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Report Urges St. Paul To Address Increasing Diversity in Schools

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A commission appointed to study diversity and equity in the St. Paul public schools has urged the district to radically change the way it does business.

The panel, organized this year by Superintendent Curman Gaines, recommended this month that the district build in accountability for minority-student achievement, hire more minority teachers, and overhaul its curriculum to address the needs of a racially and socioeconomically diverse student body.

About half of the district's students belong to minority groups.

The panel's work grew out of concern among local leaders and top school officials that the district was not keeping pace with demographic changes and that many minority and low-income students were falling behind their white peers in school, said Julio Almanza, the assistant superintendent for planning and support services.

During the 1980's, Minnesota's population of blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics increased by about 72 percent, the report notes.

The multiracial panel--which includes students, parents, teachers, and community leaders--found that there were successful efforts to meet the needs of low-income and minority children throughout the system but that school officials had failed to build on those programs.

And although the schools have a multicultural curriculum in place, it is more than 20 years old.

'You Owe Me This'

The panel identified the district's failure to create a system of accountability as "the primary reason students of color and low-income students continue to perform poorly'' in school.

The district's low-income and minority students frequently are passed over for accelerated classes and are more often labeled as learning disabled than their white peers, the panel found.

The district does not collect or report achievement data in a way that helps identify trends, nor does it consistently evaluate educators, the panel said.

"When teachers are held accountable for academic achievement and administrators are held accountable for resources, students will expect and demand a good education,'' the report says. "This shift in accountability ... should result in students saying to the district, 'You owe me this.'''

Among other recommendations the panel urges:

  • Beefing up resources for non-English-speaking and bilingual students;
  • Increasing parent involvement and coordination with family-service providers;
  • Hiring support-staff workers from minority groups to help students in schools with minority enrollments; and,
  • Better explaining and enforcing the district's racial-harassment policy.

The panel suggested that another committee be convened to develop standards for measuring the district's progress in meeting the needs of all students.

The superintendent has pledged to shift district funds to pay for some of the group's recommendations, Mr. Almanza said.

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