Minn. Board Gives Tentative Nod To Rule Targeting 'Diversity' Gaps

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After more than two years of deliberation, the Minnesota state school board has tentatively approved a policy change that would focus new attention on closing the achievement gaps between students of different races, ethnic backgrounds, and genders.

The proposed "educational diversity rule," endorsed this month by the board and scheduled for public comment this fall, is scheduled for a final board vote next spring. It would replace a 1988 rule that requires districts to address race, gender, and disability in their curricula.

At the same time, the board is also overhauling graduation standards and updating its policies on desegregation. The diversity policy is meant to complement the other efforts.

The proposed changes come as Minnesotans are grappling with the results of the state's new basic-skills test, which students must pass in order to graduate. In the Twin Cities, the home of many of the state's nonwhite students, the results have been disappointing.

Under the diversity rule, districts would be required to establish advisory committees and write plans specifying whether any achievement gaps exist.

Districts must also state their goals and time lines for reducing the disparities.

In addition, districts would have to explain how they would write curricula that were "culturally responsive" and "multicultural, gender fair, and disability aware," the proposed rule states.

It would be up to districts themselves to monitor their compliance with the plans, the rule says, but the documents should spell out what actions school boards would take if a school or program fell short of the goals.

Districts that fail to file plans with the state education commissioner could have their funding withheld. Those that fail to act on their plans could receive technical assistance from the state, be required to participate in an audit, or see their state aid reduced.

Curricula and More

Cynthia Kelly, the multicultural education coordinator for the Minneapolis public schools, who served as co-chairwoman of an advisory committee for the draft rule, praised the proposal for its emphasis on student-achievement data. The state would provide the information, broken down for various groups of students, in a uniform manner to all districts.

The 1988 rule, in contrast, focused solely on curricula, she said.

"Parents and the community have to have conversations about what is acceptable and what is not," she said last week. "We want to provide a mechanism to have those conversations."

Judy Schaubach, the president of the Minnesota Education Association, said the union has been "consistently supportive" of the diversity rule.

"But this still doesn't necessarily focus all the attention we need to in terms of closing the education gap," she said. "This is not a be-all and end-all."

In particular, Ms. Schaubach said the state must ensure that teachers have adequate professional development, multicultural materials, and new curricula to meet the intent of the rule.

The state education department is drafting requests for funding from the legislature to help in implementing the rule, which could include money for staff development, curriculum development, and the purchase of multicultural materials.

The money could also go toward a system of financial awards for districts that were successfully implementing their diversity plans.

Although the proposed rule goes further than its predecessor, Yusef Mgeni, the president of the Urban Coalition of the Twin Cities, a research and advocacy group, faulted the plan for putting the onus on districts to close the gaps.

"The criticisms locally are that the plan doesn't have any teeth," he said. "It's sort of wrapped in 'Minnesota nice.'"

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