As education advocates, we fight for so many things, but they all boil down to one goal: ensuring the educational system works for all kids. That means schools must produce measurable outcomes in teaching and learning.
This starts with making sure that all our children can read. And right now, that’s not what we’re getting. Across the country, more than 60% of fourth-graders don’t read proficiently, and that has been true since the 1990s.
Right now, where I live, in Minneapolis, our kids aren’t getting what they need to read well, either. Right now, half of Minneapolis Public Schools students are not reading at grade-level and our district has some of the worst “achievement gaps” in the U.S.
For the entire five years that Superintendent Ed Graff has been superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, the district hasn’t had a formal literacy plan. Does that seem like a coincidence? I don’t think so. Plus, 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 our current dire state of literacy.The district presented a slide that claimed to explain where we are and where we’re going, yet it completely left out the district’s current realities for student literacy. There was no data to show how well students are or are not reading, and no sense of changes over time.
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
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, the literacy framework would not have discussed 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.
And, again, Minneapolis isn’t alone. Districts all over the country avoid the word “dyslexia” in talking with families of struggling readers, and many don’t have anyone trained in the best practices to prevent reading difficulties and support students who are struggling readers.
We can’t solve a problem we can’t even discuss.
Someone Needs to Be Mad for Our Babies
Here’s another thing that’s not just happening in Minneapolis: Parents are left out of the loop. Supposedly, parents and community folks gave input on this non-plan earlier in May, through the Parent Advisory Councils. But in reality, 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 doesn’t just happen in Minneapolis. It happens all over the country.
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!”
While districts all over the country keep on creating meaningless “frameworks” like the one in Minneapolis, BIPOC children and BiPOC communities will continue to suffer, because there is no plan. It’s time for BIPOC parents to work together and get our kids the instruction they need to read well.