At this school, usual excuses don't apply: The student population is black and poor--and highly proficient.
A north Minneapolis school at Olson Memorial Hwy. and Humboldt Avenue has demographics that seem a sure predictor of our state's most intractable education problem. The student population there is 99 percent black and 91 percent poor, and about 70 percent of the children come from single-parent families.
Such "racial isolation" is widely considered a formula for defeat—a hallmark of the cavernous "achievement gap" that separates poor, minority students from their more affluent white peers. In recent decades, Minnesota has spent billions of dollars attempting to narrow the gap but has little to show for it.
That's why the achievements of the school I just described should be shouted from the rooftops. In this year's state math tests in grades three through eight, this school outperformed every metro-area school district, including Edina and Wayzata. Its students outperformed all state students in reading proficiency (77 percent to 75 percent), and state white students in math proficiency (82 percent to 65 percent).
This extraordinary school is Harvest Preparatory School, a K-6 charter with five programs, including Best Academy, a K-8 boys program.
Black males are among our state's lowest-performing groups of students, but at Best Academy, 100 percent of eighth-grade boys scored proficient in reading. "Best Academy has the highest proportion of African-American boys of any institution in Minnesota," says founder and director Eric Mahmoud. "The only institution that competes with us is the prison system."
How have Mahmoud and his team worked this magic? Mahmoud is an electrical engineer by training. "At the factory I used to run, if we had a failure rate of 0.5 percent, we'd shut down the line until we figured out the problem," he says. "In our education system, we're failing with 40, 50, 60 percent of our African-American children, but we keep the system that turns out the same product, year after year."