Interview with Doug Mann
Meet the School Board Candidates
Challenge the Education Code
This November Minneapolis voters will be asked to elect the members for the Minneapolis School Board. This week we interviewed Doug Mann, who is running against Kim Ellison for the school board at a large.
- Please explain what makes you qualified to be a good decision maker about education policies for students and their parents, educators and administrators in MPS?
I served on education advocacy committees of the NAACP and on the Minneapolis Parents Union board of directors in the late 1990s and early 00’s. I studied district finances, school policies and many of the laws that apply to elementary and secondary school governance over the years.
- How should MPS attract and retain the highest quality, most diverse teaching workforce?
MPS hasn’t had a plan to increase teacher retention since 2002, and that plan failed because it failed to address the annual layoff of all teachers who had not yet completed their 3 year, post-hire probationary period, followed by selective rehiring / replacement. It saves the district money to keep a large pool of newly hired teachers who will be separated from employment and replaced before they finish probation. Little to no money is saved from one year to the next by doing this, but the savings add up by not allowing many teachers to climb a steep pay ladder.
This method of saving money should not be allowed because of a disparate impact on students of color and teachers of color. Students of color are most heavily exposed to newly hired teachers, and teachers of color are most heavily assigned to schools where they are at greater risk of being fired or “laid off.” The district stopped laying off probationary teachers en mass by 2010, but began to aggressively weed out many newer teachers based on evaluations that ranked teachers, in part by how well their students do on standardized test scores. However, this process of “ranking and yanking” teachers lowers teacher retention and lowers the quality of instruction.
Teacher evaluations should be used as a tool to help teachers improve their practice, and very sparingly as a tool to weed them out. It is important to bring teacher turnover rates and exposure of students of newly hired teachers to a low level in all schools.
I support tenure, seniority and due process rights for teachers. I advocate no replacement of any laid off teacher before offering them continued employment, including probationary teachers. The district should refrain from laying off teachers in the spring, rather than waiting for the start of school in the fall, especially if enrollment and budgetary projections indicate that lays will be unnecessary, which has been the case most years.
- What is your best advice for parents of color who deeply care ensuring educational success for their child/ren?
Be careful about putting your children in the Minneapolis Public Schools. Consider other options, including moving out of the district. MPS is not striving to make a quality public education available to all on an equal basis. I would like to change that so that all parents can trust the schools that are run by the district to educate their children
- What would you do to ensure that every MPS student graduates academically multilingual?
I believe that the district should strive to make a multi-lingual education available to all students, especially for those learning English-as-a-second language. I do not have a blue print for getting us there. I have some experience as a volunteer English as a Second Language tutor and classroom assistant with the Adult Basic Education program of Minneapolis Public School and studied more than a dozen languages. As a hobby I read books in many languages.
- Do you support community partnership schools, and if you do, what would you do to increase the number of these schools and make sure they’re successful?
No. I don’t support the community partnership schools project. In particular I object to the program redesign for schools serving high poverty neighborhoods, with a longer school day, longer school year, and a highly scripted, teacher focused, test-prep curriculum. There is no better way to ensure that these schools will be only a temporary gig for a majority of the teachers hired on. All children in the district deserve quality instruction and an enriched curriculum.
- What can we do to help ELL families feel more welcome in MPS schools?
We need to have staff who can communicate with them and have school programs that work for them.
- What do you know about individualized learning and what can be done to better individualize student learning?
I have worked with students who have an individualized learning plan in special Ed. I have utilized a similar type of plan development process as a nurse in developing patient care plans. I don’t have the blueprint, but here are a few thoughts on the questions: Classroom teachers should assess the strengths and weaknesses of their students as a starting point.
There are many strategies that can be employed, such as self-directed learning, tutorial activities in which students help each other, and a thematic integrative curriculum where students group themselves and chose roles to play in a group project. Barton Open school and some Montessori schools that I’ve visited do a great job of utilizing such strategies to engage their students and providing an environment that helps them thrive academically. These approaches can be adapted to other types of general education programs. It is generally better to enrich the curriculum and minimize “drill and kill.”
- What should be done to dramatically increase graduation rates?
To dramatically improve desirable outcomes, one must improve the inputs, such as teacher retention and an enriched curriculum.
- As a board member, what role will you play in working with newly hired Superintendent Ed Graff?
As a board member I have a duty to provide oversight of district operations and have a role in developing the budget. I want a comprehensive audit of the district’s financial books, not merely a cash flow review, and a review of the process for awarding contracts. I want to work with the administration to establish a more equitable system of K-12 public education in Minneapolis.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I believe that education is a right, not a privilege, and that a quality public education should be available to all on an equal basis. I think that the “school reform” agenda promoted by the federal government and being implemented by the school district is moving us in the wrong direction.
I do not support the district’s current “strategic plan” in part because it doesn’t commit the district to increasing teacher retention and because of its explicit support for using teacher evaluations to aggressively “rank and yank” teachers. We can fix the schools without taking away job protections from teachers.
I do not agree with the promotion of a “merit-based, human capital management strategy” advocated in the 2015 iteration of the federal law that reauthorized the 1966 elementary and secondary education act, marketed as the Every Child Succeeds Act. The reform agenda it promotes is essentially the same as the 2001 reauthorization of the same act, marketed as No Child Left Behind.