Nearly a decade after Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping mandate to ramp up standards and accountability in the nation’s public schools, more than a third of black, Latino and Native American students in Minneapolis public schools don’t graduate, records show.
On state test scores, the district hasn’t budged the needle on No Child Left Behind’s central goals, which target the achievement gap that separates white and nonwhite students and disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.
In fact, the chasm on state test scores has widened as Minneapolis’ white students continue to outperform their peers around the state. The district’s non-white students have made gains, too, but not enough to keep up.
Facing mounting sanctions under the federal law, Minneapolis and other districts across Minnesota support Gov. Mark Dayton’s request, made earlier this month, for a waiver that would allow hundreds of schools to avoid penalties for not meeting the law’s ever-higher targets.
It’s part of a national revolt against a law that forced schools to focus on measurable results, yet ultimately came to be viewed as punishing educators for not doing the impossible.
“No Child Left Behind was intended to be the cure for the achievement gap,” said Kent Pekel, director of the University of Minnesota’s College Readiness Consortium. “It has turned out to be the diagnosis.”
The diagnosis in Minneapolis has school Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson backing off a goal she set four years ago, as the district’s chief academic officer: to slash the achievement gap between white students and those of color by 75 percent by 2012.
As a union leader and teacher, Panning-Miller witnessed time and resources sucked from his high school social studies classroom, along with the science and fine arts courses of his colleagues, as the district doled out more than $18 million to outside agencies for tutoring services and devoting more money to add math and literacy coaches in schools an effort to boost test scores.
The strategy has yet to produce results on test scores, especially in reading for Asian and Latino students, where the achievement gaps on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment II exam more than doubled between 2003 and 2010.
“We just can’t celebrate our white students knocking the socks off these tests when our students of color aren’t making the same gains,” said Dave Heistad, executive director of research, evaluation and assessment for the Minneapolis schools.