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RESET effort focuses on achievement gap, and shows ways to close it

A PSA from the Minneapolis Foundation will kick off a broader campaign to raise awareness of the achievement gap in Minnesota and strategies to shrink it.

Finally, coming to a silver screen near you, an education film thoroughly worth watching. No fake “real-life-story” plotlines, no ideologically motivated backers, no breathless starlet heroines or Cruella deVil-esqe union villainesses.

OK — so actually the mini-versions that are to be rolled out in Twin Cities movie theaters are trailers. But hopefully they will compel you to sit down at the computer — or these days, your Internet-enabled flat-screen TV — and watch the entire 10-minute feature.

Produced by the Minneapolis Foundation and more than a dozen community partners, the short film marks the kick-off of a first-of-its kind public awareness campaign designed to showcase strategies that are working to close the achievement gap.

Trying to reach the broad public

In coming weeks, Twin Cities residents can also expect to see ads in skyways and in print and broadcast publications. A series of Minnesota Meetings co-sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio will be held at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater. The idea is to sound an alarm about the size of the problem and then to give parents, taxpayers and others enough information about things that work to allow them to evaluate the policy debate for themselves. 

“Those of us who work in education know how bad the achievement gap is,” said foundation President Sandra Vargas. “But this knowledge hasn’t pierced the consciousness of the Minnesota public at large.”

Five strategies, which we shall get to presently, give the campaign its acronym-name, RESET. The three Minneapolis schools where teachers and principals are depicted employing them include two high-performing charters and an odds-beating mainline public school.

(Full disclosure: Your Humble Blogger has a child at this last school, Kenny Elementary, where Principal Bill Gibbs was filmed providing strong school leadership. And three of RESET’s community partners employ two sons and a daughter-in-law of MinnPost Editor and CEO Joel Kramer.)

And the foundation’s major community partners span a range of sectors: Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and its nonprofit partner, AchieveMpls, are joined by the African American Leadership Forum, Charter School Partners, the parent-organizing group EMPOWER, charter schools Harvest Prep and Hiawatha Leadership Academies, the reform advocacy group MinnCAN, the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and Teach for America.

Several foundations involved

Funding comes from the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, and the St. Paul and Cargill Family foundations, in addition to the Minneapolis Foundation.

The allusion at the start of this post to “Won’t Back Down,” a movie about a parent takeover of a Dickensian inner-city school, is intentional. Funded by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz, it was a dreadful attempt to whip up support for so-called parent-trigger laws.

Most of the folks who saw it probably assumed it was Hollywood dreck ripped from real headlines. It was, in fact, just super-bad fiction. 

As education reform has become terrifically politicized it’s become harder to consider initiatives without dissecting the agendas of their proponents. Necessary and healthy though they may be, the ensuing debates have a tendency to generate white noise so intense it can drown out discussion about ground-level practices that are working.

R = real-time use of data

Case in point: The R in RESET stands for real-time use of data. Principal of the middle school Adelante College Prep, John Kaczorek is shown asking his math pupils to use an electronic clicker to answer a problem of the day so that he can determine, before moving on, which students are still struggling to grasp the day’s lesson. Every class has a measureable outcome, and every kid is expected to master it.

Adelante is a charter school, but that’s its legal structure, not a predictor of its instructional approach. Nor is the continual use of formative assessments like the “exit ticket” shown in the film a new layer of standardized tests. It’s a tool.

The first E in RESET stands for “Expectations, not Excuses.” “Teacher expectations are shown to account for 42 percent of the difference between white and African American students’ realization of their potential, after controlling for all factors,” the campaign’s website explains.

Expectation leads to persistence

To return again to Kaczorek as an example, kids who don’t master the material aren’t shrugged off as too challenged. The teacher instead comes back at the material until the lesson takes.

The S and the next E stand for “Strong Leadership” and “Effective Teaching,” which can provide a student with two months’ to a year’s worth of additional learning. The final T: “Time on Task,” the final ingredient that has helped a handful of local schools produce outsized results with fragile populations.

After you’ve seen the film and attended the public events and absorbed RESET’s citizen-empowerment toolkit, Vargas would like for you to get involved; the website has specific suggestions. 

“What comprises a good school? That’s what the focus of these messages is,” she said. “It counts when school board members see the public in the audience in support.” 

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Comments (6)

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Beth,
The strategies named in RESET are not NEW and they are used in countless classrooms across the US, including here in Minneapolis. In fact, they represent the primary way that SPECIAL EDUCATION teachers must approach their work. What is new, then, is that special education techniques are getting so much attention by reform groups that propose they be used for all students.

The one quote from the article that I find most interesting, however, is related to the AGENDA of the multiple reform groups that have made their home here in Minneapolis. You  state:

"As education reform has become terrifically politicized it’s become harder to consider initiatives without dissecting the agendas of their proponents."

I'd love for you to actually go into that deeper. You started to do so in your article on Better ED. How about exploring the real agenda of the Minneapolis Foundation? Why not ask the obvious question, "how does a Business Foundation posit themselves as experts in education? By what expertise do they make such RESET suggestions? Moreover, if they see themselves as advocates of real education reform, why are they not banging down the doors of the Capital on the very issue that you reported on regarding the cross-subsidy of special education?

It is truly hard to believe that the Minneapolis Foundation "merely" has the altruistic desire to eliminate the achievement gap. When we get to the heart of what else they really are pushing, perhaps we can actually dialogue without all the noise.

Jim Barnhill
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59
Special Education Teacher

Deja Vu

Excellent points. The Minneapolis Foundation is a financial supporter of MinnPost. Its board and donor base largely comprise members of the local business community. Same with the other foundations mentioned. The Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi Foundation for Children, for example, is run by partners at an elite law firm. Follow the money, I guess.

The PSA doesn't say much of substance and really comes off as an advertisement for the foundation. How did the foundation decide RESET is the best path for Minnesota's schools? What qualifies the foundation to make that assessment, beyond its large sums of money? Didn't the foundation conduct a similar public education campaign a few years ago? What were the outcomes of that? How can donors to the Minneapolis Foundation be sure their money is being properly used? Sandra Vargas describes herself as someone who works in education. What is her classroom experience?

This articel

Beth,

I usually admire your reporting, but I must say I find this piece mostly incoherent, puzzling. What is the point you are making? It is not clear.

Curtis Johnson

"Effectiveness" defined?

Call me naive, but I'm not immediately suspicious of the motives of a foundation that wants to diminish Minnesota's shameful achievement gap in education. However, it is important to have a detailed accounting of what achieving what those RESET goals might require. To take the 2nd "E" (Effective Teachers) as an example, the chart displayed on the 2nd video here indicates that "effective teachers" tend to be, well, effective (and I'm sure that we could get a similar chart indicating the strong likelihood that the next Pope will be Roman Catholic.) To be fair, there is somewhat more substance to the term than that chart would indicate. The apparent go-to person on "effective teaching" is James H. Stronge, who teaches at the College of William & Mary. In his Handbook for Qualities of Effective Teachers (2004), he lists 5 "prerequisites" for effective teaching: verbal ability, content knowledge, educational coursework, certification, and teaching experience. (Again, one is tempting to exclaim "Well, duh!," unless speaking to those who think that anyone with "life experience" can walk in off the street and teach.) It seems that personal skills (ability to communicate and organize, generate enthusiasm, etc.) are the greater variable factor for "effective" teachers. So, questions for the Foundation and those involved in this project include these: 1) How do you plan to help districts recruit, reward and retain teachers with those 5 prerequisites and the necessary personal skills? 2) How can current teachers be supported in developing those prerequisite skills (with, for example, additional coursework in content areas)? 3) How can/will the district support development and training for teachers to sharpen those personal skills? 4) How will the state assure that all districts get equal support to assure that effective teachers are recruited, rewarded and retained for all students, regardless of geography, race or class? I know that there are many more questions, but those might do for a start, leading to the biggest question, 5) Who is going to pay to assure "effective teaching"?

Is it possible to take a critical look at education "reform"

I guess articles like this are why I have quit reading MinnPost, not that one reader matters. All of the suggestions from RESET are condescending for those of us who have been quietly doing the work without a million dollar ad campaign. I have been using electronic learner response systems to get 100% feedback from 100% of kids for a decade. I teach how to use them in my graduate course for new teachers at the U of M. They talk of "exit slips" as if that is something new. And try and step foot in my classroom and see if the expectations are low.

But no, the typical education "reform" is taken as groundbreaking, insightful gospel without reflection. What amazing ideas these RESET folks have. Why didn't I think of finding out in real time if students understood?

Remember the Reform mantra:

"If we eliminate every single variable in the life of a kid, and just ignore it, we can blame everything on the teacher and we don't have to do the hard work of changing anything else."

Because somehow the teachers in Edina, by some astronomical twist of statistical fate all happened to be the best teachers ever, and all teachers in Saint Paul just magically happen to be crap.

MinnCann, Cerisi etc started out talking about early childhood support. You know, stuff actually correlated with results. I had such high hopes. It would be nice if someone could actually look critically at these groups. I won't hold my breath.

The Minneapolis Foundation's

The Minneapolis Foundation's RESET program is pretty much a compendium of its grant recipients. These are grant amounts for 2011, the most recent year available:

AchieveMpls $71k
Charter School Partners $6k
Harvest Prep $60k (through Best Academy)
Hiawatha Leadership Academies $50k
MinnCAN $125k (through 50Can)
Minnesota Minority Education Partnership $72K
MPR $153k (broadcasts the events)
MinnPost $76k (does PR for the events)

When MinnPost writes about events orchestrated by major funders does it mention how just about everyone involved, including MinnPost, gets money from them? The Minneapolis Foundation is playing marionette, and MinnPost and MPR, among others, are the strings.