When I was going to high school in Minneapolis ten years ago the only thing I knew about charter schools was that they had terrible baseball teams (Sorry/not sorry Math and Science Academy).

At 18 I had a faint inkling of wanting to work in schools because spending the entirety of my K-12 education in the Minneapolis Public Schools taught me that something wasn’t right with education. I wondered why I, as a white male, succeeded when so many of my classmates who looked different from me did not. In 2007 (the year I graduated…Oh, oh, oh seven!) Minneapolis Public Schools had a graduation rate below 50%:


The 49% graduation rate was published at the time and it unsettled me. I was embarrassed by the district I had spent the last 13 years getting a pretty solid education from. What happened to the other half of my classmates? Well, broken down by demographics the picture is not great:

Better Chart.PNG
Red means bad. : ( Source: MN Dept. of Ed.

Only 41% of African-American students graduated on time? 26% for Native American students? 30% of Hispanic students? I don’t think anyone could look at those statistics and not see an injustice.

So why bring up ten year-old data? My own graph shows that in 2009 after dropping down to a paltry forty-fucking-four-percent graduation rate for the kids who were sophomores when I was senior, the rate is now up to 67% in 2016. That’s progress and growth right? 23% growth in eight years! But…

Last chart
2016 graduation rates broken down by ethnicity. I promise this is the last chart. Source: MN Dept. of Ed.

This still isn’t good enough.

I fully recognize that this is one district, in one city, in one state, in one America. I have two responses to that. One, I’ll bet all the money in my pocket ($3) if you do a deep dive into your local major city’s ethnic graduation rate you will see similarly disparate results.

Second, let’s do a little rough and rugged math: there were about 3,000 kids in the 2007 cohort of students in MPS and about 2400 students in the 2016 cohort. In ’07, about 1500 students (who either dropped out, were continuing their education, or were “unknown”) from that cohort didn’t graduate with their class. In ’16 about 800 students in that cohort didn’t graduate with their class. So let’s split the difference and say for each cohort between 2007 and 2016 approximately 1,000 students were not graduating on time with their class each year. That’s about 10,000 students that Minneapolis Public Schools didn’t provide with the most basic responsibility of a public education: a high school diploma.

Hey that sounds like a shaky estimate, bro. Quit being lazy and do the actual math!

Fine. But it’s going to mean another chart.

And I’m not your bro, bro.

Super last chart.PNG
I made this one myself! Data is from MN Dept. of Ed. 

Hmm, 12,761 students who did not graduate on time. That was sooooo far off from my original estimate. I’m sooooo glad I did the extra research and math.

Never doubt my estimation skills again, internet.

(By the way: looking at the raw numbers, two questions come up for me. 1. Is the reason the graduation rate went from a low of 44% in ’09 to a high of 67% in ’16 mainly a result of a smaller population overall? I mean the actual number of students graduating over this ten year span only ranged from 1,242 in ’12 to 1,596 in ’16, but that was only 61 more students than ’07 when the graduation rate was just 49%. So MPS is still graduating about the same total number of students each year despite the increase in graduation rate. Also, what the hell happened to all of the continuers? What happens when you are in a 5th and 6th year of high school? How many of them actually ended up graduating? That may need to be a post for another day.)

Oh, and also:

Ultimate final chart
This really is the last chart. I decided to go as far back as there was data on the MDE site for Minneapolis. Look at the total graduates vs. non-graduates number. Crazy! Now I’m kinda glad I got the exact math. This stuff is fascinating. And sad. Really sad. Think about it for a second: 21,823 Non-graduates. 7,077 dropouts. That’s 7,077 people who were failed by the system and have tougher lives to live because of it.

So I say of all of this to illustrate this point: you don’t get data like the above without a systemic and systematic¬†failure by the adults in the district. The failures happened all over the place within the system – not just in the high schools, but in the middle and elementary schools as well. So there is space and need for the existence of charter schools simply because parents should have the option to look at this kind of data and make be allowed to make a decision about rolling the dice with MPS or rolling the dice with a charter school that claims it can beat these results. Either way, hopefully we can all agree that a parent having to roll the dice and hope their child gets a good education is a bad deal for everyone.

We are having the wrong debate in education. It can’t be charter schools against district schools. It has to be educators vs. shitty schools and dysfunctional systems. Educators in district schools and charter schools should be on the same team: the students’ team. I don’t know a lot of educators who got into this business for the money, so at some point most or all of us were here to help students achieve. Now where things get messy is what the achievement goal is and what the actual achievement looks like. I have presented data here for a pretty low bar of achievement: high school graduation. I see it as a low bar because a high school diploma doesn’t supply the security of a salary and a career in our economy. Unfortunately for its students, families, and the city, Minneapolis Public Schools couldn’t provide that for even the majority of their students over the course of the last 14 years.

Here is where a grumpy MPS representative might think (or maybe comment? I’d love some comments on my blog! Anybody out there?!) one of the following excuses:

-Not all our fault. What about ___________ (fill in the blank with any of the following): parents, parents who care too much, parents who don’t care at all, the kids not wanting to learn, previous year’s teachers, society, poverty, charter schools taking district money, bad technology, not enough SmartBoards, Common Core, No Child Left Behind, the standards are too tough, rap music, state testing, Walmart, gangs, do-nothings administrators, over-bearing administrators, bad textbooks, not having money in the budget to buy text books, not enough social workers, kids these days, the iPhone, too many IEPs, not enough IEPs, school year too long, school year too short, lack of professional development, bad professional development, not enough recess time, school day is too long, school day is too short, school day starts too early, school day starts too late, bears.

It our job as educators to teach and prepare our students for a life of success, period. If you allow any of the above excuses to stop you from giving a shit about any child you work with, you should find some other line of work. I really mean that. There are always going to be challenges in this education space, but you can’t let that stop you from doing your job. It’s important to identify the issues so that they can be fixed with the ideas or people needed to make schools work. We work for children and they deserve the best we as adults can give them and the moment any of us choose to stop doing that is the moment it’s time to leave. This is just as true at a district school as it is at a charter school.

Dedicated educators who refuse to make excuses need to stick together regardless of where we work. Ultimately it’s not about where we work, it’s about who we work for. The formula is simple:

Good District Schools + Good Charter Schools = Promises kept to kids, families, and communities

Hug it out, charter folks and district folks. Same team, same team!