Mann for School Board
Minnesota's "Voluntary" Desegregation Rule
Comment on the "State executive branch response to Plaintiff's settlement proposal in the NAACP and Xiong cases, [dated 3/19/99]"
30 March 1999 from WhiteSupremacy and the Politics of Apartheid in Minnesota
[Explanatory note: A settlement proposal on behalf of the Minneapolis NAACP branch and the Xiong plaintiffs, dated February 19, 1999, was submitted to the State by the law firm of Shulman, Walcott and Shulman. The settlement was authorized by Rick Campbell, president-elect of the Minneapolis NAACP; announced at a press conference on February 19; and validated at a community meeting on February 20, 1999.
The 2/19/99 settlement proposal stated "This formal settlement proposal is intended to resolve the educational inadequacy in Minneapolis public schools and improve student achievement through proven, cost-effective, and voluntary means [emphasis added], including structural reforms such as Open Enrollment and Parental Choice."
However, Rick Campbell and the branch executive committee elected on January 9 had not been officially sworn in, and a meeting of the branch education committee, which included NAACP members who had been involved in the mediation process, recommended that the settlement proposal as written be rejected. This recommendation was affirmed by the branch executive committee and by a majority of the active branch membership in March 1999.]
In its response to the settlement offer made on behalf of plaintiffs in the NAACP and Xiong cases, with the exception of David Mann, the State maintains that it "has established a system of schools that provides students in the Minneapolis School District with the opportunity [emphasis added] to obtain an adequate education and has, therefore, fully satisfied its obligation under the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution (page 2)."
In other words, don't blame the State for the failure of the school system in Minneapolis to adequately educate most of its students, especially poor and non-white students. Blame the students, their parents, and factors over which the school administration has no control.
The State also contends that it has established a system of schools that fully satisfies its obligation under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution, and disputes the finding of fact in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Topeka KS Board of Education (1954) that in dual systems, black schools are inherently inferior to white schools, for example:
"Even if some racially isolated schools remain under the proposed [desegregation] rule, this does not mean that the rule is unreasonable or ineffective; schools comprised predominantly of students of color are not inherently inferior (from the Statement of Need and Reasonableness for the proposed "voluntary" desegregation rule, page 59)."
The State also maintains that:
"The cases at issue here are, and always have been, fundamentally interdistrict desegregation lawsuits. As the State has previously noted in this litigation, contrary to the plaintiff's allegations, the education clause does not impose any duty on the State to integrate school districts by race, socio-economic status, or any other student classification. Moreover, as the State explained at length in the Statement of Need and Reasonableness accompanying the State's proposed desegregation rule, integration of students by race does not lead to improved academic achievement. In general, the State favors community or neighborhood schools since these are more likely to enhance student achievement. In fact, the State approved the MSD's [Minneapolis School District's] request for a variance from the State's current desegregation rule to allow the MSD to implement such a community school plan aimed at improving achievement. Never-the-less, as also reflected in the proposed new desegregation rule, the State has been and remains committed to fostering greater integration of the schools and school districts in order to further the social benefits of such integration (page 9)."
Separate is not equal
On the other hand, the NAACP has maintained that the guarantee of an adequate education under Minnesota's constitution, and the equal protection clause of 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution, imposes a duty upon the State to desegregate the schools because of evidence that desegregation generally improves educational outcomes for black students, and can help to reduce disparities in education-related outcomes between black and white students.
The State does not and can not provide any evidence to back up its assertion that educational outcomes for black students can be improved by establishing a school system that is more rigidly segregated by race than what existed in Minneapolis before implementation of the so-called "Community School Plan."
In fact, data provided by the Department of Children, Families and Learning from reading and math tests given to 3rd, 5th and 8th grade students in 1998 shows that, in general, students of color and low income students in Minneapolis have substantially lower scores in public schools where 90% or more of the student population is non-white than in other Minneapolis Public Schools (Source: State Admits that Integration Improves Student Achievement, Shulman and Almonor, March 1999).
The State allowed the Minneapolis Public Schools to establish racially segregated neighborhood schools, citing the promise made by the Minneapolis Public Schools that its "Community School" policy would "close the gap" in student achievement between white and black students. However data provided by the Minneapolis Public Schools indicates the academic achievement gap between whites and blacks is getting bigger, not smaller.
The biggest reason that educational outcomes for black students have been inferior to outcomes for white students in racially segregated school systems is a much higher concentration of poverty among blacks. Poverty is known to have a negative impact on a child's home life and well-being, and restricts access to educational opportunities, such as high quality pre-school [and K-12] programs.
The correlation between race and poverty is very strong throughout the U.S., with Minneapolis boasting the greatest disparities in income and employment rates between whites and blacks of any major city in the U.S. People of color usually out-number whites in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of poverty, and the schools tend to reflect residential housing patterns in their student population. According to Gary Orfield:
Among all U.S. schools reporting free lunch data in 1991, 13 per cent were "high poverty" schools with more than half poor students who get free school lunches because they have low family incomes. Half of U.S. schools, on the other hand, had less than 10% poor students. Two-thirds of schools with less than one-tenth students in poverty had 90 to 100 percent white students. At the other extreme, among the 5,047 schools with 90 to 100 percent African American and Latino students, 57% were high-poverty schools (Dismantling Desegregation, page 55).
For a classroom teacher at a school for most of the poor and predominantly non-white neighborhoods in Minneapolis, it's more difficult to help every student achieve minimum grade level expectations than in other schools, unless one lowers the grade level expectations. On average, students in schools for the poorest neighborhoods in Minneapolis have the greatest exposure to the least experienced and least effective teachers. As teachers move up the seniority list, most bid for jobs at schools where the student population is whiter and less poor.
And at a very high cost, compensatory programs have produced very modest results in terms of educational outcomes for students of color in segregated school systems. Much better results can be obtained in a desegregated school system. Moreover, to expect to maintain a heavier flow of funding to schools for mostly poor students than to schools for a district's most affluent students over the long haul is almost like expecting water to flow uphill without a pump.
"Voluntary" Desegregation Means No Desegregation
In its response to the settlement offer made on behalf of plaintiffs in the NAACP and Xiong cases, the state explains that:
The State is willing to explore with the Plaintiffs and the MSD the establishment of "high achievement" programs within the MSD that can enhance student achievement and attract students from outside the district. These programs could serve the dual purpose of promoting higher achievement and greater intradistrict and interdistrict integration as discussed further below (page 9).
"High achievement" programs, that is, programs for "academically gifted and talented" students have long been promoted by the State as an antidote to white flight and multiracial middle-class flight from Minneapolis. These "magnet" programs were part of the desegregation plan implemented by the Minneapolis Public Schools prior to the adoption of its "Community School" policy in 1995. And these programs have been expanded as part of the "Community School" policy.
White and "middle class" students are greatly over-represented in programs for the "academically gifted and talented," which must be why these programs have been pitched as an antidote to white and middle-class flight.
However, for the majority of students who are excluded from the magnet programs, the quality of education actually declines because students are further segregated by race and class within the classroom through the practice of "ability-grouping," and into separate classrooms and schools through the gifted and talented programs.
The establishment of neighborhood schools and an expansion of "magnet" programs in the Minneapolis Public Schools has in fact caused a precipitous decline in achievement test score averages for students of color in Minneapolis, which the Minneapolis School Board tries to conceal by making the claim that, on average, students of color have been making gains in proficiency at math and reading above the national norm in recent years (the gains for white students were greater).
This claim of gains in reading and math above the national norm for students of color was made in a report to the Minneapolis Board of Education on November 24, 1998 by Dave Heistad, director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment for the Minneapolis Public Schools; and in the 1998 Better Schools Referendum Report Card dated January 1999 (Minneapolis Public Schools Research, Evaluation and Assessment).
However, the claim of gains in math and reading scores above the national norm was based on the trend of test scores for only 37% of the class of 2001 who took the tests in the Spring of 1997 and the Spring of 1998. The district was not comparing the test score data for all students enrolled and tested in the Minneapolis Public Schools from one year to the next. Only the tests scores of students in the class of 2001 who had been continuously enrolled and tested in the district from the Spring of 1990 to the Spring of 1998 were counted. (Source: Minneapolis Public Schools, District Wide Assessment results 1997-98, page 29-31).
For students in the Minneapolis Public Schools who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches due to low family income, nearly 2/3 of the total student population, the data shows that only 35% made gains above the national norm in reading, and 40% made gains above the national norm in math from the Spring of 1997 to the Spring of 1998. (Source: Minneapolis Public Schools, District Wide Assessment results 1997-98, page 28)
On the other hand, for students enrolled in the Minneapolis Public Schools who were tested in the Spring of 1997 and the Spring of 1998, and who were not eligible for free or reduced price lunches, the data shows that 65% made gains above the national norm in reading, and 60% made gains above the national norm in math (i.b.i.d).
What's wrong with the Open Enrollment Approach to Desegregation
The biggest problem with the open enrollment/ choice plans, from the standpoint of improving educational outcomes for black students is a reliance on magnet programs to attract and retain white and "middle class" students.
The mandatory desegregation plan repealed by the Minneapolis School Board in 1995 was a "controlled choice open enrollment plan," which utilized a lottery and separate lists of white and black students to achieve racial balance at school sites. But the classrooms were much less integrated. Access to the magnet programs for black students was very limited, including magnet schools located in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Another problem with the open enrollment approach is that an entire 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 is necessary to bus more students, and to bus most of them much farther than would be required under a plan where students are assigned to schools on the basis of defined attendance areas.
A big selling point for the community school plan was that students could attend a school that is within walking distance or a short bus trip away. But the Community School plan wasn't just a bus trip reduction plan. The attendance boundaries were drawn in such a way as to decrease, rather than maintain or increase the level of racial integration achieved by the Minneapolis Public Schools under a controlled choice open enrollment plan.