Minneapolis school officials said the integration program doesn't close the racial achievement gap, even though educators and parents disagree.
Minneapolis public schools officials came face to face Thursday night with a standing-room-only crowd of parents and other supporters who said their decision to leave the Twin Cities' first voluntary integration program is a bad move based on contorted logic.
"I don't want you to pull out [of the West Metro Education Program, or WMEP], but even if you do, Minneapolis schools' problems will not be reformed," said Leticia Brown, a North Side parent with children in both districts. "But you will have succeeded in dismantling a successful school."
The Minneapolis school board is scheduled to vote on the resolution to pull out of WMEP next Tuesday. A hearing Thursday night at board headquarters drew more than 150 attendees. Many were children carrying homemade signs reading, "Mend It, Don't End It" and "Be The Change."
Superintendent Bill Green, reading a statement before hearing from the public, stood firm in the district's stance that WMEP, an 11-district consortium that operates magnet schools in Crystal and downtown Minneapolis, has failed to produce integrated schools that close the achievement gap. He also noted that the schools fail to enroll students who are learning to speak English.
The data are clear, Green said: "The racial achievement gap between white students and students of color does not close simply because you put them together in a suburban classroom."
Minneapolis schools' proposal notes that the Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource (FAIR) school in Crystal is 69 percent white, compared to 33 percent at the Interdistrict Downtown School (IDDS) in Minneapolis. The district also said both schools fail to attract students who are learning English.
Minneapolis students make up about 50 percent of the 1,100 students enrolled at the FAIR and IDDS schools. The district spends about $3.9 million on tuition costs for WMEP, but has said the decision isn't about money.
Green said the district is "willing to explore all reasonable ways" to continue to allow Minneapolis students to attend FAIR and IDDS.
Parents who spoke during the more-than-two-hour hearing acknowledged that WMEP isn't perfect, but urged the district to use its status to launch a regional discussion on integration. They also pointed out that Minneapolis controls the makeup of students it sends to the schools.
"What do you gain from pulling out of WMEP?" said Bob Aldrich of Minneapolis. "What will it take for you to come back from the table and hammer this out?"
Myron Orfield, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty, recently released a memo that cited state data that show WMEP students of color outperformed students of color in Minneapolis and throughout Minnesota on state tests.
For instance, 42 percent of WMEP's black students were proficient on state exams compared to 21 percent in Minneapolis and 31 percent statewide during the 2007-08 school year.
WMEP schools, the institute said, have significant populations of white and minority students compared to Olson Middle in north Minneapolis which is 9 percent white and Lake Harriet upper school in southwest Minneapolis which is 85 percent white.
"I don't understand this decision," Orfield said. "It's a destructive and precipitous decision."
Jackie Turner, Minneapolis' director of student placement services, said the argument that Minneapolis controls who it sends to WMEP schools is only partly true.
"The reason we don't place [English language learners] there is they don't have the staff or programs in place to support ELL students," Turner said.
Susan Eilertsen, Minneapolis' communications chief, said the district remains committed to inter-district integration programs such as the Choice Is Yours.
"We heard from several parents, students and teachers about FAIR school, but the resolution we presented isn't about FAIR," Eilertsen said. "The resolution is to withdraw from WMEP, and WMEP is a school district, and its schools aren't as diverse as Minneapolis schools or some of the schools in the surrounding suburbs."