The Minneapolis Public Schools district is facing an urgent, existential crisis of its own making. For decades, district decisions have had a racially unjust and inequitable impact on students in north and northeast Minneapolis, which, in turn, has driven many families of color out of the district.
These decisions have often been made due to pressure from more affluent parents in south and southwest Minneapolis and from the teachers union. With students of color constituting 65% of the district’s student body, this is no longer financially viable.
Decades of tweaks and band-aids haven’t addressed the systemic racism on which the Minneapolis Public Schools system is built. And as more families of color choose better options for their children and as the racial inequities have become too large to ignore, the district has finally been forced to respond. The district lost nearly 1,500 students last year, 80% of whom were children of color and indigenous students. Today, fewer than 40-60% of school-aged children in north and northeast Minneapolis attend Minneapolis Public Schools.
After nearly two years of planning and community engagement, Superintendent Ed Graff and his leadership team have proposed a Comprehensive District Design (CDD) to bring about the deep systemwide change needed to entice families back to the district and set a course for financial sustainability and racial equity. They should be applauded and supported.
It’s giving families of color a glimmer of hope and sending a signal the district is serious about educating all of our children. The School Board will vote on the plan on April 14. We encourage them to adopt it – and then to go further.
Why it’s needed
According to Graff, “If your child is a student of color, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that they aren’t going to be getting the education and the support that they need to be successful. So, as a superintendent who represents all of our students, I have to do something different.”
Eighty percent of white students attending Minneapolis Public Schools are reading at grade level compared to 22% of black students, 24% of American Indian students, 27% of Latinx students, and 48% of Asian students. Furthermore:
- Children of color aren’t failed only at schools in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty: schools throughout the district deliver a racially inequitable education.
- At Barton, 28% of black students, 30% of Latino students, and 56% of Asian students read at grade level compared to 83% of white students. At Windom, 32% of Latinx students and 57% of black students read at grade level compared to 80% of white students.
- So many families of color travel across the city in search of an equitable education but are still deprived of it.
- Attempts to explain these gaps often focus on poverty, yet white students in poverty experience better educational outcomes than more affluent children of color.
Though fully funded schools are needed, money alone can’t solve our problem. Even when the district has been financially sound, students of color have historically and persistently been left behind – always. In its CDD presentations, district leadership has documented that the problem is systemic: “the current structure deprives a significant number of students of a well-rounded education. Current district design results in persistent, disparate academic outcomes for students predictable by race and income.”
What it will take
The CDD changes school structures, boundaries, transportation, and programming to increase equity and integration and deliver an equal education to all students. These changes are crucial. The only solution to our current situation is a comprehensive redesign. But the CDD needs to go further to improve the experience of students of color in every classroom. These additions include:
- Investing in north and northeast Minneapolis schools at the same high levels as southwest schools.
- Investing extra resources toward students of color throughout the district. MPS must address the inadequate education students of color have received and deliver equally high-quality educational experiences to what the district’s white students receive. For example, North High offers only 12 advanced courses while Roosevelt offers 34 and Southwest offers 63.
- Assign experienced, effective teachers and principals equally across all schools and increase teacher diversity.
- Ensure the CDD is financially sustainable to prevent the need for future disruption.
What our children deserve
Every single child in Minneapolis deserves an equally high-quality, well-rounded, and well-resourced education – without having to leave their neighborhood or school district.
To date, a number of parents have spoken out against the CDD. They’ve called it a disaster. The real disaster is that Minneapolis, year after year, has allowed egregiously disparate outcomes for students solely based on race, income, and ZIP code, without accountability. We encourage the board to show courageous leadership and support Superintendent Graff’s direction for the CDD and the further changes needed to achieve educational equity and end the shameful adult-driven “achievement gap” once and for all.
We’re one city and one district. Changes to one school affect the others. For too long, schools and programs in the southwest corner of the city have been protected from any change at the expense of schools in north and northeast. This seriously threatens the future of children, especially children of color, who live there. The time for small fixes is over. That’s no longer an option. This is our moment to equitably share quality educational opportunities across the district and to share in the pain that change often engenders, to make every child’s education the priority.
Kenneth Eban is senior director of organizing, Students for Education Reform Minnesota. Sondra Samuels is founding leader, president & executive director of the Northside Achievement Zone. Kelly Drummer is executive director of MIGIZI Communications.
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