Of the four non-DFL endorsed candidates for the Minneapolis School Board, Doug Mann has led the most active campaign. He's leafleted hundreds of homes, maintains a substantial issue-driven web site and readily engages in public debate on the schools.
Mann has been a persistent critic of racial segregation in the Minneapolis schools.
He does not blame the school district for its 1996 decision to move to community schools, a move some say has re-segregated students. He says he likes community schools better than the de-segregation plan that bused students across the city.
However, Mann added, "The district has drawn attendance boundaries in such a way as to greatly reduce the level of racial integration at most schools. They follow exactly U.S. Census lines of where, in Minneapolis, we are divided by race and economic status."
Mann points to largely minority Lyndale Community School, 3333 Grand Ave., whose attendance boundary doesn't include much of the wealthier, whiter Kingfield neighborhood two blocks south. "The drawing of the attendance area for Lyndale is a perfect example of this," Mann said. "A desegregation plan would force the school district to do more to equalize educational facilities."
One of the best ways Mann thinks the district can equalize educational facilities is to integrate inexperienced teachers throughout schools. Though school districto fficials disagree, Mann said new teachers are disproportionally placed in poor neighborhoods. "[This] should be addressed by phasing in more teacher-in-training positions at schools where the teaching staff has the highest levels of experience and better working conditions for teachers." said Mann.
Mann is particularly concerned with making schools a more positive place for students of color and lower-performing kids.
"There does seem to be a strong correlation between kids being high-income and being placed in high-ability groups [in the schools] and a high correlation between kids in low-income families [placed in] low-ability groups," he said. "These groups are meant to accommodate these kids and make their experience better… Kids put in high-ability groups tend to stay there, and they'll have a more positive experience with their school than the kids who [are placed in low-ability groups] and don't see a point [and] are disruptive and defiant."
Mann's drive was initially drawn from what he saw in his son's elementary classroom at Lake Harriet Community School, 4030 Chowen Ave. S. and 4912 Vincent Ave. S.
He saw his son, who had difficulty reading, separated into a reading group of low reading performers. From there, Mann said, his son's learning stagnated.
"They were working with picture books and the teacher would read to his group for 10 minutes. It was very repetitive and teacher-focused. The students disengaged immediately once the teacher left their group. She could have kept them all on a college-bound level if she was more student-centered instead of spoon-feeding them."
Ultimately, Mann pulled his son out of the Minneapolis Public Schools to Risen Christ -- a Catholic School at 3800 Pleasant Ave. S., because he said the public schools continually used practices that tracked his son out of a college preparatory education.
Mann refers to what the schools are doing as "ability grouping." In education circles, ability grouping is a term used to describe a practice that places students in learning groups according to their Intelligence Quotient or IQ test.
David Heistad, the Executive Director of Testing Evaluation and Student Information for Minneapolis Public Schools, said they don't uniformly test student IQ levels but do separate students in the elementary grades into groups by reading abilities.
"Most teachers in the world, at least in the United States, do some sort of reading groups. We certainly wouldn't call that ability grouping, because those reading groups are based on whether students are sounding out the basic words… or whether they are really struggling with the basics and don't have the phonemic awareness down," Heistad said.
"Typically, the teacher in first grade will divide [students] into a couple groups so each student can work at their own pace. But those groups are very flexible and teachers assess them throughout the year. That's a big step from ability grouping," he said.
Mann is no stranger to school officials, since he has been an involved parent who has testified at many school board meetings against district policies and made one previous run for the school board.
Some officials are unafraid to criticize him. "The reliability of [Mann's] reports to the school board are pretty low, on my estimation," said Heistad. "It'd be difficult based on some of the challenges he's made to the school district to know what he's saying actually occurred or not."
"They are misrepresenting what I say. They grouped kids in my son's class according to their perceived ability in reading. They don't like to call it ability grouping. I think it is. They are setting up a straw man's argument and knocking it down. And they go on to say that everything I say is unreliable," said Mann.
However, the District's dismissal hasn't deterred Mann from his firmly held belief that something is seriously wrong with the way the district educates low-performing students and students of color.
"I'm not asking them to do everything. I don't think making changes in the schools will solve everything," Mann said. "But I think having a majority of black middle-school kids getting suspended each year…that alone suggests there may be a problem with the system. The high incidence of disciplinary actions is an educational-related problem and is influenced by the way the schools are set up," said Mann.
Mann acknowledges that the schools can't solve all underlying socioeconomic problems, but said, "There are conditions in schools that affect the way students behave. How can you expect students to change their behavior if you're not willing to change the conditions?" he said.
Doug Mann Address: PO Box 8514, 55408 Phone: 822-3776 E-mail: Socialist2001@cs.com Website: educationright.tripod.com Occupation: Licensed Practical Nurse Family: Married, one son Endorsements: none