The 2007 strategic plan set forth a sweeping vision: Make every child college ready by 2012. With a new version of the plan in the works, it’s time to revisit its highlights. What follows is an annotated — and incomplete — list of initiatives and actions taken or not to further their implementation.
In the plan, MPS committed to these goals:
• By 2012, 80 percent of all MPS students will score proficient or higher on MCA math and reading;
• 80 percent of all MPS students will achieve scores on a college entrance exam that predict success in college;
• Race and income achievement gaps will be reduced by 75 percent.
To reach those goals, the plan outlined the following nine broad strategies and identified individual initiatives within them, as well as the MPS department or departments that would be held accountable for results. My annotations are in italic type. [To see an interactive MPS scorecard, go here. Note: It does not work in Chrome]
Strategy #1: Raise expectations and academic rigor for all students by aligning pre-k-12 programs to college-readiness goal.
Department: Office of Academic Affairs
- Hire literacy coaches for K-8 programs and create minimum blocks of at least an hour for math and reading.
Coaches exist but have not been systematically employed. Last winter a school board committee came up with guidelines for minimum academic programming schools should provide.
- Teachers should use formative assessments and other data to catch learning gaps before they widen.
Focused Instruction, which includes tools for gathering and analyzing real-time data on individual student needs, met with strong teacher resistance upon its 2010 introduction. Adoption continues to be inconsistent.
- Implement longer days, longer years and summer learning programs in struggling schools.
Under a teacher contract approved in the spring of 2014, MPS may call for longer days and years at a small number of the lowest-performing schools. Summer learning has been overhauled for many students. In late 2013, MPS announced it would begin taking advantage of winter and spring breaks to run “academies” for learners on the cusp of success.
- Revamp practices to keep more special education students in regular classrooms; to this end, pilot Positive Behavior and Intervention and Supports.
After drawing U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for the racial disparity in discipline rates, MPS began overhauling its behavior standards several months ago. An outside audit released in May found the district lacks the capacity to provide basic programming to special-ed students.
- Redesign mainline high schools to include Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), College-in-the-Schools and career and technical education.
Most high schoolers now have AP and/or IB options, which has had the intended effect of pushing lower grades to offer more rigorous coursework. The breadth and depth of offerings is still wildly inequitable, with poor schools able to offer a fraction of the classes wealthier ones can.
- Create small specialty high schools that have a specific career and/or theme focus.
This effort was abandoned during the recession.
With a new MPS master plan in the works, does anyone remember the old one?
In recent months board members have made no secret of their collective frustration with the pace of implementation of many bold, promising strategies.
Strategy #2: Identify and correct practices and policies that perpetuate racial inequality and the achievement gap
Departments: Superintendent, District Equity Leadership Team Chair
- Engage broad community in conversation on race and equity.
The African American Covenant received national attention but was disbanded after two years.
The District Equity Leadership Team appears inactive. One third of the members on its roster have left the district or their listed roles.
- Organize “focus team” to look at disparities in suspensions and special education referrals.
On average, one in five African-American males is suspended annually, versus one in 29 white males. In recent months the board passed a major overhaul of MPS behavior standards; staff have been promised training on strategies for keeping students in class.
The recent creation of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement was widely applauded but community groups are concerned that it is underfunded.
- Revise academic policies and practices as needed to promote access and high achievement by students of color.
Nearly a year after the board created an equity impact evaluation policy, it’s not clear staff understand the intent; policies and programs are still being presented without the review.
State and federal funds intended to offset the extra costs of educating students with challenges such as poverty or language barriers do not necessarily flow to the schools struggling to meet their needs. Weighted student funding is now under discussion as a possibility.
In December the decision was made to spend $47 million expanding Southwest High School to accommodate an additional 470 students. Critics complained that the expansion would not be needed if poorer schools could offer a fraction as much programming.
- Report key metrics by race, ethnicity, gender & income.
MPS’ data collection and analysis at the administrative level is admired and envied.
Strategy #3: Develop highly effective principal corps and ensure that they have the capacity to establish and lead outstanding instructional teams.
Department: Office of Academic Affairs
Though progress has been slow, successive teacher contracts have steadily increased principals’ ability to hire the teachers they believe are best for their schools. The most recent contract will allow leaders of a handful of schools to hire outside the current teacher pool.
Several iterations of a grow-your-own principal academy failed to increase the pool of leadership talent. A $3 million grant from Cargill, General Mills and Medtronic underwrote a dramatically revamped effort that has turned out several principals who will head MPS schools.
Strategy #4: Develop high performing teacher corps and provide professional development and supports to get excellent results for all students.
Department: Office of Academic Affairs
After two years of implementation, a teacher evaluation developed in conjunction with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) is garnering high praise.
In the spring of 2014, MFT members approved the use of state merit-pay funds for a more sophisticated system of professional development.
The MFT contract approved earlier this year facilitated changes in the way the district hires teachers, allowing it to make early offers to talented candidates who possess select skills.
Strategy #5: Set clear expectations for all staff at every level; reward success, support and develop, but remove low performers when required.
Departments: Chief of Staff; Human Resources; Research & Evaluation; Strategic Planning
A streamlined process for removing low performers was included in the 2014 MFT contract. It’s important to note that, like other new clauses detailed in this checklist, the provision sunsets in two years.
Strategy #6: Transform relationships and partner with families.
Department: Office of Community and Family Engagement and Student Support
The field on the scorecard used to measure implementation of the strategic plan labeled “family satisfaction” is blank except for an “N/A.”
A family engagement chief brought on board in 2012 took a number of positive steps, including contracting with a telephone translation service that enables teachers, school staff and family engagement staff to communicate with parents and children whose home language is not English.
The district has embraced a teacher-created program for new immigrants with little or no exposure to formal education.
Strategy #7: Build widespread internal and external support and partnerships to get results.
A 2008 levy passed by a healthy margin.
Along with MPS’ nonprofit private sector partner, AchieveMPLS, Superintendent Johnson has secured tens of millions of dollars in grant funding from Minnesota’s largest employers and has persuaded them to get involved in schools.
Communications with parents about changes in leadership and other big initiatives continue to falter, stirring mistrust. Over the last year, for example, numerous district communications — or the lack thereof — regarding principal appointments have fueled school-level controversies.
Strategy #8: Restructure the lowest performing 25 percent of schools. Increase flexibility and autonomy for lowest and highest performing schools.
Department: Office of New Schools; Office of Academic Affairs
- Establish an Office of New Schools.
Over the course of seven years the office has had three chiefs, two of whom opened four new charter, district-chartered and site-governed schools. One of the new schools failed, two are academically quite promising but struggling with enrollment, and one is academically successful and slated to expand. The most recent director left in July.
- Define a potential “portfolio” of approaches for restarting or replacing lowest-performing schools that trade accountability for autonomy. Identify schools for restructuring by 2009-2010.
Efforts to “fresh start” or turn around failing schools proscribed by federal law have had disappointing results. The district’s new contract with the MFT will allow the district to redesign individual schools around particular curricular focuses and staff them from the ground up.
Strategy #9: Create and sustain a positive financial position
Many of the provisions in this strategy area are highly technical. The bottom line is that the district is in a much better position than it was when the plan was created for a variety of reasons.
Past school boards and a now-departed CFO made tough structural changes to the budgeting process.
In response to a dip in enrollment, school attendance boundaries were redrawn via the Changing Schools Options initiative.
Enrollment began rebounding, in part because of a baby boomlet.
The economy improved.