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Five more years of inequity?

October 08, 2013 By Steve D. Fletcher, Fellow and Director of Grassroots Strategy

Last week, the Minneapolis Public Schools held its first of several planned public meetings to introduce its new five year plan. Initial reaction from the 75 or so parents who attended suggests that there will be vigorous debate about the plan in the coming weeks, and rightly so. Many parents are concerned about the individual issues raised by changing pathways for their own children. Many are also concerned for the district as a whole, to make sure it’s living up to our community’s values and investing in racial equity.

Two particularly glaring statistics raise questions about whether this plan meets the equity criteria to which all Minneapolis Public School planning should be held.

First, the distribution of disruptions raises concern. Any plan for changes is going to disrupt some students’ educational pathways; disruptions can’t be avoided. The distribution of those disruptions, though, could be changed with different priorities.

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It is alarming that 86% of the students whose educational plans will be disrupted qualify for free and reduced lunch (though they’re only 66% of the district’s student body), that 72% of the disruptions are in Zone 1, and that 61% of the students experiencing disruption will be African American (though African Americans are only 36% of the district’s student body).

Of course, a case can be made that those students are being underserved by the current system, so disrupting that can be good, right? Well, maybe. But the result of that logic has turned schools serving low-income students of color into petri dishes for all kinds of experimentation and restructuring. The constant shakeups, turnarounds, school closings, staff replacements, and staff attrition may have been initially designed to fix a bad situation, but at this point have themselves come to constitute a highly unstable status quo. At the very least, the district has more to do to explain why these changes will result in something better than the present – an outcome we all want, but haven’t heard much of a case to support just yet. The fear, of course, is that parents in more privileged communities operate as squeaky wheels who are able to push back against disruption more effectively, and minimize it for their own children, focusing inconvenience and educational upheaval on the kids who can least afford the disruption.

Second, the distribution of funds reinforces the concern that less privileged communities are being outmaneuvered for resources. Zone 1, which includes all of North and Northeast Minneapolis, is only receiving 2.17% of the district’s proposed capital investments over the next five years. The rest of the capital investment funds are spread fairly evenly between Zone 2, Zone 3, and Citywide schools like the proposed audition-only arts high school.

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Again, I’m certain arguments can be made for the specific projects, but the lack of vision for structural improvements on the Northside requires some thoughtful explanation.

The plan does not explicitly address the urgent class size concerns parents are feeling already this year, nor did last week’s presentation feel grounded in instructional goals that can be better accomplished as a result of all this change. On paper, at least, the plan looks like it exacerbates existing disparities. The public has a lot to learn in the very short timeline before the school board is scheduled to vote on this plan.

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  • Joan Tangen says:

    October 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    At the very least aid must be an equal percentage for all school districts.  Perhaps a method of gradual changes can be implemented with some consensus from affected students and parents involved in setting priorities for change.