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Discussion: What should be done about segregation?

May 20, 2014 By Michael Diedrich, Education Fellow

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, the Supreme Court case ending legal school segregation, we find many Minnesota schools tend to be just as, if not more, segregated than during the civil rights era.

There are a number of reasons why, including systemic racism in housing policy and the self-selecting school choice movement.

How important is this problem to educational outcomes?

What do you think should be done about it?

Join our education policy fellow, Michael Diedrich, for a discussion about the impacts of and reasons behind school segregation. 


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  • Marty says:

    May 20, 2014 at 7:55 am

    I do not mind my kids schools having primarily children of color in their school as long as the funding and programs and opportunities are there for every student. I don’t want my children bussed somewhere to meet someone else’s quota. I want my children close to home where we live so we understand community and school events are easy to get to. What disheartens me the most in this state is not what color our kids are in school but what color our teachers are. We need more teachers of color period. Children grow up thinking that White people and White faces hold the key to learning. They don’t. We must have diversity amongest our professional education staff. We must. Please address this!

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Thank you for the comment, Marty!

      I think you raise several good points. We do need to make sure we’re investing equitably in our schools to ensure that students have good opportunities regardless of which school they attend. Increasing the diversity of our teaching corps also needs to be a high priority for education policy, and I’m interested in seeing new approaches to this develop both in traditional teacher education schools and in the cultivation of alternative paths to teacher licensure for paraprofessionals from a variety of backgrounds.

      I also appreciate your point about wanting students to stay nearby rather than being sent too far away from home. This is where encouraging residential integration is critical, since without that, we can’t achieve school integration.

      • Marty says:

        May 20, 2014 at 4:03 pm

        I have two grownchildren and an 8 year old and I heard about these programs to get more teachers of color back in the 90’s and wow 20 years later and my 8 year old still has all white teachers. We have to take down any barriers to teach. I work in early childhood education and it is getting harder and harder to get licensed because of invasive background checks on providers and their families and sometimes absurd childcare rules. NOT that we don’t need background checks but I am finding that juvenile records arrest records NOT convictions are popping up on young people who I hire as helpers and they can’t work for me. I would guess this may happen in all education areas and sometimes people are victims of communities and law enforcement and now of these extensive background checks and people can’t ever teach or work in schools? I had a person rejected from working in childcare because of a shoplifting charge. Really?! I’m sure other barriers are out there but this is one I see and experience. MN has the largest unemployment disparity between Blacks and Whites as well and believe me criminal records may a HUGE part in that! Barriers have to be looked at realisticly and addressed honestly and while I applaud any efforts the U and other organizations may be making in my 20 plus years in the MN school system I have seen NO improvement in this area. My oldest kids graduated from Champlin Park the largest school in the state maybe? They had ONE Black teacher.

    • Sarah Lahm says:

      May 20, 2014 at 9:20 am

      There is a current plan, between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the University of Minnesota, to start an alternative pathway to licensure program for the support staff working in the Minneapolis schools, most of whom are not as white as the teaching staff. Unfortunately, this program will be delayed a year while the district pulls funding together, to try to get the program started and offset the high cost of getting licensed.

      This program seems like it has a lot of potential, because it will draw from people already invested in our schools and our communities, and who have a demonstrated interest in becoming teachers. Maybe one day we can get back to the situation that existed at Minneapolis North High in the 1980’s, when the popular Summatech program, staffed at least in part by highly trained African American teachers, drew students from across the city and the nearby suburbs. I don’t think desegregation should be based on the premise that “good” schools can only be found in one or two parts of town. Strong, stable, interesting and useful school programs and curricula will bring people together in a way that does not have to feel forced.

      • Michael Diedrich says:

        May 20, 2014 at 9:27 am

        Thank you for the details on Minneapolis, Sarah!

        I’m looking forward to seeing how the MPS/U of M program works, and I’m hopeful that it will help MPS increase its teacher diversity. I also agree wholeheartedly that integration should be about making sure all schools are high-quality and diverse. We’ve seen the negative effects of trying to bleed families from “failing” schools, and I’d like to see much more done to strengthen the schools we have.

  • Jim W says:

    May 20, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Our society and schools are segregated because of wealth and race. We should worry less about the segregation of our schools, and more about the inequality of our schools. If we offered the racially and economically segregated a quality education, and if we dealt with many of the social issues that are impacting these poor communities, then eventually we would see segregation disappear.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 20, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Thank you for the comment, Jim!

      I agree that our society and schools are both economically and racially segregated. Addressing the wide range of needs that come with increasing social and economic inequality must be a priority. I am not as sure that segregation will disappear without some action explicitly targeted at reducing it. However, there is no question that addressing segregation alone is not enough if we aren’t also ensuring a fairer distribution of resources in our society and our school system.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    May 20, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Good morning, all! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on school segregation, especially as it is experienced in Minnesota.

  • Joe says:

    May 20, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Michael, You touched on this in a recent article but what is the more significant challenge and what’s less of an obstetrical to overcome in school segregation: housing policy or school choice policy?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 20, 2014 at 8:34 am

      It’s a good question, Joe.

      If we’re going by sheer numbers, residential segregation is almost certainly the biggest factor. Since most students in Minnesota attend their district schools, it’s neighborhood segregation that makes it toughest to achieve school integration. However, school choice policies—including open enrollment policies as well as charter schools—also tend to accelerate school segregation.

      Another factor is how districts draw school attendance zones. These zones can be drawn in a way that either encourages or discourages school segregation, and it’s not uncommon to see some districts draw school attendance zones that look more like gerrymandered legislative districts than geographically sensible boundaries.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    May 20, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Thank you to everyone who has read and commented today! I’ll be checking in over the course of the day to follow up on other ideas that come in.

  • Mike Downing says:

    May 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Perhaps the main driver to segregation and desegregation is educational outcome rather than the other way around.

    The question that I have is why can economists like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams achieve educational success when they started in poverty and in a segregated community? Why can Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Barack Obama, etc. achieve educational success and live a full and successful life? Why do some families value education and instill it in their children and others fail to do so?

    We need to learn from “best practices” and apply them to this issue.

    • Sarah Lahm says:

      May 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Interesting line of questioning, Mike. I can see the point you are making, but I think the “why do some families value education while others don’t” line of thinking is a tricky one. Could it be, in some ways, a luxury to value education? Why is it, I wonder, that we seem to be slipping backwards in providing educational opportunities to children who live in increasingly racially and economically isolated communities? As public (financial) support for education has slipped, and school choice and privatization has gained more of a foothold, have we gone further down a “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” approach? If so, does this mean a solid family or neighborhood is of greater importance, just at a time when poverty and inequality are growing?

      An opinion piece from the NY Times called “No Rich Child Left Behind” provides a good look at these issues:

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      May 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Mike.

      I don’t think any individual’s success contradicts the broad problems of inequity. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., was undoubtedly successful and influential, despite growing up in a segregated society with entrenched inequity. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth all began their lives as slaves. No one reasonably suggests that because these remarkable individuals found success in the context of Jim Crow segregation or slavery that those systems were tolerable and could be transcended with enough value placed on education. Our current system still makes it too tough for those who start off segregated and in poverty to achieve success, even at levels less spectacular than King, Douglass, Tubman, or Truth.

      Yes, family support matters. Communities matter. Ensuring that families and communities have the security—of housing, health, income, etc.—that they need so they can be in a position to best support their children should be a priority. However, suggesting this exists solely or primarily as a family-level problem doesn’t address the larger issues that affect children, one of which is segregation.