Equity and School Board – Hard Work Needed by School Board AND Equity Task Force

I’ve attended many of the School Board meetings where equity issues came up. I listened to parents and representatives from the Northside Coalition talk about their concerns about equity issues over the past several years, including concerns about the application of the equity formula over the past several years frustrated, in part, that the School Board was not implementing and overseeing the established, Board approved equity policy.
My daughter does not attend any of the schools represented by these parents, but my husband has taught in some of these schools, so I’m familiar with some but certainly not all of issues, and I’ve worked as a PTO Board member in support of many similar issues. I wholeheartedly support parent and community members’ concerns, and I wholeheartedly believe we need to take steps to do the right thing for all our students, especially helping those who are in the greatest need of support to be successful learners.
I wasn’t at Monday night’s meeting, but I’ve heard Lawrie Kobza testify and speak on the need for the School Board to take steps to insure that the Equity Policy is implemented and to monitor the implementation of that policy as required. I agree with her recommendation that a first step for the Task Force would be to examine the existing equity policy, even though I believe this motion was defeated. I hope the Equity Task Force, when formed, will go ahead and begin their work by looking at the existing policy and keep the big picture in mind.

As I wrote yesterday, I believe that what is implicit in the equity issue is student achievement which very much depends upon closing the achievement gap. The second goal of the equity policy states: “that all students will achieve in accordance with the 100% success objectives.” While the Equity Task Force begins their process, I hope the Performance and Achievement Committee will look at student achievement and the achievement gap more closely and as a regular part of their meeting agendas, using MMSD data.
I would hope that this committee raises questions about what is working toward closing the achievement gap? I know evaluators say it is difficult to “tease out” the right answer, but having been a program evaluator for more than ten years, I know these questions need to be asked and discussed in an ongoing fashion. The efforts of the Equity Task Force and the Performance and Achievement Committee are not mutually exclusive.
For example, even before the Equity Task Force even meets, the administration and/or staff/schools are already on a path to change 10th grade Enlish offerings in West High School, has removed regular foreign language classes from one middle schools substituting a reading hour for one academic hour, and is now started a redesigning process of our middle schools.
Where’s the public discussions about these important academic issues that will affect student achievement at the school board level or on the Performance and Achievement Committee? These are not simply issues of which curricula, these are big picture issues, policy issues that will directly affect student achievement. The administration I can only assume believes these are necessary to close the achievement gap and necessary given our current financial situation – what does the Board think about this, what is our MMSD data showing us, are these our only options? However, what is the process for making these changes, when is the Board briefed and make decisions? Final decisions on curriculum are the legal responsibility of the School Board, but does that mean the School Board is only brought in at the last step? In any case, ongoing dialogue will help us all have a better understanding of these changes. When you look at the State Standards for various subjects, a wide variety of different people, including parents, business people are involved in the process. Doing otherwise runs the risk of constant us vs. them situations, which are counter-productive.
Last year, there was a presentation to the School Board by the District on their research-based reading curriculum. There continues to be great debate about the effectiveness of various district curriculum approaches and their results. Draft evaluations on certain reading curriculum have been prepared but not discussed at the Board level. Professionals with direct experience in how children learn to read have expressed concern about aspects of the District’s reading curriculum. Doesn’t the Board need to have a public discussion about the various approaches, results, directions? Don’t we come to better understandings through public discussions?
I guess I believe student achievement is the primary responsibility of the School Board. The School Board needs to address these big picture questions, they need to set the parameters. They do not need to micromanage, but they need to set and monitor policy.