Each year, when results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments come out, the Star Tribune publishes a Beating the Odds list to celebrate schools which have high numbers of children living in poverty yet manage to help their students learn and grow at rates unheard of in schools with similar demographics. As a former teacher, I believe we should celebrate these schools and the tremendous work they’re doing. But then we should immediately return to the task at hand: changing—not just beating—the odds for all Minnesota students.
Looking at the Beating the Odds list for 2015, which came out just a couple weeks ago, I felt filled with joy for the students, educators and families who helped those schools see such great progress. Full disclosure: Many of the schools on the list are actually near and dear to my heart. My sister taught at Global Academy for years, and I used to help her class as a chaperone on field trips. I’ve seen how hard the staff at Global works and what that work does for their students. Patrick Henry is also on the list of schools beating the odds. From what I’ve heard about this school—from my friends who have worked there and others—it doesn’t surprise me at all that their students are beating the odds.
I’m also proud to say that the two eligible schools in the Hiawatha Academies network both made the list. I work as the director of operations at Hiawatha Leadership Academy Morris Park, so I know first-hand how hard Hiawatha educators and support staff work to help their kids achieve. I’m amazed by what my colleagues do each day and am grateful for the chance to contribute to it.
Nobody should take anything away from these schools that are beating the odds—they’re doing incredible things. But, when I see this list of schools beating the odds, I can’t help but remember that the odds still really stink.
Although we need to celebrate the accomplishments of teachers and students at Beating the Odds schools and elsewhere, we also need to remember that the goal is not to beat the odds—it’s to change them. Beating the odds is an accomplishment, but it’s not the ultimate goal. When all of our schools can work together to ensure that every child is prepared for college or career, with strong supports from pre-K through high school, then we’ve done our job. When we are just as surprised at students in poverty failing classes as we are when wealthy students fail them, when the odds of success are indistinguishable, then and only then have we really changed the odds.
If we’re not working towards this goal of every child in every school succeeding, we will never beat the odds. As long as the odds stay where they are at, they’re beating us. We’ve come a long way in the Twin Cities, even in the last few years. We need to learn from and build on that progress and keep moving forward.
So, to the schools that made this year’s Beating the Odds list, including my own, I say, thank you for all of your hard work. And to the schools that did not make it, thank you for your hard work, too. To everyone, take time to celebrate and reflect with your colleagues and students. Then, take a deep breath, smile and get ready to do it all over again. You’re about to start a new year with new students. For many students, the odds are not in their favor. Let’s change that.
Ben Bauer is currently the director of operations at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park and a part-time law school student at William Mitchell. He studied education at St. John's University and spent two summers teaching St. Paul Public Schools middle school students with Breakthrough before joining Teach For America, through which he taught seventh-grade English at a KIPP school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After leaving the classroom, Ben served as a site director for Breakthrough Twin Cities. Having gone through both traditional and alternative licensure programs, Ben is particularly interested in how we attract, train and retain teachers.
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