Sunday, February 11, 2007

Burn Down North ?
(Or We've All Got a Lot of Work to Do)

Don Samuels, a Minneapolis city council member, in a fit of eminently justifiable pique, said that he thought North High should be burned down because of the terrible job of education being done there. North High is a predominantly black school. Don had a counterpoint article in the Strib this morning.

Don Samuels: Minneapolis schools can do much better

We should start by borrowing methods that worked well elsewhere.

Much has been written about my metaphorical reference to burning down North High School. I again apologize for my error of passion. I meant no offense to the proud students, staff, alumni and community members. Having visited many Minneapolis schools, I have met many dedicated staff. We owe it to our children to work together to make our system effective.

The reality is, year after frightening year, more than 70 of every 100 black boys entering our public high schools fail to graduate. Many of these young men make up the more than 44 percent of African-American men in the Hennepin County criminal justice system. By age 32, offenders are six times more likely to become parents than ordinary citizens. Their children are much more likely to become offenders themselves. The math is frightening.

The math is also confusing. We need more accurate reporting. For example, although the Minnesota Department of Education reports that 82 percent of black students graduated from North in 2005 (based on federally established guidelines), that doesn't tell the whole story. For example, while 229 black students entered the ninth grade in 2001, only 69 black students actually graduated in 2005 (this number of graduates includes some of the original 229 students who entered North in the ninth grade and others who transferred in). This is a far cry from 82 percent.

In addition, far too many students of all races are entering college underprepared. When they enter our public universities they lack the basics. In the 2002-03 school year, the following percentages of students from these seven schools took remedial courses in reading, writing or math when they entered public college: South, 37%; Southwest, 41%; Henry, 48%; Washburn, 53%; Edison, 57%, North, 59%, and Roosevelt, 70%.

The future of our children, our public safety and our region's economic development are all on the line. I propose the following:

• Bring directors of our nation's most effective public and charter schools to Minneapolis to share their lessons.

• Ask foundations and the Legislature to help Minneapolis schools -- district and charter -- replicate them.

• Establish an independent, multiracial, nonpartisan group to assess and monitor progress.

In the last few days, groups as diverse as Black Women in Higher Education, Urban League, Latino Communications Network, Somali Action Alliance, Black Alliance for Educational Options, PEACE Foundation, African American Men Project, Sub Zero Collective, and Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute have agreed to help bring outstanding educators to Minneapolis this spring. We invite the Minneapolis school board, the city, the teachers union, the Star Tribune, charters, churches and other community groups to join this effort.

The compassionate part of me apologizes to everyone who felt wounded by my words. And there is an irrational part of me that shouts the question, "Why aren't more people pushed beyond the boundaries of politeness and rational discourse -- shouldn't this make us all crazy?"

Don Samuels is a member of the Minneapolis City Council.

Right on, Don.

We have a stake at BigU as well as in our role of taxpayers and citizens in this situation. Complaining about the graduation rates of minority students at BigU is not going to cure the fundamental problems that exist at a lower level in our public education system. Yes, Don, it should make us all crazy...

Mr. B.

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