Diversity, integration, segregation in Minneapolis Public Schools

The last in a series of Twin Cities Daily Planet forum articles on Changing School Options in Minneapolis

Editor’s note: this is part two of Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva’s “YOUR TURN” forum articles on “changing school options” for Minneapolis Public Schools, published on the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The Daily Planet and Bridgeland News are seeking your feedback on the issue; register and/or log in as a Bridge online user to leave your feedback to this story. We’ll forward them to The Daily Planet, as well.

Changing School Options

Minneapolis Public Schools is facing both budgetary and educational challenges. The budget challenges include a shortfall for 2009-2010 and subsequent years. This plan, however, is only partly about cutting costs. MPS says that the major objectives for the Changing School Options initiative are:

• Get students closer to home to reduce transportation costs.
• Reduce but maintain choice for families.
• Ensure adequate program size for efficient use of limited resources (24-25 classrooms and 3 kindergarten sections in an elementary school).
• Maintain flexibility for growth.
• Uphold commitments to the North Side Initiative.

Minneapolis Public Schools administration has proposed shifting away from citywide busing and towards community schools, beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. The administration is still revising details of the Changing School Options plan in the upcoming months, however the plan will most likely make major changes to citywide busing and magnet schools. The push towards zoning and community schools brings up major questions about segregation and diversity in Minneapolis public schools.

The story

Minneapolis Public Schools has suggested a series of policy changes in its Changing School Options plan, which pushes for a move towards community schools and away from citywide busing. The district could save up to $8.5 million a year on busing costs by diving the city into three major zones: North/Northeast, South/Southeast and Southwest.

The plan brings up major questions about segregation and promoting integrated schools, and parts of the Changing School Options plan address integration and diversity. MPS has suggested that the district introduce “voluntary intra-district integration choice for North side students with one school in Southwest area.” This means that most North side students would attend high school in North or Northeast Minneapolis, but the city would bus a limited number of North side students to one designated Southwest Minneapolis high school. What about elementary schools?

MPS may be trying to compete with the Choice Is Yours Program, which allows Minneapolis students to receive free transportation to schools in suburban districts if they so choose. The program is funded with state dollars and Minneapolis loses thousands of students to suburban schools each year.

Providing busing from North to Southwest Minneapolis may help retain in the Minneapolis Public Schools students who might otherwise go to the suburbs. Busing students from the Northside to a Southwest high school may also help integrate at least one high school in Southwest Minneapolis that would otherwise be mostly white students.

The city would also keep some citywide schools open, including a handful of language immersion programs that have the potential to be more integrated, since students could get free transportation from anywhere in Minneapolis. Two other citywide schools, Hmong Academy and Anishinabe Academy, are culturally specific and would remain open in order to provide choices for Minneapolis families who want to send their children to a culturally specific school.

Editor’s note: The Anishinabe Academy program will remain open, but not in its current location at 2225 E. Lake St. Anishinabe will move to the Anne Sullivan Communications Center campus at 3100 E. 28th St. starting next fall.

Keep citywide busing for integration

Some fear that schools will become more segregated as they begin to further mirror their surrounding areas, particularly in the more racially segregated Southwest and North parts of Minneapolis. These anti-segregation advocates argue that most affluent/predominantly white schools perform well in Minneapolis, and most predominantly low-income/high minority schools do not. Community schools in high poverty areas simply won’t be able to prepare students in those areas for higher education and better jobs, and thus provide upward mobility.

Some proponents of integration also say that while we have espoused integration as a value for more than half a century, in practice we naturally segregate ourselves. Unless we explicitly make integration a part of our education system, no matter the costs, we will give up on promises and values of the civil rights era.

Keep busing! The level of residential segregation has not changed in Minneapolis since the civil rights movement when busing was implemented to alleviate the enormous material inequalities that result from a property tax-based school system. Busing does not solve the problem of continued inequality, but is a temporary solution that allows all students the opportunity for a better education. Just because it is temporary, does not mean it should be gotten away with. That is, until a just reform—not voucher-based policy of evasion— transforms the public school system, we need to keep busing to alleviate persisting class and racial inequality in our school system.
– Raphi Rechitsy, Graduate student, University of Minnesota

Integration is not the answer

Some believe the value we place on integration is overrated. Integrating schools, they argue, doesn’t result in higher student performance, but it does increase costs and diverts our attention from providing basic skills and college prep for students regardless of how integrated their schools are. Moreover the argument about integration sometimes shifts towards the question, ‘how can we get more minorities out of their schools and into white schools?’ This question doesn’t really address the real intent of integration and furthermore suggests that self-segregating is a bad thing even when students increase their performance in segregated schools. To this camp, moving back to community schools is not a huge loss because integration is simply not the silver bullet to increasing student performance.

What is this obsession with integrating students of color into white majority schools. I went to school in a segregated Latino school in Puerto Rico. Didn’t meet many Anglo people there. Up until 11th grade 99% plus of all my class mates were Latino. My senior year, after struggling a bit in school I went to a school in Puerto Rico that was about 50% Puertorican and 50% “American” (mostly white, some Asian American and some African American). Guess what. There was lots of tension between the Puertorican kids and the “American” kids. And I didn’t learn anymore there than I learned in my previous schools.

I would say that regardless of my “disadvantaged” background, due to going to mostly Latino schools I reached a certain amount of success in life. I worked in corporate America for ten years as an Investment Advisor where I was almost always the only Latino. And guess what, I did OK. I then chose ten years ago to give back to the Latino community and work now in an office that is mostly Latino. I’m also doing ok there. And guess what? Many if not most Latino or African American successful people I socialize with (most of the people I socialize with are of color) went to schools that were segregated and were most of the kids were of color. I find it almost insulting (almost because I know people who say this mean well) that people keep insisting that somehow a Latino, Native, African American or Asian kid will do better because they go to a white majority school.
— Alberto Monserrate, President, Latino Communications Network

Integration can’t be left to schools alone

Some people say that school integration alone can’t solve segregation. Minneapolis is a highly segregated city and busing students will not change that. Go ahead, these advocates say, do what we need to do in the short term to reduce transportation costs. Then divert efforts into desegregating our neighborhoods rather than putting all the responsibility on schools.

Perhaps society has had unrealistic expectations of the educational system in terms of integration and social justice. School busing and even the education system at large addresses the outcome, but not the root, of segregation and inequity. Can we really expect school busing and integrated schools to fundamentally change our lives if neighborhoods are still segregated if all of the other systems of inequity remain in place?

Perhaps turning back to decentralized neighborhood schools that have the ability to respond more directly to the needs of their community, to create a stronger local community, to involve parents, and to place more decision making power in the hands of the community they serve will result in better schools and more social justice. Neighborhoods schools have a built in, stable constituency – the neighborhood – that should be better able to hold the school and school district accountable. If the school is of poor quality, the neighborhood is able to organize for change more effectively than a dispersed parent population with less ownership.

Geneva Finn [Research Fellow at the Institute of Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota] thinks that wealthier neighborhoods are better positioned to be in that role of holding the school district accountable. Maybe so, but maybe that is short-changing the power of low-income communities to take power and ownership of their schools. What if all the busing money saved was directed towards schools in low-income neighborhoods? Would that be a more efficient and productive use of resources?
— Anonymous

last revised: May 29, 2009