School Board Q&A with Kim Ellison and Doug Mann

Ellison Mann

Current District 2 board of education director Kim Ellison (left) and Doug Mann (right)

This election season will include four seats on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. NOC’s Education Committee wants to provide nonpartisan voter education that will aid community members in making informed decisions while elevating the need for them to be engaged in school board elections. We have created a short candidate questionnaire that focuses on critical issues in MPS and gives space for candidates to propose solutions they would pursue if elected. We ask that you limit responses to under 150 words. Thank you and we are excited for your responses.

1. In your own words, identify some of the crucial anchors in MPS that are supporting the school to prison pipeline.  What are top systemic solutions that you would propose that are needed to dismantle this pipeline in MPS that focuses on methods that promote safety beyond policing?

Ellison: We need to make sure that students are in school, every day. And that they are able to stay in school. 

That means we need stop sending students home for non-violent offenses. And, we must provide counseling and supports at schools to ensure all students are safe welcomed while they are there.

Mann: The top problem: Huge racial disparities in exposure of students to newly hired and inexperienced teachers. The policies that produce this situation also contributes to high push out rates of teachers of color, in part because teachers of color are more heavily assigned to schools where they are more risk of being fired or pressured to quit than white teachers. The most effective and efficient solution to these problems is to increase teacher retention rates and to bring teacher turnover rates to low levels in all schools. Solutions: In cases of layoff, no teacher should be replaced by a new hired unless continued employment is offered and refused. Except for school districts serving cities of the first class, all teachers have recall rights. The district must provide more support to teachers in "struggling schools" and reject the "rank and rank" strategy for teacher quality improvement. Administrative due process procedures for all teachers.

2. 64% of students graduated from MPS in 2014.  Identify some crucial barriers to increasing the graduation rate in MPS.  What are potential solutions that take into account short-term and long-term measures?

Ellison: I'm still learning why MPS does not serve all students but this is the most important issue facing the district. I do know that we need teachers and AEs who are respected, well-trained, well-sourced educators who understand the barriers students face in their lives and in the classroom. We have to support our families and staff with appropriate programs, trainings and facilities. And, we need to treat our students with dignity and provide them opportunities so they can control their future.

Mann: Important barriers to raising the graduation rate also contribute to the school to prison pipeline, especially racial disparities in exposure to newly hired and inexperienced teachers and curriculum tracking. The type of curriculum tracking which I oppose, also called "ability-grouping" involves labeling students as fast, medium, or slow learners, then placing them in separate classrooms or into separate in-class instructional groups accordingly. As widely practiced during the 1950s and 60s, separating children for the entire school day, "ability-grouping" was outlawed in the early 1970s, but is allowed on a subject by subject basis. Ability grouping usually begins with reading and / or math in the early elementary grades, and grouping in other subject areas tends to mirror grouping in reading and math. The curriculum provided to "academically gifted and talented" children is watered-down to varying degrees to a majority of students, which adversely affects their self esteem and motivation. Strategies recommended for gifted and talented students, work well for nearly all students.

3. 16% of teachers in Minneapolis are teachers of color, where students of color represent 67% of the student body.  This can impact implicit bias, curriculum choice, discipline, and relationships whether consciously or subconsciously.  What specific commitments and/or policies would you propose to diversify the teaching force in MPS as well as make our district a model in equitable practices?

Ellison: I support the "Grow Our Own" program which provides opportunities for Educational Assistants (EAs) to obtain a teaching license. Our EAs are mostly people of color who already have relationships with our students. Supporting them as they pursue their teaching certificate increases the success of students.

I would also expect that all staff receive cultural responsive training as they are brought into the district.

Mann: The district's affirmative action in hiring program needs to be scrutinized to ensure that teachers of color are better represented in the pool of job seekers and new hires. But once hired, teachers of color must not be more aggressively weeded out than white teachers. Far too many teachers are weeded out early in their career, and teachers of color are disproportionately weeded out of the profession. Teachers of color are often assigned to schools where they are most at risk of being pushed out of employment. A reduction in teacher turnover rates to low levels in all schools by increasing teacher retention can do a lot to  increase retention of teachers of color. District polices are the problem, not tenure, seniority and due process rights. Teacher evaluations based largely on student test scores and other outcomes are the basis for a "merit system" that should be rejected.

4. In an urban district, schools have the power to connect students and families with the access to services, opportunities, and resources to tackle systemic barriers and round out their educational experience.  What models would you recommend the district implement to position our schools as critical community hubs?

Ellison: In partnership with the Northside Achievement Zone, the district is already doing a lot of the work of identifying and connecting families with needed resources in eduction and housing. I would support continuing and expanding these partnerships that ensure families receive the supports needed to maintain healthy, safe lives while increasing academic success for students.

Mann: Charter schools and the "community partnership" model are associated with harsh discipline and a narrowed, test prep curriculum. The school district should work with government and private agencies to get on-site services, improve access to resources, and to provide other programming, along the lines of the full-service community school model. Board members should also be advocates for an anti-poverty agenda, such increasing the minimum wage enough to get families out of poverty, and aggressive enforcement of fair employment and housing laws. The high "concentration of poverty" in Minneapolis and parts of the Minneapolis School District is a by-product of unlawful, and mostly hidden / covert discrimination. But little is done that can be done to detect and prosecute those who discriminate. Those who discriminate, whether they do it intentionally or not, should be required to take corrective action in order to keep their license to do business.

The at large school board directors serve the entire city of Minneapolis:

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