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Twin Cities-area schools more segregated than ever

First of five parts.

In 1972, segregation in Minneapolis schools was so grave a federal judge ordered the city to begin busing students to achieve racial balance. Thirty-six years and several attempted reforms later, Twin Cities-area schools are more segregated than ever.

Indeed, black children in the Twin Cities are more likely today to attend an all-minority school than they were in 1970, two years after race relations erupted into riots. Of the metro area's 1,151 schools, 312 – or 27 percent – are schools where a majority of students are nonwhite.

But perhaps the best indicator of future segregation is evident in the elementary schools with very young student populations. In 1992, there were nine segregated elementary schools in the metro area. Today, there are 108.

Further, there were nine schools legally defined as segregated – or "racially identifiable" – in 1999 under a complex state rule issued that year. Today there are 45 in the metro area.


And the trend, as well as the likelihood of serious social consequences, is accelerating, a MinnPost investigation reveals, spreading far beyond an educational system originally designed for a mostly white student population.

A generation ago, segregation was a strictly urban problem. Now it affects more than 40,000 of the metro area's 200,000 elementary school pupils in dozens of suburban communities stretching from Robbinsdale to Roseville. And it brings far-ranging consequences because most often accompanying racial segregation is its twin sister, poverty, which brings enormous challenges to students and those who teach them.

The numbers are startling:
• Almost 30 percent of elementary schools in the Twin Cities metro area – including those in suburbia – have now reached the point where a majority of students are nonwhite and poor, according to University of Minnesota researchers. Nearly 90 percent of those schools are considered "very high poverty" schools (defined as schools where at least 75 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches).

• Fifty-six percent of students of color in the metropolitan area attend "high poverty" elementary schools (where more than 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-rate lunches), compared with 10 percent of whites.

On the other hand, many districts, including Minneapolis, have schools that qualify as white enclaves.

Like the aftershocks of an earthquake, segregation and poverty spread beyond the public schools and their students. In the coming years the stakes will be high for society. Educators and sociologists say the worsening situation undermines the promise of public schools: to provide all students an equal education. And it makes it even harder for educators to close the persistent achievement gap between many minority students and their white students.

Numerous studies show that minority students in integrated schools do better in school and later in life. And if the segregation trend continues, the ripple effects will, observers say, strain the metro area economy and its very social fabric in terms of a well-trained workforce, high-paying jobs, housing patterns, social-service costs and more.

Still, as segregation has widened, the political will to address it has waned. So much so that state financial support for the most recent formal integration initiative may be in danger.


Percentage of metro-area students in segregated settings

Source: Institute on Race and Poverty
Source: Institute on Race and Poverty

Today's complicated situation has developed despite the best efforts of educators, the growing concerns of parents and the wishes of lawmakers and social activists. But the convergence of entrenched social factors and rapidly changing demographics has undone many efforts to fix the system.

Demographic change

A key factor partially powering the segregation trend is a tidal wave of demographic change over the last 20 years. An influx of immigrants from other countries and from other states is rapidly diversifying both urban and suburban districts. Minnesota's first segregation drama involved Minneapolis' efforts to integrate its schools with a non-white population of 14 percent. Today, minority students make up 75 percent of school populations in St. Paul and 70 percent in Minneapolis.

Experts see the trends continuing. Projections from the State Demographic Center show Minnesota's nonwhite population will grow by 35 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the white population will increase only 7 percent. Predictions show the Hispanic population will rise 47 percent.

Challenges come in the wake of change. The problem is so complex it cannot be addressed by any single policy, rule or statute, said Cindy Lavorato, associate professor in St. Thomas University's School of Education. "Tentacles go in all directions: Poverty, racism, classism. It's a legacy of slavery."

"People would like to think that we have integrated housing and communities and things are all hunky-dory. But the truth is, we're not there yet,'' said state Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, who chairs the House Kindergarten through 12 Education Finance Committee.

School choice
In fact, at least one practice seriously complicates integration efforts. Minnesota's system of school choice gives parents with resources the opportunity to opt out of integration efforts by simply moving their child to another school within or outside the district. Numerous suburban Twin Cities districts, for instance, have tried to create racially balanced schools only to trigger white flight or voter revolt. Further muddying state integration efforts is Meredith v. Jefferson County School Board, a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing districts' use of race as a factor in assigning students to schools.

A report by a group of education researchers concludes Minnesota's system hasn't worked: "While educational choice admittedly can serve some public good, there is reason to be cautious about integration plans that rely heavily on the voluntary decision-making of local school boards and parents. Nearly 10 years ago, Minnesota adopted rules that do just that and the results have been disastrous,'' says the report, "A Missed Opportunity: Minnesota's Failed Experiment With Choice-Based Integration.'' (The report was written by Margaret C. Hobday, an assistant professor of legal studies at Hamline University, Geneva Finn, a research fellow at the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School, and Myron Orfield, associate professor of law and director of the institute. )

It's a conundrum, concluded members of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts at a conference last winter. "No matter what kind of policies or programs you put into place there's only so much you can do. How do you move forward in that environment?" asked Scott Croonquist, the group's executive director. "What we really need to decide as a state is, is integration important, or isn't it?"


Percentage of students attending schools with high poverty rates, 2008

(High poverty schools are those were at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch rates.)

Source: Institute on Race and Poverty
Source: Institute on Race and Poverty

A different direction
In fact, it's rare these days to hear anyone talk about desegregation as a worthy goal in and of itself. Instead, policymakers talk about closing the gap in academic achievement between white and minority students. Raising test scores among poor and minority students should take precedence over school integration, counter many school administrators and policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

Because most of Minnesota's minority students are poor, you can't have one without the other, counter integration's proponents.

"Segregation is a really, really bad thing," argues Orfield. Racially and socially isolated schools destroy children's lives, he said.

"Good schools are not just about textbooks and learning. A big part of opportunity is being exposed to social networks." Middle-income schools are rich with opportunities, while a poor school is "a desert of social networks," Orfield said. Schools with concentrations of poor students don't just have lower test scores. They report worse statistics concerning student health and much higher rates of in-school violence, as well as higher drop-out rates and lower graduation rates.

In effect, Orfield and other education researchers say, the U.S. Supreme Court was right when it ruled in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, that when schools are segregated, children of color are at an inherent disadvantage.  Justices said segregation "has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system."  

Benefits of desegregating schools

Diversity's benefits "are not theoretical but real, as major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints," according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003.

Minneapolis school board member Chris Stewart, who has a background in workforce development, agrees. "We have a lot more people in poverty and a lot more people of color. They exist in a readiness gap. They're not a workforce you can just turn to. They're a workforce we have neglected to prepare. It's absolutely crucial that we get them up to speed, get them on the launching pads for industries that need them. These are industries that are key to Minnesota's success.''

Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education made school desegregation the law of the land, educators believe separate can never truly be equal.

"There has never been a time in history when separate has been equal. There has never been a time when segregated schools have worked,'' said Stewart.

"If you go back 50, 60 years, you always heard the line that went like this: As long as resources are equal, it's OK if kids grow up in racial, social and economic isolation. It's the saddest premise. In 2008, after all the data that has come in to show that separate will never be equal, it's the saddest premise," Stewart said.

Among numerous studies, findings in a 1999 report in the Journal of Negro Education  by Roslyn Arlin Mickelson and Damien Heath show that black students in desegregated schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school district, demonstrated higher achievement than black students in segregated schooling.

A ripple effect began in elementary school, according to the study, because the more years a black child was educated in a segregated black school, the lower his or her grades and the less likely that student would be placed in a college-bound track in secondary schooling.   

Mickelson, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, reiterated the academic benefits of integration in 2003, saying, "The more time both black and white students spend in desegregated elementary schools, the higher their standardized test scores in middle and high school, and the higher their track placements in secondary school."

A growing body of evidence indicates that diverse learning environments maximize opportunities to learn for all, including white students.

High schools with enrollments that are almost entirely white "do not necessarily produce the best academic outcomes for all students. The ideal racial/ethnic mix…is between 61 and 90 percent White or Asian American and between 10 percent and 39 percent Black and Hispanic American," Mickelson wrote in the Journal of Negro Education. "[Schools] with this mix have the highest academic achievement and the smallest gap between racial/ethnic groups in grades and test scores."

Scholars say a variety of reasons explain how desegregated education leads to higher achievement: Desegregated schools have better material and human resources, according to Mickelson.

According to a joint legal brief by 553 social scientists filed in the Supreme Court case involving Louisville schools, numerous studies support the beneficial effects of integration on students.
 
Minority students in integrated schools have higher career aspirations and more confidence they can attain their goals, for instance.  
 
A 2001 study commissioned for the U.S. National Education Goals Panel pointed out that integrated Defense Department schools have a substantially lower racial achievement gap than most schools, despite the fact that students came from families that were below average in socioeconomic status and parental education.

Disparity
By many measures, Minnesota has the widest disparity in the country between kids of color and white kids. Minnesota's four-year, on-time graduation rate for white teens is 80 percent, versus 41 percent of American Indians, 41 percent of African-Americans and 41 percent of Latinos, according to the National Governors Association. (Because it does not count dropouts, the formula Minnesota uses to calculate the graduation rate paints a much rosier picture, but still shows disparities of upward of 20 percent.)

Minnesota graduates fewer of its African-American students than any of 37 states surveyed, according to a study released this summer by Education Week magazine. That's a 10 percent drop since 2002.

In Minneapolis schools in 2005 – where 73 percent of students were non-white and 68 percent categorized as poor – 55 percent of students earned high school diplomas.

"If we're serious about closing the achievement gap, we do need to look at integrating our schools," said Croonquist.

Beth Hawkins writes about criminal justice, schools and other topics. She can be reached at bhawkins [at] minnpost [dot] com. Cynthia Boyd writes on education, health, social issues and other topics. She can be reached at cboyd [at] minnpost [dot] com.


Tuesday: Minority populations in suburbs rise -- and so do number of segregated schools
Wednesday: The rise of voluntarily segregated schools: new trend, familiar problems
Thursday: State and educators can't agree on how to spend integration funds
Friday: A better way to integrate schools: by race and class

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Comments (11)

We can dissect the failure mechanisms of the public school system all day long, but until stakeholders are ready to take a realistic look at the core problems, it all amounts to nothing but lip service.

The fact of the matter is that academic achievement has taken a back seat to maintaining the trade labor teachers union's control and to providing a platform for leftist socio-economic indoctrination.

The schools are in fact meeting the objectives that the administrators have set...it's all a matter of priorities.

Add to that, several generations of parents that have bought into the perpetual victim lie, and who are continuing to pass it along to their kids and you have the model of failure we are paying billions of dollars to keep propped up each year.

Teachers have no incentive to strive for excellence, and those that enter the classroom with the best of intentions are too soon beaten into submission by a system that is averse to encouraging high achievers if it puts the status quo at risk.

Too many parents have no clue as to what goes on in their kids school day, and have no interest in getting themselves involved until their students are finally removed from the school altogether. And those that do get involved are all to often shunned as "meddlesome", and a shunted aside until they are needed to support the next excess levy referendum.

I’m betting we can skip right to Part 5, right here and now.

When part 1 quotes the likes of Mindy Greiling, champion of the status quo and Education Minnesota’s most reliable mascot, the answer to every problem can always be counted upon to be “More Money”.

The public system is broken well beyond any half hearted attempt to repair it. 35 years of systematic looting has rendered it incapable of even considering a turn around without first removing those who have a vested, financial or political interest in maintaining the status quo.

When true teaching professionals take control of the National Education Association, and transform it from a blue collar trade labor union into an association dedicated to maintaining and improving the profession of "Educator" we can start rebuilding upon the ashes of what is left.

Until then, as you point out, people with the wherewithall to do so will continue to remove their kids from the public system, and those that lack the means, or the commitment to providing their kids with a world class education will continue to provide fodder for the truly disheartening statistics of failure.

The demonizers of teachers' unions should bear the following three simple facts in mind:

(1) The first, from Wikipedia: "In the OECD's international assessment of student performance, PISA, Finland has consistently been among the highest scorers worldwide; in 2003 Finnish 15-year-olds came first in reading literacy, mathematics, and science, while placing second in problem solving. In tertiary education, the World Economic Forum ranks Finland #1 in the world in enrollment and quality and #2 in math and science education." It should be noted that both Finland and the United States belong to the OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), which also includes Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe, as well as Greece and Turkey.

(2) The second, from "www.oaj.fi": "In Finland, 96% of all teachers belong to the Trade Union of Education in Finland 
(the Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö, or OAJ)."

(3) The third, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ("www.bls.gov"): In the United States, public school teachers (and other public-sector employees) are unionized at the rate of about 37.2 percent. (This rate is still much higher than in the private sector.)

Teachers' unions are not the problem. If they were, then Finnish children, with their 96% unionized teachers, would do much worse than US-American children, whose teachers are unionized at only 37%. However, the fact is that Finnish children do better. Don't take my word for it; look up the facts yourself.

Of course, Finland is much less racially diverse than the United States. Therefore, the problem of integrating diverse races (which seems indissoluble from the problem of providing excellence in education for all) is a bigger challenge here than it is in Finland. That is exactly the point that Hawkins and Boyd are trying to make with their very well researched, informative, and alarming article. I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Bravo, Thomas Swift.

Please run for Mayor of Minneapolis.

As you might imagine, segregated, high-poverty schools are hard places for teachers, too, regardless of their union status. Until recently, Minneapolis had horrific teacher turnover in its most impoverished schools precisely because union members with enough seniority would bid to teach elsewhere. That contract provision has changed, however, and Minneapolis now uses an "interview and select" system like most Minnesota districts.

In my experience many educators are strong believers in integration. As a parent with two kids in public elementary schools, I have been floored by the amount of time and energy teachers spend trying to build inclusive classroom cultures--often against great odds.

But they also suffer from burnout. And why should we be surprised? We ask them to do much more than their job descriptions formally encompass. We all want to feel like we make a difference with our work. Even the most gifted teacher isn't as effective in an overcrowded classroom where a disproportionate number of children come from struggling families.

If you, gentle reader, have taken the time to read this thorough article and rather deep or deeply felt comments, you should take the time to peek into any metro school cafeteria. If you are in your forties or younger, you'll see that not much integration has taken place since you were bussed. The vast majority of kids sit with others of their own race. I'm not an opponent of integration and I agree that segregation combined with poverty are school killers. I grew up a bussed kid in Minneapolis. It started when I was in third grade. I had a lot of positive experiences with black and asian kids I probably never would have met otherwise. I've also been a secondary education teacher for sixteen years. Based on these personal experiences, I've come to the conclusion that the relationship between the school and its community and the families that make up that community is not worth ripping up to integrate schools. Neighborhoods must somehow come first in striving for a better integrated society. The schools just can't do that for us. When the children and their families are separated from their neighborhood school, the community loses. So when you do decide to peek into your local school cafeteria make sure you check in at the office first. Can't have strangers poking their noses around there.

PS - Why did the Post put this article out on a Monday?
PPS - Good luck with the rhetoric on this one. People can't hardly talk about this one without getting very bent out of shape.

The main reason for insanely high turnover rates in black schools within the Minneapolis Public School system is the fact that the district fires and replaces newly-hired teachers during their 3 year probationary period. Some are rehired each year, but few stay with the district more than 3 years beyond their original hire date.

The district can easily lower teacher turnover rates and improve student outcomes at black schools: Just stop firing teachers in the spring who will need to be replaced or rehired in the fall. Allowing competent new teachers to climb up the pay ladder would cost the district less money, for several years, than what it costs to keep replacing them with new teachers.

Under the MN desegregation rule enacted in 1999, and never enforced, Minneapolis Public Schools has arguably been engaged in intentional racial discrimination by changes in school assignment policies that more heavily concentrate students of color in racially identifiable schools without also eliminating differences in educational inputs between racially identifiable schools and other schools in the district. In the North Side Initiative, the district acknowledged a significant school quality gap between schools on the North side and the rest of the district. And a document called the 'covenant' between the district and a group representing the African American community, a model school is defined as one that uses best practices and has a low teacher turnover rate. All MPS schools should be model schools by that definition.

-Doug Mann, Minneapolis School Board candidate 1999-2008 (most popular school board candidate at the U of MN in 2008)

Beth Hawkins said in her comment,"Until recently, Minneapolis had horrific teacher turnover in its most impoverished schools precisely because union members with enough seniority would bid to teach elsewhere. That contract provision has changed, however, and Minneapolis now uses an "interview and select" system like most Minnesota districts.

It isn't the ability to choose where they wanted to work that causes teachers to not want to teach in the high turnover schools. The jury is still out on the effect of the seniority rule changes. It is likely that making the schools places where teachers want to teach will have more effect than any seniority rule changes. Suggesting that a change in the seniority rules is necessary to create a school where teachers want to teach is specious at best.

I think it's a fair assumption that most people who have actually *been* a teacher would find the whole "reward them for excellence" strategy insulting. Generally, people teach because they *want* to, not because someone will give them an extra thousand bucks if they cheat on the kids' test scores. Anyone who has ever had a teacher should know that good teaching is a pretty organic process that has to vary with the teacher, the students, and the material. The sort of evaluation that would be necessary to institute such a program would only make the system more regimented, more teach-to-the-test, and more boring and miserable - and therefore ineffective - for the students and teachers submitted to it. I know all the best teachers I ever had developed their classes as they saw fit.

If you want more of those good teachers, then you can start by paying ALL teachers more, thereby lending a bit of respect to the profession. But that would cost money, God forbid. So instead we can just make up non-solutions like to keep people talking and prevent any progress from actually being made.

Doug Mann said: "Allowing competent new teachers to climb up the pay ladder would cost the district less money, for several years, than what it costs to keep replacing them with new teachers."

Ah, but you have touched upon one of the biggest problems facing the true teaching professional, Doug.

Competence has very little to do with a teacher's climb up the pay ladder. In fact the union’s step and lane system was designed for the very purpose of leveling the field to accommodate the mediocre and protect the incompetent.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is an accurate description of the way the system works. It may be the correct model for drill press operators in a widget factory, but it is just about as wrong as it can be to set fair compensation benchmarks for a professional.

Jeff Klien shares a point of view I find particularly sad. Mostly because it represents an opinion I have heard from far too many teachers.

“I think it's a fair assumption that most people who have actually *been* a teacher would find the whole "reward them for excellence" strategy insulting. Generally, people teach because they *want* to, not because someone will give them an extra thousand bucks if they cheat on the kids' test scores.”

How has it come to the point where a teacher connects professional excellence with “cheating on test scores”? And more importantly, why would someone pursue a career in a field in which one believes success depended upon his or her skill at cheating?

Jeff adds another oft repeated meme: “Anyone who has ever had a teacher should know that good teaching is a pretty organic process that has to vary with the teacher, the students, and the material. The sort of evaluation that would be necessary to institute such a program would only make the system more regimented, more teach-to-the-test, and more boring and miserable - and therefore ineffective - for the students and teachers submitted to it.”

I’m an Electrical Engineer.

My job is to design automated control systems for machines and processes that meet or, hopefully, exceed our customers requirements and schedule while maintaining my project budget. No two engineers will approach a project in exactly the same way, but will always produce a result that meets the stated goals.

Teaching also has a creative element to it, but the goal of any teacher must include ensuring his or her students will be capable of demonstrating an acceptable level of mastery with the subject matter being taught.

All of this hue and cry about tests really rings hollow when one considers the results that are being posted by far too many students taking the Basic Skills Test.

As I’m sure Jeff knows, the BST is a measure a student’s understanding of the most basic of academic achievement a person needs to function in our society.

If a student cannot pass the BST math test, that student simply cannot do math. If a student cannot pass the reading and writing portions, that student can be said to be functionally illiterate.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, we have schools whose students approach a 65% failure rate with the BST, and every year many of those students leave the public system having achieved no improvement.

With respect, and speaking for myself, to suggest that it is unfair somehow to ask a student to demonstrate these baseline abilities or to make an assessment based upon the results, brings into question ones suitability for the job.

If the purpose of our public school system is to educate our kids to a level that affords them the opportunity to succeed in 21st Century society it is failing miserably, and getting worse.

A settlement of NAACP's 1995 education adequacy lawsuit was proposed in 1999 by the NAACP lawyers (on behalf of the national leadership and its local operatives), but opposed by the Minneapolis NAACP Branch. There were meeting of an expanded education committee, branch executive committee and a membership meeting where the proposed settlement was rejected by a large majority. Evelyn Eubanks and Doug Mann spoke and wrote for the branch majority on this issue. Catherine Williams, the NAACP branch education chair in early 1999, and Doug Mann were the only branch members to vote against the settlement (with minor changes) when it again came up for a vote in the year 2000.

I didn't agree that the Choice Is Yours program, a limited one-way city to suburbs busing plan would solve the problem of students of color being denied an adequate education. And the language in the settlement related to school board accountability was much weaker than what was in the latest version of MN's Desegregation Rule, which if enforced would actually go a long way toward closing the school quality gap (and the so-called achievement gap that goes with it).

The 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown argued that a racially segregated school system was inherently unequal due to negative psychological effects on blacks of being separated from the white majority. Evidence included studies by James Coleman, the same James Coleman put in charge of the equality of educational opportunity study, which found that school quality had little effect on student outcomes (The 1966 Coleman report). The issue of unequal resource allocation playing a role in producing unequal outcomes was swept under the rug in 1954, and 1966. However, only the "separate" part of the "separate but equal" doctrine was even rigorously enforced.

The 1999 Minnesota Desegregation Rule permitted 'racially identifiable' schools so long as educational inputs between the racially identifiable schools and other schools were roughly equal. Several educational inputs that needed to be monitored and addressed in plans of correction were specifically identified, including teacher qualifications and experience.

The Minneapolis school district has found that high teacher turnover rates
are an obstacle to effective teaching, as evidenced by the 2002 district improvement plan (which called for low teacher turnover rates in all schools) and the 2008 agreement between the Minneapolis School Board and a group representing the African American community known 'the covenant.'

The Desegregation Plans submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education never seriously address the issue of high teacher turnover in all but a few schools where African-American students predominate. This disparity could be easily eliminated, but there are people who prefer the status quo for various reasons, including those who are not terribly concerned about the school board being engaged in practices that deny a large majority of MPS students access to a public education of reasonable quality, and which have a disparate impact on students of color, especially African American students.

-Doug Mann, perpetual Minneapolis School Board candidate

I think what needs to be admitted up-front is the "cultural" issue of the mutation of the black family, caused by welfare(liberal social policy), and the attendant disregard / rejection of "being educated".

For the (liberal) teachers union to continue to support the (liberal) politicians and their failed (liberal) social policies only serves to ensure further grotesque matastasizing of this dysfunctional educational system, i.e. jobs.

It's quite similiar and almost as bad as what's happened to the "family court" system.

But at least the education scam (more $ surely equals kids who want to learn) is (mostly) in the public view, whereas the deplorable and unconstitutional acts perpetrated by the "family court" are still happening with NO media attention or oversight of ANY kind.