OSSEO, Minn. — Minnesota school districts have made national headlines after reports of identity politics in the schools has caused outrage amongst some parents and conservative groups.
Now, some school officials are talking about the effects race-based curriculum has had on their schools.
In 2012, the Osseo Area School District hired Pacific Education Group (PEG) to help with the high suspension rate amongst its non-white students and achievement gap issue the schools faced. Last year, the school board cancelled its contract with the racial equity consultants after abiding by its suggestions for five years and watching the racial achievement gap grow.
“Our district made a number of changes, including hiring a full time director of educational equity to lead our changes,” Robert Gerhart, Chairman of the Osseo Area School Board told Alpha News. “PEG was brought in as an alleged expert, outside consulting and training resource that we would learn from in order to craft our own internal, long-term approach to racial educational equity.”
Gerhart says teachers and administrators became dependent on the PEG program instead of learning to internalize the teachings. Also, only half of Osseo’s teachers received the required PEG training in the five-year period.
According to its own website: “Founded by Glenn E. Singleton in 1992, Pacific Educational Group is committed to achieving racial equity in education. We engage in sustained partnerships with educational organizations to transform beliefs, behaviors, and results so people of all races can achieve at their highest levels and live their most empowered and powerful lives.”
Gerhart describes PEG as a nothing more than a temporary program to educate teachers on better understanding “racial educational equity,” Gerhart notes the program did not pan out as intended. His concerns with the PEG platform were multifaceted.
“After five years and millions of dollars spent, academic achievement among our students of color has actually slipped,” Gerhart revealed.
While the exact dollar figure the school has paid out to PEG is unclear, Osseo paid $152,000 for the 2016-2017 school year. As Alpha News first reported in March, after much discussion, the school board decided not to renew the contract at a meeting in April. Along with Osseo, public schools in Edina, Eden Prairie, Wayzata, Rochester, Minneapolis and St. Paul have all contracted with PEG.
What is clear for Osseo according to statistics obtained from Minnesota’s Department of Education, math scores for black students in the School District have steadily declined, dropping from 33 percent in 2014 (which was above the statewide level) to 29 percent in 2017. In the same time period, math scores for white students remain largely unchanged at 73 percent. In reading, black students maintained a 36 percent proficiency in the same time period, while the gap with their white counterparts grew from 73 percent in 2014 to 74 percent in 2017.
Gerhart also reveals PEG used institutional racism and whiteness as explanations for high suspension rates for black students. While conceding there may be some truth to this idea, Gerhart states it has translated to a lack of discipline for black students.
“Once that happens, you end up with a racist double standard for acceptable behavior, in which certain groups believe they are untouchable and too many staff either agree or fear being fired as a racist for daring to try to maintain order,” Gerhart explains. “It doesn’t help when groups like ISAIAH make similar demands to have school districts stop suspending students of color for ‘non-violent’ offenses (i.e., Who gets to define “violent”? A threat to kill somebody is not technically ‘violent’ yet seems to be worthy of removal from school).”
Gerhart also describes the situation teachers faced, he directs some of the blame to the PEG program.
“The problem is hard to fix when you have good teachers who are thinking about quitting, but you can’t help them because you’ve been sworn to not reveal their names,” Gerhart told Alpha News. “We have a staff that is currently about 80% white, so in effect we are using taxpayer money to systematically shame 4/5ths of our staff for simply being born.”
Gerhart describes an environment where teachers were afraid to step forward – teachers who were physically and verbally threatened and abused on a daily basis by their students.
“PEG has instilled a culture of fear among a number of teachers,” Gerhart states. “PEG likes to talk about having ‘courageous conversations,’ however in reality they have a number of ‘protocols’ in place that you have to agree and adhere to before taking part in the ‘conversation.’ These protocols frame the context of the discussion before the conversation even takes place, in essence disallowing true discussion much less debate or disagreement. If a person does not agree to these basic protocols, it is regarded as evidence of that person’s inherent racism. And remember, according to PEG, all white people are inherently racist no matter what, so a number of our teachers simply keep their mouths shut for fear of being labeled “racist” and getting fired or bullied out of their jobs.”
In 2016, the Osseo School Board had heard enough from teachers and administrators. They voted to end their relationship with PEG at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Instead, the school will look at other ways to instill racial equity training and closing the achievement gap.
For Gerhart, the product provided by PEG is a disaster, but he felt it did one good thing – “I think that our efforts have raised our staff and administration’s awareness of how little they may know about other cultures, and the unintended negative effects that such unawareness can cause.”