Don Samuels is a Minneapolis School Board Member elected in 2014. Don served on the Minneapolis City Council for three terms and ran for Minneapolis Mayor in 2013.
Use the links below to explore Don's position on specific topics.
Education has always been, and will continue to be, the foundational equalizer in America. It has lifted millions of people out of poverty, unleashed innovators whose creations have changed the world and built some of the best research institutions anywhere, like the University of Minnesota. We know that children are born into different and, quite often, unequal circumstances. Those circumstances provide privilege to some, additional opportunities for development to some, and an easier path in life for some. Yet, education has proven to be the most prominent and effective means of narrowing those differences and providing every person with a chance to succeed in America.
The promise of giving every child an opportunity to be successful is slipping away. The greatest tragedy is that this isn’t breaking news. We’ve known that this fundamental piece of the American Dream has been in danger for decades, and we’ve done very little about it.
It’s clear that education is at a crossroads in America. This persistent and continuous educational decline has led to severe job skills gap. Nearly every industrialized nation in the world is surpassing our students in reading, math and science by considerable margins. In an increasingly globalized world, this is unacceptable. Furthermore, this educational decline has led to a measurable decline in economic growth. The achievement gap between U.S. children and children in other countries cost the U.S. economy $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008 alone.(1) Our education system is not providing young people with the skills to help drive a 21st-century economy. We cannot maintain our global dominance if we continue to see these sub-par educational outcomes.
The ugly core at the center of the achievement gap is this: We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that some children are destined for failure. As a society, we have accepted a paradigm that says that if you are academically successful it is because you are smart, studious, or both. And if you choose to fail, or were born into unfortunate circumstances, then there is nothing that could have been done.
We often hear that poverty is a barrier in education that cannot be overcome. We know that is just not true. Two of Minneapolis’ best schools are Harvest Prep Academy and Hiawatha Academy, and those schools serve 99%+ kids of color, 95%+ free or reduced lunch kids, and yet their outcomes beat the state average by double digits every year. We know all kids can learn. We must hold high expectations for all of our children, support and nurture them along the way and they can succeed. In fact, studies show that “high expectations … ranks second among school-level factors that impact student achievement.”(2) We can no longer afford to have different expectations for different groups of kids.
In South Korea, teachers are referred to as “Nation Builders,” and it’s true. Everyone believes that EVERY child can learn, regardless of circumstances. We must do the same. This belief gap must be closed in America, and it all starts in the classroom. The single greatest influence on our children’s educational outcomes is the person standing in front of the classroom. We know great teaching can transform lives. We must ensure that every student walks into a classroom with a great teacher. We can no longer look at education as a form of service delivery, where teachers deliver lectures and if the students don’t get it, that’s on them. We must ensure that comprehension is the primary goal. Effort is not sufficient. We need to be focused on outcomes.