Minneapolis Public Schools Needs a Literacy Plan, Not a Plan To Have a Plan.

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As education advocates, we fight for so many things, but they all boil down to one thing: ensuring the educational system works for all kids. That means schools must produce measurable outcomes in teaching and learning. Right now, in Minneapolis, that’s not what we’re getting.

For the entire five years that Ed Graff has been on the job as superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, the district hasn’t had a formal literacy plan. Seems kind of basic, right? (Note: I’m not the only one who has complained about Graff’s lack of vision.)

Since last October, Graff has been making statements that a literacy plan was in the works. Finally, on Tuesday May 18, at the school board’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the district presented what it terms a “framework,” to serve as the foundation for a future literacy plan. You can view the presentation here.

So, what’s wrong with the Birth to Adult Literacy Framework they presented? Plenty!

First of all, there was no acknowledgement of the current state of literacy in the district – i.e. half of students not reading at grade-level and some of the worst “achievement gaps” in the U.S. The district presented a slide that claimed to explain where we are and where we’re going, yet completely left out the district’s current realities for student literacy.

Similarly, the framework doesn’t mention what MPS is presently doing to improve literacy instruction, interventions and outcomes. There was no analysis of current practices in curriculum, core instruction or interventions. Without an authentic and thorough analysis of what we’re doing now, there is no way to form a plan to improve.

The presentation focused almost exclusively on values statements. There was no detail on how MPS plans to “implement” or “measure” them. Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s book, Cultivating Genius, which seems to form the foundation of the district’s materials, enumerates four necessary components of equitable literacy instruction: 

  • identity development
  • skills development
  • intellectual development, and 
  • criticality. 

But the MPS presentation said nothing about skills development. Zero. There was exactly one bullet in the elementary presentation that mentioned actual skills and knowledge to be developed–word recognition, language comprehension and “strategic” knowledge–but nothing in the presentation concretely explained how students would go about building them.

The framework lays out vague goals, including this one: “find liberation and agency as fluent readers, writers and speakers.” While the goal is lofty, the framework offers no specific actions or timelines to indicate how this or any other goal for students will be reached.

If it weren’t for the Minnesota law that requires all districts to report their efforts to identify students with characteristics of dyslexia, there would have been no discussion of the importance of explicit, systematic literacy instruction, especially in elementary. There was a tiny nod to teacher professional development to help teachers recognize characteristics of children with dyslexia, but no discussion of proven programs to help them learn to read. 

There was no talk of assessment. There was no discussion about what success or accountability should look like in this “framework.” In fact, there were no metrics whatsoever in this “framework.”

Someone Needs to Be Mad for Our Babies

Community engagement is also off the table. Supposedly, it’s already happened this month, in the Parent Advisory Councils. The framework was created, and will be implemented, without a peep from the people who are most impacted. 

This practice seems all too familiar with MPS. When the Comprehensive District Design was first introduced, a vote was to happen a month later, until the community demanded community engagement. Many folks are also upset with how the district is doing community engagement on ESSER funds–the federal Covid relief money for schools.

It feels like an episode of Punk’d, but Ashton Kutcher ain’t coming to say, “Sike!” 

This is real life, and these are our babies. Someone needs to be mad for them. Someone needs to say, this ain’t right. Someone needs to say, you’re not gonna keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. Someone needs to say, we have had enough and we ain’t going to take it no more. 

I find myself asking myself, would this be allowed if white children were failing at literally any of the same rates as Black, Brown and Indigenous children? The answer I came up with is:  “h#$!, no!” 

When the CDD dropped and white parents thought they were gonna have to send their children to school in Black neighborhoods, all hell broke loose. White parents have been foaming at the mouth at every school board meeting since the presentation of the CDD. Although they lost that fight, if their children had to face any of the oppressive tactics that BIPOC children face on a daily basis, there would be hell to pay.

While the district keeps on creating this meaningless “framework,” BIPOC children and BiPOC communities will continue to suffer, because there is no plan.

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