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 The NAACP Educational Adequacy Lawsuit
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Comment on the Proposal for a Mediated Settlement
15 Febuary 1999

        On January 30, 1999 a community meeting at Sabathani Community Center endorsed the concept of a "limited open enrollment plan" and increased funding for compensatory programs as the basis of an out-of-court settlement of the Educational adequacy lawsuit brought by the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP against the State of Minnesota, according to a report by the mediator, CDR (Collaborative Decision Resources) Associates, the same mediation firm that helped to bring about the power-sharing agreement between the African National Congress and the National Party in South Africa.

         In taking this step toward a negotiated settlement, the plaintiffs should bare in mind an old saying that goes: be careful what you ask for (or agree to), because you just might get it.

         The proposed limited open enrollment plan would reserve up to 67% of all spaces at each school in the metropolitan area to children who live near a given school; the remaining 33% would be made available to children throughout the entire metropolitan area.

         Unfortunately, the limited open enrollment plan, as it is presented in the CDR Associates report appears to be an attempt to reconcile a neighborhood school plan with a watered-down version of the controlled choice plan which the Minneapolis Board of Education adopted in the early '70s and repealed in 1995. Such a hybrid plan would perpetuate a racially segregated, multi-tiered school system that excludes most non-white students, and a large minority of white students, from what is currently the type of academic curriculum program that is provided to nearly all students in many suburban and out-state school districts.

          And at a very high cost, compensatory programs have produced very modest results in terms of education-related outcomes for black students in segregated school systems. Moreover, to expect to maintain a heavier flow of funding to schools for poor students is almost like expecting water to flow uphill without a pump.

          Under the controlled choice open-enrollment plan repealed by the Minneapolis Board of Education in 1995, all of the spaces at most schools were made available to students from throughout most of the district. Placement in schools with more applicants than openings was determined by a lottery system, which utilized separate pools of white and non-white students to assure racial balance.

           School districts in Minnesota have been mandated to limit the enrollment of non-white students to no more than 15% above the district average under the state's desegregation rule, which is slated for repeal this year. The State Board of Education granted the Minneapolis School Board a waiver from the desegregation rule so that it could adopt a segregative neighborhood school plan, the so-called "Community School Plan."

            The biggest problem with open enrollment plans, usually marketed as "choice plans," is that they rely heavily on magnet programs to get a certain balance of white and non-white students at school sites, but white students are greatly over-represented, and non-white students greatly under-represented in the attractive magnet programs, especially programs for children designated as academically gifted and talented, which are offered at nearly every school site.

            Most students in the Minneapolis Public Schools, especially non-white students, have been excluded from academic curriculum programs in grades K-8 that lay the necessary foundation for college preparatory curriculum programs in high school. As early as Kindergarten, children are segregated within the classroom into ability groups, and into separate classrooms according to how well they read or do math problems.

           What happens when you ability-group students without an effective strategy to help students with academic skills deficits to catch up with their more "academically gifted and talented" peers is that they fall farther and farther behind. That's what the test score data has consistently shown for many years.

           Non-white students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are heavily over-represented in the low ability groups because of the connection between race, poverty and the educational attainment of a student's parent(s). This has to do with the fact that a huge majority of non-white students are from underclass households and, on average, underclass children are not as well prepared for an academic curriculum program as children from "middle class" households.

          Minneapolis Public Schools achievement test data released in November 1998 shows that the average rate of growth of reading ability is nearly twice as great among the 30% of all students who do not receive free and reduced-priced lunches than it is for the lower-income students. The average rate of growth in Math is about 50% greater for the higher income group.

         Another problem with open enrollment plans is that an entire school district, or a large part of it becomes an attendance area for a large number of schools. In order to transport students to schools with large, overlapping attendance areas, it's necessary to bus more students, and to bus them much farther than under a desegregation plan which assigns students to schools on the basis of defined attendance areas. Students of color bare the greatest burden of long bus rides under the choice plans, and usually get little or no educational benefit for their trouble.

          A model that the plaintiffs did not actively consider as an option to be discussed at the Sabathani Center community meeting is the type of "mandatory" assignment plan that was imposed on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina school district by a Federal Court in 1972.  The school board, which had begun to dismantle the "forced integration" plan was voted out and replaced with a pro-desegregation majority in 1995.

          The type of desegregation plan adopted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district achieves racial balance by drawing the attendance area boundaries for each school site that bring together students from residential areas that are predominantly black, predominantly white, and racially integrated. Compared to an open enrollment plan, fewer students have to take a bus, and those who ride the bus generally spend a lot less time riding it. Compared to a segregative neighborhood school plan, the number of students taking a bus doesn't have to be much greater, and the average bus ride doesn't have to be much longer.

          The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, a metropolitan-wide school district, has done a much better job of closing the academic performance gap between black and white students than schools in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, and has not experienced the type of white and multi-racial middle class flight from the urban core that is in any way comparable to what the Twin Cities metropolitan area has experienced in the past twenty years.

          In its current form, we can not support the plan that is being put forward as the basis for a settlement of the educational adequacy lawsuit.