Back to Politics

Education - Minneapolis School Board 2002

Goal 2: Forming a Foundation

My first goal in running for the Minneapolis School Board is to establish comprehensive, knowledge-based, grade-by-grade minimum standards that students must meet in order to advance.

The reason this is necessary leads to my second goal: Guaranteeing that our children are given a firm foundation for success.

In the big picture, this means guaranteeing that when a student graduates from a Minneapolis high school they have been given the tools necessary for success in life – that they have been given a foundation on which the rest of their life can be built.

But for that goal to be a reality, the first building blocks of that foundation must be laid down in the first year of school. Any architect can tell you that if the first layer of bricks isn’t laid properly, then the building will fail – but that’s a lesson we seem to have forgotten, and which the Minneapolis Public School system will need to relearn before the deep, structural flaws in our educational process can be corrected.

Starting in Kindergarten. It should not come as any sort of surprise to learn that students enter kindergarten with a wide range of capability. Some students enter kindergarten already able to read, write, and perform simple arithmetic. Others enter kindergarten without even knowing which way to hold a book. Armed with this knowledge, it shouldn’t take much for us to realize that these students will not perform at comparable levels in the first year at school. Nor is there anything we can do about that.

But what we can do is acknowledge that the problem exists, and take the most logical course to resolve it. If we set a standard of what a kindergarten student should know before entering the first grade, and then hold students to that standard, we level the playing field.

Does this mean that some students will be held back at the end of kindergarten? Yes. And, in fact, that is the purpose of the standard.

This is what I’m talking about when I say we need to form a foundation: By ensuring that the student does not leave kindergarten until they are armed with the knowledge that kindergarten is meant to impart, we have given that student the foundation they require to succeed in first grade.

The alternative is what we do now: Promote the student to first grade, even though they lack the skills needed to succeed there. Doing so, of course, condemns the student to failure again. Not only are we permanently degrading the educational experience of that student, but we are degrading the educational experience of the other students in the class.

Now, extend the principle. Standards are set not just for kindergarten, but for every grade level thereafter. Instead of playing a hopeless game of catch-up, we get on top of the problem from the very beginning by making sure that a student has been given the foundation to succeed at the tasks they are given.

Assessing the Student. At the city-level we can enforce the formation of this foundation by assessing the students according to a set of knowledge-based standards. The term “test” is not a good fit to what I envision: I cannot perform an objective test to determine whether or not a student is “capable of discussing the Civil War in a comprehensive fashion” – the bulk of education is not something that can be tested in a standardized fashion.

But I can test a knowledge-based standard in order to perform an assessment: If the student cannot tell me that Abraham Lincoln was the President; that the Dred Scott decision was passed by the Supreme Court; and that the North won the war, then I do know that the student can’t discuss the Civil War.

The danger in such a system is that students will simply learn by rote: They won’t learn how to discuss the Civil War – they’ll learn a collection of trivia (who was President, who made the Dred Scott decision, who won the war). So where’s the other half of the assessment come into play?

The teachers. Because they’re the only ones who can make an informed, case-by-case judgment. The assessment provided by the standards will enforce a minimum, and the judgment of our teachers will provide the rest.

Knowledge, not process.

Teachers, not bureaucrats.

Education, not socialization.