What, exactly, is it that we want today’s schools to do?
Traditionally, we have asked our schools to deliver specific and essential areas of knowledge and to prepare children to become productive members of our democratic society. But today, do our schools have time to teach? And what do teachers really do all day?
The number of school administrators and other school staff has increased nearly three times the increase in the number of teachers and more than seven times the increase in the number of students since 1950. Nationwide, we are spending 10 times more than we spent in 1950 on education and five times as much per pupil.
Despite the investment of money and personnel, there is a persistent gap in achievement levels of white and non-white students, especially in Minnesota. It is important to note, however, that only one-third of the achievement gap can be attributed to factors within the school. Other factors such as poverty, homelessness and poor health and nutrition account for two-thirds of the gap. That is the so-called “opportunity gap.”
Should our schools do more? Advocates believe that a new model called the “full service community school” will shrink the opportunity gap and, ultimately, the achievement gap. A full service community school is a place that not only educates our children but also provides access for families to food, clothing, housing, health care, parenting classes and other services. Congress has authorized $55 million in grants to establish trial full service community schools throughout the country.
Four schools in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth and Brooklyn Center, were among the first to receive funding from the federal government to experiment with this new model. Brooklyn Center Community High School, which converted in 2009, and Myers-Wilkins in Duluth have had good results with improved attendance, graduation rates and test scores in these low-performing schools.
In 2015 the Minnesota legislature appropriated $500,000 to fund additional community schools. Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, will ask the legislature for $2 million next session to support these efforts.