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Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson resigns

Courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools
On Tuesday night, Bernadeia Johnson was not present when the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution accepting her resignation, effective Jan. 31.

On a slushy February morning nearly five years ago, Bernadeia Johnson stood in a meeting room at the American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue and engaged about 50 of Minneapolis Public Schools’ toughest critics. She was essentially auditioning for the superintendent’s job, the meat of which was continuing to implement an audacious overhaul that, as deputy superintendent, had been her baby for two years.

One after another, Johnson gracefully validated community members’ concerns. The district was failing their children, especially poor students of color, and the buck had to stop somewhere, she said. If the school board appointed her to take Bill Green’s place as superintendent, she would ask for a contract that contained very specific performance measures.

On Tuesday night, Johnson was not present when the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution accepting her resignation, effective Jan. 31. CEO Michael Goar was appointed her interim replacement, provided he and the district can get a variance from state licensure laws. 

The mood at the sparsely attended meeting — a retreat at which incoming and outgoing members deal with internal board business — was somber. Aside from concerns voiced by board member Tracine Asberry that not all board members were in the loop until the 11th hour, there was little discussion.

The letter Johnson tendered to the board outlining her reasons is protected by employee privacy laws, and the letter being sent to MPS families has only a short explanation: “In order for MPS and our schools to continue making progress, they need a leader with a level of intensity and focus which I am unable to give at this time,” Johnson wrote. “My commitments to family — specifically the care of elderly grandparents — are increasingly in competition with the extraordinary demands of this position.”

Extraordinary demands indeed. The superintendent has appeared worn out in recent months. And four and a half years is a lengthy tenure in an urban district where bold changes are needed — and often resisted. 

Johnson was also recently thrust into a dicey position by incendiary news stories and a legislative probe into a questionable $405,000 no-bid contract awarded to Community Standards Initiative (CSI), a politically connected group run by community activists Al Flowers and Clarence Hightower. For months, groups in the African-American community exerted enormous pressure on Johnson to take a side and say whether two Minneapolis DFLers — state Sens. Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden — strong-armed her into going forward with the CSI contract. Some of the pressure came in the form of a viral social media campaign using the hashtag #JimCrowJr. 

An affidavit submitted to lawmakers in her name suggested she strove to protect the district from an untenable situation. A state Senate committee hearing into the matter proved to be more partisan theater than a quest for facts that might have supplied some much-needed context.

A lack of progress, and a new new plan

A new strategic plan was adopted earlier this fall amid controversy about lack of progress on the old one. And progress on marquee items on her agenda has been slower than she had previously hoped.

In early December, Johnson was peppered with unusually tough questions from parents at a “Soup with the Supe” event — a creation of hers where she is typically at her best — at a school in southwest Minneapolis. 

A year ago, at Johnson’s annual performance review, school board members issued a strongly worded statement expressing frustration with the lack of progress in narrowing one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps. It was the fourth successive dismal report, though Johnson was not present. Outgoing board Chair Richard Mammen explained that she had gone home ill. Ironically, the very talented leadership team that presented the performance data in her absence was perhaps unified behind her for the first time in eight years.

In a district with 34,000 students, more than 5,500 educators, 76 schools and nine sometimes fractious board members, there are a million reasons for lagging performance, ranging from societal inequities that MPS did not create and can’t control to institutional “silos” that aren’t interested in a change in vision.

But as Johnson noted when she took the job, leaders ultimately take responsibility for outcomes. And Johnson was the type of leader who was known to break into tears when describing the scope of the need in MPS. She could not have been happy lately.

Groomed for leadership

Energetic, witty and engaging, Johnson is popular among those who interact with the district. She asks people where their kids go to school and, when popping into buildings, remembers to look for them. She corresponds with kindergartners. When the student she selected as her summer intern last year showed ambivalence, Johnson tracked down her mother and painted a stark picture of the girl’s options. She talks about growing up in segregated Selma, Alabama, and of being reminded how shaming schools can be to community members. 

Johnson is steeped in MPS history, having been recruited and groomed for several leadership roles here and elsewhere by another beloved former MPS superintendent, Carol Johnson. After Johnson lured Bernadeia Johnson away to Memphis (which had hired her away from MPS), Green lured her back.

From 1999 to 2004, Johnson served as principal of Elizabeth Hall International Elementary, the north side school where her grandmother was principal in another era. She led, then as now, in the face of challenges: 19 of the Hall’s then-25 teachers were so new they were still on probation; 13 were in their first year.

Her tenure there would offer a preview of some of the issues that marked her time as superintendent. Her idea-a-minute energy brought a sense of urgency to the discussion about equity in education, but staff complained she was disorganized and struggled with implementing changes. As superintendent, she benefited when another Carol Johnson protégé, the hyper-focused Goar, was brought in 18 months ago to complement her strengths.

Even so, board members have struggled over the last year in particular to get information out of senior staff. At the board’s monthly meetings, parades of PowerPoints have been routinely followed by nuts-and-bolts questions that don’t always get direct answers.

Yet there have been big accomplishments. On Johnson’s watch, MPS has changed the way the district hires, places and evaluates teachers; the way in which it mines data; and how it works with new arrivals from other countries. There have also been unprecedented — if not always popular — partnerships with two fledgling charter school networks.

Perhaps the most symbolic of the problems that dogged her tenure was the teaching corps’ failure to consistently and enthusiastically dive into a program central to her vision, Focused Instruction. Johnson struggled to articulate the merits of the approach, and it’s believed that half or more of the district’s teachers simply ignored the initiative. 

A system for using the same kind of real-time data that virtually all high-poverty, high-performing schools use, Focused Instruction was meant to be a tool for catching gaps in learning while they are small. Many teachers described it as another set of dreaded standardized tests, however.

‘The goals … are not going to deviate’

Tuesday night’s board vote to accept Johnson’s resignation was over in minutes. She will receive the equivalent of three months severance, or $47,500. She will also enter into a consulting contract worth $12,000 a month from March through June, and retains the contractual right to ask for a job as a principal.

In response to board questions, Goar said he has already begun the process of working with state licensing authorities to secure permission to lead the district by Jan. 31. The board will conduct a national search going forward.

The most immediate question would seem to be whether the change portends — or more likely, will be read as — a concession that the scope of the problems confronting the district are simply too big and too intractable for anything other than incremental progress.

The answer to that is likely unknowable. The styles and personalities of the new board members to be sworn in next month are largely unknown, as is the chemistry of the board as a whole. Because the plan still on the table involves radically shrinking the size of the central office, there’s no reason to think they won’t face the same resistance. 

Goar and the other ranking district executives are believed to be firmly committed to the strategies Johnson worked to implement. “The goals that she is working for are not going to deviate,” Goar told board members old and new during the brief discussion. “It’s what we will pursue going forward.”

He might ask to be considered as a part of the search for a permanent superintendent, he added, and did not want to be treated as a placeholder: “I would like to be held accountable for moving the district forward.”

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Grace Rousseau on 12/17/2014 - 09:21 am.

    Doing more with less.

    When I came into the district, Richard Green held the office. Dr. Green took the time to stop and welcome me. I was particularly impressed that he knew my name as well as where and what I taught. The attention to details and a willing ear represent the hallmarks of what was lost in the intervening years and particularly under Superintendent Johnson. Dialogue and trust took fatal blows as reform measures were meted out and reasoned attempts at creating a shared understanding seemed to fall on deaf ears. The technocratic, outcome driven solution works when you are trying to produce widgets. We are not trying to produce widgets, we are trying to produce thoughtful and humane individuals. Given the opportunity for change, I for one would urge the district to create a culture of collaboration once again. Start working with the communities, establish mechanisms for creating dialogue, honor the work of your staff by the simple premise of attacking the problem not the people, and most of all, granting a genuine hand of reconciliation.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/17/2014 - 09:51 am.

    Although it can be said most urban public schools are in trouble, MPS is in complete chaos and there is not even the murkiest gleam of light on the horizon.

    Meanwhile, although there is little difference between the academic achievement records of MPS and SPPS, Valeria Silva is expecting a fat bonus this year.

    Without casting blame on them, I cannot, for the life of me, understand how caring, involved parents send their kids to these schools.

    • Submitted by Ed Kohler on 12/17/2014 - 10:50 am.

      Looking at the property values of many neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it seems clear that people who can afford to live anywhere in the Twin Cities don’t share Mr. Swift’s analysis.

    • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 12/17/2014 - 01:19 pm.

      Here’s Why

      My wife and I are caring and involved parents who send their two children to “these schools.” We do so, in part, because the quality of the education they get is high. Yep, you read that right. Our children are getting a great education from Minneapolis Public Schools.

      But we also continue to send them to “these schools” because the engagement of caring and involved parents is a prerequisite for solving some of the district’s many problems (I would object to the characterization of the situation as “complete chaos” and offer “an unfortunate mess” in its place). We want to help forge the solutions, as much as we can.

      Those “caring, involved parents” who cut and run no doubt have their reasons, but their absence only makes the problems tougher to solve.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/17/2014 - 04:03 pm.

        It’s a matter of priorities

        Do you want your kids to get a quality education or do want to save the collective? Because “cutting and running” may be the best thing you can do for your kid … if you cared about your kid, that is.

        • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 12/17/2014 - 05:02 pm.


          You might think that — IF your impression of the Minneapolis Public Schools comes only through the media.

          But the reality is not, at least in our experience, anything like how it is routinely portrayed. (And, no, we do not go to one of the wealthier schools. We go to a school where 89% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 40% require ELL services.)

          We’ve certainly considered our options, thankful that we have some. We’ve spoken with friends who live in the suburbs. We’ve evaluated the benefits of changing schools within the district. We’ve even investigated private schooling. There are certainly differences, but they are not as great as you imagine, and, believe it or not, the overall quality of the education provided is not among them.

          And though we feel very good about our decision right now, we haven’t always. A bad teacher can make a significant difference, and we’ve encountered that. So we reevaluate our choice every so often (at least once a year), and we will continue to do so.

          But we have learned that a child’s education comes down to the willingness of the parents and community to be engaged with it. That trumps almost everything else.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/19/2014 - 07:01 pm.


            My family has been pondering the “good for our children” vs “commitment to community” issue for ~15 years. We chose to stay and fight for our community and the children that are not so lucky.

            Sometimes we question our choice, especially when the Plymouth police get to spend a fair amount of time in the middle and high schools. Yet, overall it has worked out great. My daughters are doing great academically, they are very gifted at choosing the right friends and they have close friends of every race and wealth level.

            I always remember that “good peer pressure” is very important. If all the well to do families who strongly promote academics, volunteering and good behavior run from a community school, no wonder the remaining children suffer and struggle. For better or worse my daughters have often been placed at tables with children that have questionable behavior. The idea being that the girls provide that “good role model”…

            Sometimes the girls have been distracted by their more high energy neighbors. However since my wife and I are engaged and capable, we have been able to tutor them through any rough spots.

            It is an interesting balancing act…

  3. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 12/17/2014 - 10:36 am.

    To Tom Swift:

    Your comment shows a lack of knowledge about these city schools. They are filled with a diversity of students, many of which come from underprivileged families and many of these kids struggle with many aspects of life, including academics. They get a lot of press and public attention, much of it negative.

    These schools are also filled with students from more average and privileged backgrounds, from parents you think of as “caring, involved”, and they generally do as well as the students from suburban neighborhoods that have institutional rules (like zoning laws) that inhibit the underprivileged classes from living there and sending their kids there and bringing their averages down.

    I know many very privileged families, headed by doctors, lawyers, business owners, and others who MAKE IT A POINT to send their children to these schools because they offer so many academic and social advantages.

  4. Submitted by David Peterson on 12/17/2014 - 10:51 am.

    MPS is in complete chaos

    What an uninformed statement. The problem in MPS is equity issues between schools, which is reflected in the neighborhood demographics. Southwest High School is one of the top high schools in the nation, while Edison/Roesevelt struggle to enough students willing to attend.

    The achievement gap has grown under BJ’s watch. I cannot help but think that glaring issue helped accelerate this resignation.

  5. Submitted by BT Thomas on 12/17/2014 - 10:58 am.

    Always most gracious at the funeral

    This blog entry is fairly gracious in its depiction of a caring Superintendent who strove for hard change against resistance. Heck, the author even writes that part of the reason for lagging performance in some student body segments is because of “societal inequities MPS did not create and cannot control” – a piece of the puzzle that is otherwise never acknowledged here.

    In fact, before her resignation, this space strove to stoke a remarkably hostile atmosphere around the Superintendent and the District. The reference to “incendiary articles” is either ironic or humorously lacking in insight, and the regurgitation of the attacks previously dignified in this space on Johnson, who lived Jim Crow, as favoring Jim Crow – really quite scurrilous attacks on her motives and character whatever policy disagreements one has – is telling.

    But of course everyone wants to wrap themselves in a glow of faux graciousness once the body is cold.

  6. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 12/17/2014 - 11:33 am.


    Very thoughtful, insight column, Beth. Thanks

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/17/2014 - 11:53 am.

    Back when I ran for SPPS board in 2000, the failure to graduate rate was 42%, and the per pupil funding (from all sources) was around $18,000. MCA scores were dismal.

    Back then, the excuse for the remarkably consistent failure was equity, classroom size, the diversity of the district (which alternately was cause for celebration when needed around election time), the number of ESL and subsidized lunch students.

    Today, the failure to graduate rate is 41% and per pupil funding (from all sources) is around $23,000. The excuse for the remarkably consistent failure is equity, classroom size, the diversity of the district (which alternately was cause for celebration when needed around election time), the number of ESL and subsidized lunch students. Assessment scores are worse than ever http://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2014/12/some-painful-truths-about-minneapolis-public-schools-academic-progress

    MPS data was, and is on par with SPPS.

    There was an article in the Pioneer Press about a week ago that said SPPS teachers are among the highest paid in the country today, and that a teacher can expect to earn over $2 million over a 30 year career. The article didn’t say, but with attendance averaged around 35,000 we can expect at least 441,000 students to fail to graduate during that same period.

    Thus, it’s pretty clear where the priorities of Twin cities public education lie. And from the commentary here, as well as the voting patterns in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul it’s clear everyone is satisfied with that.

    There’s nothing left to say.

  8. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/17/2014 - 12:11 pm.

    Selective ….

    forgiveness…’ “societal inequities MPS did not create and cannot control” – a piece of the puzzle that is otherwise never acknowledged here.” And will probably continue to not be except for this case exception.

    I certainly would expect that teacher committees at each school are involved in a new hire for Superintendent. Inclusiveness as has been pointed out is lacking. And left Human Capital dept be renamed.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/17/2014 - 12:56 pm.

    I’d still like to know why MPS…

    Has a CEO AND a Superintendent.

    Also, $96k to quit a job. I Know a lot of folks who’d gladly quit a job for that kind of money. I’m not complaining, just remember this the next time some Superintendent expects teachers to keep working without a contract or a new contract. Funny how executives who won’t get within a 100 yards of a job without a contract seem to think labor contracts are such a bad idea.

    Not that Johnson had any problems here, I just saying…

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/17/2014 - 01:37 pm.

    Nothing left to say

    Actually, there IS something left to say.

    Mr. Swift could begin with “I apologize. I spoke in stereotypes and cliches.”

    Mr. Swift also ended a comment with “…I cannot, for the life of me, understand how caring, involved parents send their kids to these schools.”

    While I don’t presume to speak for any sizable number of caring and involved parents, the two I know best – my college-educated son and his college-educated wife, who often are poster children for “helicopter parents” – are sending my only granddaughter to an MPS school. She loves it. She is thriving academically and socially under the direction of a teacher who left an excellent job in the private sector and took a significant pay cut to become an elementary teacher. He did that because he thought teaching was more important work. It’s not really that difficult to understand.

  11. Submitted by Tim Milner on 12/17/2014 - 02:35 pm.

    My take

    if you have caring, involved parents, who are active in their child’s education, I bet that the Mpls and SPPS do a pretty good job of educating the kids. If the parents have stable jobs, finances, and home life, I bet Mpls/SPPS do an outstanding job of educating.

    My concern has always been on the growing number of cases when the family situation is messy and when the parents are not engaged (or even worse – don’t care a lick) in their child’s education. Just exactly what level of achievement are we expecting our teachers/schools to obtain with these kids? Because schools are pushing against a mountain of “stuff” that overwhelms just about anything they are trying to do. I mean, do we really expect a kid to learn, or a teacher to effective teach, if the kid is living with multiple relatives in multiple parts of the city causing him/her to attend a different school every few months? If the parent doesn’t push the kids out the door to attend school? If the parents don’t make the kids do their homework?

    I say all this because I often wonder if we are really solving the problem by throwing more money at schools, rather than putting it toward more social services that can help stabilize family life. Because with the money being spent, people like Ray’s grandkids are getting a great education. So it can’t just be money. It’s how to get teachers, administrators, families, and kids engaged, supportive and pushing in the same direction that will solve the issue. And to me, that means more effort into stabilizing families.

  12. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 12/17/2014 - 03:02 pm.

    Sad Relief

    I must admit, somewhat sadly, that I feel a sense of relief that Ms. Johnson has stepped down.

    From my perspective, as a parent of two elementary school children, Johnson’s tenure has largely been marked by an increase in distrust and disdain between the individual schools and the administration. That key relationship, between two components of the district which seem to operate essentially independently of one another, has been constantly strained, and all the meaningful communication has seemed to flow in one direction: top down.

    It’s nice that Ms. Johnson was personable and corresponded with kindergarteners, but I wish that she and her staff would have listened more intently to the people who are in the best position to see what really matters — namely, the teachers, staff, principals, and parents. I wish they had been willing to accept and dig in on the actual problems — those which underlie the test score symptoms. So much of what came from her office has felt imposed with either a sort of institutional blindness or a sense of “show” for the press and politicians. That her initiatives were greeted with disdain is actually another symptom, and not the problem.

    Contrary to what the author of this post reports, my experience with Johnson and her upper level staff has been almost wholly negative — often maddeningly so. The area meetings that I have attended have been filled with presentations which condescended to parents, omitted or obscured critical information, and frequently bordered on incoherent. The attitude toward parents seemed to be one of grudging lip service, an audience to be coddled. This superintendent always spoke with great compassion, but her actions often indicated that she did not really understand the problems.

    At one particularly memorable meeting, a parent (not me, though I was thinking the same thing) finally stood up and asked an assistant superintendent who had been spinning incoherence for 15 minutes to “please, say SOMETHING, ANYTHING.” The response was an unrepentant resumption of buzzy droning.

    When our school needed a new principal, we (the parents) were given face time with an assistant superintendent who promised to include us in the interview and selection process. We felt invested in the school and wanted to guide the process of selecting its next leader. Months went by with no communication, and then one day we were just informed about who had been selected. (Lucky for us, the selection was a good one.)

    As a further example, earlier this year we were greeted with a new format for report cards which was essentially incoherent, and made it nearly impossible to talk to children about why they got the grades they got (I know because I tried). The teachers and our principal all knew that this would be the outcome, but since the change was imposed by the administration, they had no choice but to do their best.

    I know that the teachers have had opportunities to express themselves, but they have been largely treated the same as the parents: with disdain and suspicion. Very little of what the administration has been told has actually turned into meaningful action. Much of what Ms. Johnson has done is set unrealistic goals in public (which sounded good), and then not change anything in the pipeline to the teachers which might bring about meaningful change.

    I also know that the teachers, principals and parents are not without fault. When any relationship breaks down, both sides are at least partly responsible. But Ms. Johnson’s actions and initiatives have essentially ignored the schism, causing it to grow. (And please understand that, in this comment, I am not trying to diagnose the underlying problems, but merely describe contributing factors in the departing superintendent’s leadership.)

    I sincerely hope that Ms. Johnson’s departure is followed by a cleaning of the administrative house. And my hope for the next superintendent would be a long period of honest discernment about the source of MPS’s deep problems, followed by whatever hard steps are necessary to heal the relationship between the district’s critical segments. Such healing, in itself, will be necessary to set the stage for meaningful progress on the underlying problems.

  13. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 12/17/2014 - 10:45 pm.

    Of course it was the teacher’s fault

    Do you have any evidence, corroboration, or statistics showing that fully one half of teachers refused to implement her programs?

    This would seem utterly impossible with even a slightly competent principal providing even a smidgen of oversight. Utterly impossible.

    So, if you are going to blame teachers, could you at least provide some sort of background to your statement of “belief”.

    My guess is that her strategies and programs, based on a corporate model of churn, inexperienced TFAers, closing schools, and charters were the failure. When you take a corporate model that literally demands winners and losers, it should come as no surprise that you have winners and losers, and the losers are kids.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/18/2014 - 09:05 am.

    On the other hand…

    We may have screwed up with our testing. The US seems to have a surprisingly difficult time getting it’s head around education issues. I think there’s a good chance that MPLS poor scores could be an artifact of the testing regime. Not that there isn’t any disparity, but I wonder if we’re getting a reliable handle on it with this test regime?

    It’s been a while but I remember back when we had too-do over the testing standards I saw a lot of math problems on the test that I didn’t think needed to be there. We’re told that these math skills predict college success but that’s a dubious claim since most degrees don’t require that much math. Ironically that claim may be based on a correlation pretending to be causation. For instance a couple days ago I wrote a comment wherein I chided Minnpost author Beth Hawkins for mixing metrics, comparing 1/6 of something to 44%. In order to write that comment I had to convert 1/6 into a percentage and the percentage into a fraction. Here’s the thing, outside of a math problem I honestly believe that may the only time in my adult life I’ve ever done that conversion, and I had look up how to do it. In the real world very few people do math problems for a living, people have jobs where they work with either fractions of or decimals, you rarely convert them for any reason. Nevertheless these conversion problems are standard features of the standards test if I’m not mistaken. I’m not saying conversions shouldn’t be taught in math classes, but I doubt the ability to perform them predicts success in life or college so we can reasonably ask why such skills are been deemed “required” skills? (Cue math nerds who will tell us they do this stuff ALL the time.)

    Likewise with the reading tests, what exactly are we testing? Vocabulary? Comprehension? Grammar? And how are we testing that? How are we teaching to those tests?

    We know that whatever we’re testing or why, we made the test more difficult a few years ago because scores dropped across the board state-wide. I can’t remember if those changes “revealed” more or less disparity in MPLS or if they just confirmed the disparity albeit with lower test scores?

    At any rate I think it’s fair to ask whether or not these test scores are actually capturing the “problem” with the MPLS schools? I’m not saying there are no problems, and clearly disparity is one of those problems, but maybe all the emphasis on the this data and THESE test scores is obscuring the problem more than illuminating it?

    Look, kids may have trouble with curriculum but they’re not stupid. When you’re teaching a kid how to recognize a dangling participle in a sentence, or how to calculate how long it will take for a baseball to fall a hundred feet at thirty feet per second per second; if you tell them they’ll HAVE to know this stuff in order to succeed in life… they know better. Maybe THAT’S the difference between poor and affluent students. Affluent students just do their homework while poor students have more immediate problems to contend with. Maybe poorer students are looking for skills they know they’ll need. They’re kids so their judgment isn’t the best, but they’re not going to trust a system that tells them adults convert fractions into percentages all the time.

    Does education need to be THAT abstract? I don’t actually know, I’m just asking.

    Meanwhile the MPLS school system graduates hundreds of capable and educated students every year. Everyone wants it to be the best it can be, but we certainly don’t need exaggerate the problems. I don’t know, I’ve been watching this for decades now and I wonder if one the problem is that people see Superintendents as some kind of magic bullet. If they just get the right Super they’ll get on the right track. Maybe that’s a backwards way of doing it. Maybe you start with the students, curriculum, and teachers, and build UP a system that works, and then find a Super who can run THAT system well. Again, I don’t really know, I’m just asking.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/19/2014 - 11:26 pm.

      It Depends

      The question is… What do you want for the High School graduates?

      At what level should we set the bar? Is it ok to allow poor people to be limited to only attaining jobs that don’t pay very well? (ie requirie low levels of academic success)

      I would think that would be something that you would not support.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/21/2014 - 11:14 am.


        John says: “The question is… What do you want for the High School graduates?’

        Actually I don’t think really is THE question. I think it’s safe to assume that we all want High School grads to be successful adults.

        The problem with “bars” be they high or low is that outside track and field competitions they don’t actually exist. “Bars” are metaphors, and my point is that they may be somewhat toxic metaphors because they obscure rather than illuminate education issues.

        Students don’t pass above or below any “bars”, but they do take tests. Those tests can be more or less difficult, but there’s no logical reason to assume the more difficult tests are “better”, especially if more difficult test simply raise failure rates or “require” skills that are not actually necessary for the stated purpose i.e. college or employment. One could argue that higher failure rates are actually corrosive to the educational system in a variety of ways.

        Look, the single greatest predictor of economic success or affluence in the US today is affluence itself, NOT education. Socio-economic mobility in the US has actually decreased in the last decade or so, and that’s after stagnating for decades after the 1950s. Affluent students who go on high paying jobs may score well on these tests, but they don’t go on to get high paying jobs BECAUSE of those test scores.

        One possible problem with making tests more difficult is that typically, the way you make a test more difficult is by adding more problems. So for instance you make a math test more difficult by adding calculus problems, or obscure algebra problems. The addition of those problems requires more instruction and that stretches class resources and places more intellectual demands on the students. We have a finite amount of time to deliver a high school education, you can only add so much curriculum before you start stretching students too thin. You end up with a broad but shallow curriculum base that has difficulty teaching anything in sufficient depth or proficiency. Then you give those students a test that demands an unnecessary and or unrealistic level of proficiency, and try to predict success based on those test scores?

        In other words, making a test more difficult can be compared to raising a “bar” metaphorically, but the real function of such test should be to measure appropriate skill levels, not “test” skills. Tougher tests don’t necessarily produce more prepared students but they may divert or disperse resources in a harmful way.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/21/2014 - 03:54 pm.

          Are You Kidding

          “but they don’t go on to get high paying jobs BECAUSE of those test scores.”

          Oh come now, you must be kidding. ACT, SAT and a host of other tests are used as hurdles for everything from college acceptance, academic scholarships, internships, etc. If you do not test well enough, it is very difficult for one to get into an education path that leads to a career that pays very well.

          Please note that there is no calculus in the ACT.


          The reality is that kids need to test well, or their choice in schools and careers will be limited.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/21/2014 - 05:10 pm.

            Please read the comment thread John

            We’re not talking about the ACT or SAT, we’re talking about the MPLS school system, state standardized tests, and federal core curriculum. The ACT and SAT are not required tests for all students.

            The ACT and SAT are a whole nuther discussion. And by the way, the trend in college admissions is to de-emphasize those test scores. I think a few colleges have even dropped them as an entrance requirement.

            Studies are now piling up that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success than test scores, which is why disparity is problem. Disparity isn’t just about test scores, it’s also about lower graduation rates, lower grades, and drop-out rates.

            Again, the single biggest predictor of a child’s future income as an adult in the US is their family income, not their education. Even where the SAT is concerned, several studies have now demonstrated that the affluent students get higher scores. We can argue about what the SAT predicts, but we can prove that the biggest predictor of higher SAT scores is family income.

            Maybe one reason educational disparity is so entrenched is because it’s tied to economic disparity which has now reached historic levels?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/22/2014 - 10:34 am.


              Required tests are there in part to ensure that Public Schools do not just pass the failing kids from grade to grade. The purpose is to ensure No Child is Left Behind. The mandatory tests, the ACT and the SAT are all similar but different.

              The devil is in the details regarding the correlation of academic and economic poverty, the relationship is not necessarily causal. What capabilities, choices or other factors would cause both of the problems?

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