools that can get different results than the public schools (Harvest Prep, Hiawatha Academy, Friendship Academy) seem to be the #1 local champions of individual responsibility and accountability, based on their published documents, including the contracts of commitment parents must sign to gain admission for their children.

      Are they pretending, too ? They stress that individual responsibility of scholars and parents are absolutely critical components of success. Do you think this has nothing to do with their success ?

  18. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/31/2014 - 08:36 pm.

    How to make it better

    I agree that “for years poor Irish, Italians, Jews, and Germans who could barely speak English or help with homework or attend teachers’ conferences sent their unruly children into American public schools to be socialized and taught the three R’s.” But their parents were the ones who always pushed their kids to do well in school even though they could not really help them. And that is exactly what we all talked about: Parents should be interested in their kids’ education and should push them – and that would be a big help.

    “If 50% percent of white boys were failing something would have been done while nothing is being done for the 50% of black kids who are failing.” Nonsense. There are so many programs to help minority kids to begin with. And the State canceled the graduation tests just to let more kids graduate… And of course the examples of those successful schools just prove the point: if parents are supportive and interested, all kids will succeed. It has nothing to do with the system which, by the way, provided these schools.

    Unfortunately, it is Ms. Levy-Pounds who ignores the facts. And the facts are clear: when parents are involved, kids succeed, any kids, regardless of the skin color. When those poor Italians, Jews, and Germans succeeded long ago, the schools were one room schools, teachers were young girls with high school diploma, and resources were minimal. Attitude made all the difference and no matter how much money is available, if having good grades is frowned upon as “acting white”, nothing will help. Using racism as an excuse for poor results for (some) minority students is an easy way out and until people who constantly bring this up realize it, nothing will change. And if we completely ignore personal responsibility, as she suggests, we will not get anywhere. So the question is: Is there a will to stop making excuses, not for the system but for the individuals, and make people responsible for their destiny?

  19. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/01/2014 - 12:27 am.

    Two other examples of system problems

    Professor Levy-Pounds,

    Thanks for your important reminders. Here are two other examples of system problems & resistance.

    1. Districts throughout Minnesota systematically are not telling students about key aspects of Mn’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options law – which allows high school students to take courses on college campuses for free. Our review in January of more than 80 high school websites found that 90% did not tell students about
    * the 10th grade PSEO option (which the African American Leadership Forum, Migizi Communications, our organization and others convinced the legislature to adopt in 2012),
    * that transportation funds are available for students fro low income families
    *some PSEO courses are available “on-line.

    2. When African Am Forum, CSC, Mn State College students and others urged legislators to allow colleges to tell students they could save $ via PSEO, the Mn School Boards Association, Mn Association of School Administrators and Mn Secondary Principals fought back hard to resist…so far legislators are listening to school administrators and school boards, rather than to students and community groups.
    More info here:

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/01/2014 - 08:55 am.


      Would you really ask Burger King to let McDonalds advertise on site… Just kidding…

      Those dollars follow the kids and no district wants to or can afford to give them up.

      My heartburn was when RDale had empty elementary school buildings that us tax payers bought. And they fought successfully to moth ball one instead of letting a charter rent or buy the building.

      Also, with response to why magnets are critical to public districts. If those parents/students who can afford to run from the more challenging students/schools (ie like the Author did), the district wants them to run within the district so the funds stay in the district.

      • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/02/2014 - 12:32 pm.


        John, the state law requires school districts to tell student about PSEO. Some districts are more accurate than others.

        But school boards, supts and secondary principals are defending a “gag rule” that prevents colleges and universities from telling students and parents a simple truth – they can save $ by participating in PSEO.
        It’s fine for high schools to tell students they can participate in AP, IB, etc.

        This is about free speech and about dealing with several huge problems:
        a. College debt
        b. Too many students taking remedial courses when they enter college
        c. Students not having experiences that have been documented as enormously valuable on college campuses, before they graduate from high school.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 05:33 pm.

          On Your Side

          On this one I am with you. If our K-12 Public Schools and Education Minnesota truly were putting the students first, this would not be an issue. They would inform the parents/students of all the options, and help them find the one that “put’s that student first”.

          Unfortunately they use all their influence to limit competition and secure the funds. They seem to fear competition.

          Though I am a “Buy American when Practical” guy. One of my favorite companies is Toyota. They actively share their business processes and methods with many other companies around the world.

          Now that is a company who believes they can compete and win on a somewhat even playing field. And all of us manufacturers and our customers have gained from their openess.

  20. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/01/2014 - 09:15 am.

    System Problems ? Really

    Henry – Its on the front page today.






    Did I miss any ? The sad part is, how many minority students are ready for PSEO by the time they hit high school ?

  21. Submitted by Adam Platt on 04/01/2014 - 11:35 am.

    It’s the outcomes that matter

    I disagree with the contention that this discussion is unhealthy and regressive. In fact, it is civil, polite, and sincere.

    And I’m not sure that either side has a monopoly on truth. Just because we have a black president and a majority black MPS administration doesn’t mean the school district serves black kids well–the logic is based on an oversimplified view of race and institutions. Equally flawed, in my opinion, is Chris Stewart’s attempt to analogize 1905 immigrant America with today’s situation. Again, I think it’s rooted in an oversimplified view of race and institutions.

    But here’s the thing: we all want our schools to work for all the kids there. And we cannot count on broad-based progress in the socio-economic syndromes that afflict impoverished inner city families, can we?

    So the question is, how do we make the schools work with the reality that we have? It’s clear that more aggressive (radical) solutions are needed. That the constraints of traditional models and structures cannot hold us back.

    But that means accepting that a one-size-fits-all public education doesn’t work in America right now. Is that a failure of the public schools? Is it a failure of black families and their culture? It doesn’t really matter because we are all invested in better outcomes and breaking existing cycles, because it means a better city and country for all of us.

    So let’s agree to disagree about whether family or school environment governs outcomes and focus on what we can change.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/01/2014 - 01:14 pm.


      I really like the Harlem Children Zone approach, however I don’t think it can be executed by government / union employees.

      5 years is to long to wait to start trying to help the kids and parents.

  22. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/01/2014 - 07:02 pm.

    Racism Unleashed (Just Kidding)

    Long Island high school student is accepted at all eight Ivy League schools

  23. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 04/02/2014 - 12:29 am.

    The Truth Shall Set You Free

    Raj, Ilya, and John: Here are links to recent articles that might be of interest. It appears that even the St. Paul Public School District acknowledges the presence of institutional racism and its impacts on children of color:

    St. Paul school board OKs groundbreaking racial equity policy:

    St. Paul public schools settle racial discrimination lawsuit
    10:03 AM, Jan 29, 2013 The Associated Press FILED UNDER Local News:

    ST. PAUL, Minn. – The St. Paul school district has settled a federal racial discrimination lawsuit.

    Details of the settlement with the families of three former students at Heights Community School were not disclosed because of a confidentiality order by the court.

    The families sued the district, school principal and the sixth-grade teacher accused of disparaging black children. The teacher resigned after the district began an investigation into discrimination allegations last January.

    The St. Paul Pioneer Press says the allegations include one in which the teacher ordered the students to sit facing the wall in the back of the classroom.

    Court documents say the district took the plaintiffs’ concerns seriously and addressed them promptly.

    St. Paul Schools start taking on institutional racism:

    St. Paul Public Schools Policy:

    Facing the race issue: St. Paul schools use California-based group in effort to reduce achievement gap:

    Sad, but true nonetheless. It’s time for a paradigm shift in public education.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/02/2014 - 08:24 am.

      The “Truth” or the Truth

      “Member Louise Seeba also wanted the policy to include an acknowledgment that complex social factors outside school walls contribute to achievement disparities.

      “The achievement gap is an issue that can’t be borne entirely on the shoulders of school districts,” she said.

      Seeba and member John Brodrick argued that the board needs to spend more time to clarify its repercussions.”

      “We must have an ability to monitor and evaluate the procedures that come out of this policy,” said Brodrick, who cast the lone “no” vote on the policy.

      But other board members argued it was important not to delay.”

      Gosh darn why delay yet another feel good resolution from the Saint Paul School Board. Why debate something like “achievement gap is an issue that can’t be borne entirely on the shoulders of school districts”. It would’ve involved actually debating facts !!!

      No debate. Just pass the darn thing. Next.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/02/2014 - 09:02 am.

      Results of Spending Tens of Thousands

      The same link Ms Pounds points to.

      “So is it working?

      St. Paul has seen some test score gains over the past three years, but by most measures, achievement disparities have persisted. Those include a 45 percentage point difference between black and white students in math proficiency.

      PEG’s Singleton is proud of an almost 30 percent reduction in suspensions last year in St. Paul. But he balked at offering examples of achievement gains in Minnesota districts. Changes in test scores, graduation rates, attendance and other measures take time, he says. And it is hard to isolate a consultant’s role from other district efforts and from challenges such as budget cuts.”

      Uh oh. No proof it works. But darn it just spend spend spend spend on new new new programs.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 10:26 pm.


      “teacher ordered the students to sit facing the wall in the back of the classroom.”

      I am certainly hoping there was more to this problem than this… Remember what I was saying about that parenting problem. In the “good old days” the parents would have punished their child for screwing around in school and disrupting the class. Now the Parent’s sue the Teachers and District when their kids get in trouble.

      It is likely the St Paul schools would have done this whether they believe there is a “systemic” problem or not. It is usually cheaper and easier to pay off the lawsuit and publish a new policy than to fight the issue.

      By the way, what is your definition of systemic racism?

  24. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/02/2014 - 09:05 am.

    It is the year 2014

    “Minneapolis, which worked with PEG in the mid-2000s, has partnered with Oakland-based consultant National Equity Project since 2011, at a cost of about $600,000. District leadership, principals and educators at some schools went through the company’s seminars.”

    Almost ten years and results ? What results. Spend Spend Spend.

  25. Submitted by Daniel Sellers on 04/02/2014 - 05:10 pm.

    It’s not the parents that need to change

    As a former middle school math teacher in a school with a diverse student population (almost all of whom were from families living in poverty), I can speak only from my experience.

    I spent probably thousands of hours speaking with hundreds of parents–whether over the phone or in their living room–and I never met a parent that did not care about their children’s education and didn’t want the very best for their children. Not a single one. Every single parent I spent time with (many of whom were facing enormous obstacles in their own lives) desperately wanted their children to be successful in school and were grateful that I was willing to meet with them in an environment in which they were comfortable.

    I would talk to parents who had never before heard praise from teachers about their students. I talked with parents who were intimidated by the school system, many times because they themselves had struggled in school despite wanting the very best for themselves and their family. In fact, I had parents to sitting in the back of my classroom and taking notes on how to solve basic algebra problems because they had never been taught how to do that.

    Mostly, I talked to parents who had hopes and dreams for their children—to be the first in their families to graduate from high school and go to college. Hopes that their children would grow up and have the opportunity to be doctors or lawyers or whatever they wanted to be.

    Imagine if your experience with the school system was that every time the lady at the front desk called you it was because your child was in detention or was being suspended (even in Kindergarten!?!). Imagine if you were constantly told that your child was failing and not measuring up. Imagine you face language or cultural barriers and cannot understand what your child’s teacher is saying about your child’s performance in school. Is that an environment where you would feel welcomed to “get involved?” Is that a situation where you would feel emboldened to talk to the teacher about your child’s progress?

    As a white northerner teaching in the deep south, I’m proud of what we accomplished together: parents of students in my classroom became far more engaged than they had ever been. It wasn’t for a lack of caring (they all cared) but for a lack of a welcoming environment that they had disengaged in the past. My parents joined in conversations with students where we would set goals for academic achievement and work together to achieve those goals. One thing was clear to me: it wasn’t the parents that needed to change.

    Nekima is exactly right–the systematic racism that exists in our schools goes far beyond teachers and students. It extends to families who are often not made to feel welcome in our schools.

    The very fact that one would ask the question, “why don’t [those] parents just get involved?” implies a privilege that’s only afforded to individuals who are part of the majority culture. It’s been disheartening to read the comments on this thread, especially when so much is at stake not just for our students but for our entire community.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/02/2014 - 07:10 pm.

      Actually You’ve just contradicted Nekima and Chris

      They insist that the role of parents has nothing to do with the performance of a child in school. And what you’ve described is a role you played where u heavily involved the parents. Your own motto on your web site points to the role of parents in a child’s well being “If our students and their families aren’t at the table, they’re on the table.”

      And that is something that contradicts everything that Nekima and Chris have been pushing for the last few days. And something most of us have been pointing out in the last few days.

      We can’t sit here pretending there is such massive racism in schools that minority kids cannot succeed. There may be cultural reasons why parents don’t participate. But if Nekima and Chris can’t even acknowledge that then this discussion goes nowhere.

      Ultimately your success has been to be able to bring parents to the table (or on the table). Something that contradicts directly with Nekima and Chris’s vision.

      • Submitted by Chris Stewart on 04/03/2014 - 10:14 am.

        Let’s not mischaracterize arguments

        Raj, you are inaccurately characterizing my position.

        Very simply put: when you run schools or school systems you focus on practices, policies, programs, and practitioners because those are the inputs that generate outputs. There is a wide variance in performance even after you account for student backgrounds. You might consider the possibility that schools serving exactly the same students have very different outcomes.

        Some hospitals will be better than others regardless of their patients lifestyles; some airlines will be better at predicting fuel costs regardless of how fat their flyers are; and some companies will meet their annual goals, some won’t and blaming customers won’t cut it with shareholders.

        When pointed out that some schools are succeeding with poor children of color you immediately swing to a conclusion that the parents in those schools must be better than those that have students who are failing.

        If this is so, why were their children failing in the previous school, but succeeding in the new school?

        I get that your view is that the elephant in the room is the deficiency of parents. Duly noted. Without arguing that point, I’d suggest that if you get stuck there it will prevent you from considering the fact that the school system itself is operating like Windows 95 in 2014.

        That said, if you truly believe the current system working and the $600 billion is well spent, more power to you. I reject that notion for too many reasons to note.

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/03/2014 - 01:47 pm.

          Let me explain

          “If this is so, why were their children failing in the previous school, but succeeding in the new school?”

          Because the programs in the new school, as i and others point out repeatedly, explicitly have role for parents. Thats what we differ about. You wish to implement programs where there is no parental role because u believe such deficiencies can be solved by some perfect program. Some of us do not.

          When some hospitals have better results regardless of patient lifestyles, then the hospital usually looks at the data of other systems. Then they examine the step by step procedure and interaction with the patient family of the more successful program and then they phase in those procedures to improve results.

          Every school program that Ms. Nekema has pointed out, we’ve turned around and pointed the explicit parental parental participation requirement.

          Its not deficiency of parents. Its deficiency of parental involvement.

          I do not believe schools work for some minority groups. I just disagree how we go about it.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 10:12 pm.

      Majority Culture?

      Hi Daniel.
      “privilege that’s only afforded to individuals who are part of the majority culture.”

      Please tell me more about this. I may have a misperception, but in one our local elementary schools where poverty is high and minorities are the vast majority… What is this “majority culture?

      Also, myself and the others are happy to help anyone who truly wants to help themselves and their children. We understand most parents want to help their children, that does not mean they make the choices or take the actions necessary to help their children. (ie being a good parent is hard work) Sometimes they don’t know how and sometimes distractions get in the way, that’s why the “successful schools” listed have Parent/Student contracts.

      Per a question further down… What percentage of the Parents in your classes showed up consistently at conferences, made sure their child’s homework was complete, helped promote their child’s behavior in the classroom, etc?

      Finally. Please define systemic racism. It has been used a lot and I think it needs definition.

      By the way, we have a lot of language challenges in this community and I can see how that is an issue. However many of students with low academic achievement numbers are fluent in English. What are your thoughts regarding that issue?

      Please remember that I don’t see this as an either or like you seem to. I keep a list of possible ” contributing factors” to help remind me how complex this topic is…

  26. Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/02/2014 - 07:21 pm.

    Like it or not

    Nationwide especially, the wealthy are trying to separate themselves the middle class and poor by creating privatized high schools. If you don’t think that takes money away from the public schools you need an education too.

    It takes a Nation to raise a Child. If this isn’t part of your thought process then you simply are blind to the future. We need to teach and understand our history first without censure, and then of the rest of the world over the time we’ve known the printed word, especially the ugly parts and what that leads to. It’s vitally important to learn early how ugly we can be and have been as a species so that we can walk away from that part of the past. We are, as a Nation, as a people, and as individuals, suckers facing an ever growing, dim future if we don’t.

    Those who are wealthy or dreaming of becoming wealthy will be in the spotlight no matter what happens in the future. That’ll be history, whatever happens. How do you wish to be remembered?

  27. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/02/2014 - 07:35 pm.


    Again, Ms. Levy-Pounds’ examples contradict her assertion. All those examples show that the system is working even if there are some single cases of racism. But schools are under tremendous pressure to do something to fight the achievement gap so they try to do this even though it doesn’t help. So all the referenced articles don’t prove any racism; they just prove that schools try to eliminate the perceived racism based only on statistics. But statistics alone doesn’t prove anything if there is no proven casual relation. On the other hand, racism allegations are quite often not true.

    Mr. Seller’s point is also interesting. He states that all parents he talked to were eager to help their kids. I believe it – that is why they talked to him. What about those who never talked to him, who never came to parents-teacher conference, whom he never saw? These are the parents I and many others are talking about and they are the ones Mr. Seller forgot about. Only about 3/4 of parents come to school..

  28. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 04/02/2014 - 10:04 pm.

    Time to Step Up to the Plate

    Raj and Ilya, I’m sure you mean well, but it appears that no matter what Chris, Daniel, and I say, you are determined to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. That’s your choice– after all it’s a free country. I challenge you both to personally visit the people and communities you so often judge, stereotype, and disparage and to hear their perspectives on whether they care about their children and their education. I double dog dare you to do it and to share your findings with us.

    As a matter of fact, I’m willing to help you meet said parents to help bridge the gap in your understanding about how things really work when you are poor and Black, or working multiple jobs to put food on the table, or attempting to navigate a foreign culture.

    Contact me if you are serious about learning the truth. If not, keep doing what you’re doing behind the safety and comfort of a computer screen.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/03/2014 - 08:50 am.

      Disparage is unfair.


      I would not have opposed you so openly and so honestly if i did not care for your end goals. But i simply disagree that your methods will work. I care for African American and Hispanic success deeply. And I’ve done something about it. Actually Plenty.

      Anytime Chris, Daniel, you want to meet up i will. I will host. Hear our story. I actually typed it up but this is a public forum so i deleted it. Its not different from yours. But we attacked it differently. And succeeded. See where we come from regarding this.

      What i stand for may be harsh. But like my kid realized , better from me than figuring it out in the real world.

      I will be in touch.

      • Submitted by Chris Stewart on 04/03/2014 - 10:18 am.

        This is how civilization works well

        I am game for any such meeting. The ability of folks with similar aims – but seemingly opposing views – to meet, confer, and settle the difference is a mark of civilization.


  29. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/03/2014 - 08:34 pm.

    Way forward

    Ms. Levy-Pounds,

    You accuse Raj and me of disagreement for the sake of disagreeing. Obviously, we both can say exactly the same: we give you our arguments and you ignore them. In fact, we actually have some logic and facts behind us while you mostly say that racism exists because there is education gap and because other people also say that it exists. It is also interesting that you mentioned a problem of “attempting to navigate a foreign culture.” But both Raj and I came from abroad and our kids navigated a foreign culture, at least mine did – and succeeded. And we also know how education is valued in the countries we came from…

    Now I want to emphasize where we all agree: The system is failing the kids. The only thing Raj and I are saying differently, is that it is failing everyone equally and after that all the differences are the result of individual approach. It is an open secret that in some cultures girls are not encouraged to continue their education. And “acting white” thing is a huge problem that you just keep ignoring.

    I used to live in a small town up north; the highest math class there was Algebra II and I don’t think there were any minority students there. Look how many kids have to take remedial classes in college! And no one goes to STEM majors because kids are not ready! Once in a while they have old test on the Internet, from early last century maybe; how many kids in our schools can pass them now, no matter the race? College students don’t know how many senators each state has and can’t name a single one – white students and probably not from poor families. And Minnesota got rid of the graduation tests and wants to get rid of teachers’ proficiency tests – way to go!

    You want me to come and meet with the parents. I don’t live in the Metro area so it is difficult for me to do but I can try doing it in the summer. However, the parents we will be meeting with will be the ones who care – otherwise they would not want to meet. But it’s the other parents who are the problem. And I don’t dispute that it is more difficult for poor and uneducated parents to help their kids, but it is still possible. I know parents who did and I know kids who succeeded despite their parents’ not helping them. And intercity schools are short on good teachers but they stopped coming there not because of racism but because of gang and violence problems, not the other way around.

    Systemic racism has absolutely nothing to do with any of the problems. In fact, it’s no wonder that one reader asked what it is. Unfortunately, it is mostly an imaginary enemy. Just think of the so called Un-Fair Campaign in Duluth. Their Background webpage urges people to join them in an effort “to see, know, and stop institutional racism” in Duluth. That sounds great but the Partners page on the same website includes all local governmental institutions and plenty of others as partners. So are all those institutions fighting their own racism?

    The only actual racism example you gave was a discrimination suit but even that one never went to court meaning that it was not proven. And the school took measures right away. All the rest were notes of schools fighting racism which was not defined and not supported by examples. So where is the racism? Give me real examples, not just general statistics. Of course, there are racists but that is an entirely different matter.

    As I said, I do care; I want everyone to succeed. We all live in this wonderful country and should work together to make it better. But eliminating personal responsibility and blaming everything on racism is counterproductive.

    Again, if we have a meeting in the summer, I will try to come. Or I may contact you when I have to go to Minneapolis for some reason… We need to discuss these things openly and without preconceived opinions. That is the only way forward.

  30. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/05/2014 - 08:40 pm.

    Black Leadership.

    Nekima, you write about black youth and their difficulties in achieving a proper education. You mention the school system and parental difficulties. If you would allow me, I would like to expand the conversation to include the black community, specifically black leadership.

    I have volunteered with inner city youth for decades now, and I know there are a lot of hard working people out there. My intention is not to put anyone down, but that said, criticism of black leadership is often overlooked mainly because the necessary discussion is difficult in our society. Thank you for opening the door.

    In my interactions within black communities, I have found black leadership quite versatile in pointing out racial disparities and racial barriers black youth will encounter. From these leaders I hear few solutions but I see a lot of finger pointing. Nekima, I think your finger is pointing away from you.

    Before a black male steps into a high school, he has learned from his own community, his own leaders that he will have an uphill battle in this world because of his color. Then he goes to a school where he could succeed. Instead he drops out. Then the same black leaders gather around and talk about how this black student could have made it if the schools were better. Nearby, the next youth in line is listening.

    Nekima, you have done the same. In your article you pointed out how the system is stacked against black youth. You provide no solutions or stories of success. It is called Propagating the Social Norm. The social norm here is that black kids won’t make it.

    Let’s look at the social norm of drinking and driving. Most advertisers have stopped using the phrase “Don’t Drink and Drive” because these ads tell us it is normal to drink and drive but you shouldn’t do it. To change the social norm, advertisers today show an inebriated person handing the car keys to a sober person and flash the catch phrase “Drive Sober.” Do you see the difference? Youth watching the positive ads are shown “Normal” people are responsible.

    Nekima, in your article you pointed out the propagation of a social norm, inferiority, among youth:

    “Too often, rather than celebrating children and their gifts and talents, their aggregate data is used to … reinforce false notions of inferiority.”

    What if I changed “Children” to “Black Youth”? It would read:

    “Too often, rather than celebrating black youth and their gifts and talents, their aggregate data is used to … reinforce notions of false inferiority. “

    Nekima, this summarizes your article. You are reinforcing the social norm that black youth will fail more often.

    What can we do?

    Try this. When we read about black youth failing, replace all notions of our failing schools with our failing black leadership. Can we do that? Not publicly, because of the pushback from the black community, the same people who truly want these youth to succeed.

    A short but pointed story:

    Years ago I walked into North High School and asked about tutoring students on a volunteer basis. I got in touch with the calculus teacher and began tutoring students in her class once a week. Almost every student in the calculus class was Asian or white. If some of the readers are unfamiliar with North (Go Polars!), they have one of the highest percentages of black students in Minnesota along with a high percentage of black faculty. Where are the black kids in the higher level classes? Where would the prejudice keeping them out of higher level classes come from? It is coming from their own community, from the people they love and aspire to emulate.

    Nekima, you titled your piece:

    “It is time for a paradigm shift in public education.”

    Great, but you did not provide any solutions. Your fingers were pointing away from yourself and black leadership. We need fingers pointing at black leadership.

    You are the paradigm shift.

  31. Submitted by henk tuen on 04/07/2014 - 09:34 am.

    from intelligence to skill. Education is training

    Ratio is dying

    Early 22nd century belief in ‘ratio’ will be sparse, and ‘studying’ will be training to get skills, the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘understanding’ adverbs similar too ‘fast’ and ‘strong’, pointing at skills that can be trained.

    Skills that need a fit body, and start of training at very young age, with for everybody largely similar conditions. Be sure that kindergartens are more influential for education than universities are, the focus of education will change from ‘thinking’ (of ‘mind’) to training of memory and behavior.

    A ‘mind’ that says “yes” while the body feels “no”, will be similar to some god saying “you are sick” will your body feels “I’m 100% O.K.”.

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