The Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Cruz-Guzman vs. State of Minnesota (“Court says school case can proceed,” July 26) has set the stage for our courts to determine whether the state is meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education. The plaintiffs, who include families in the Minneapolis and St. Paul public school systems, filed suit against the state alleging that the lack of diversity in their children’s school prevents their children from receiving an adequate education.
The lawsuit has identified a legitimate problem — the failure to provide all children a world-class education — and the families have a right to object to the undeniable and tragic educational disparities of learning outcomes that persist in Minnesota. Our achievement gaps are among the worst in the nation.
However, although the plaintiffs have targeted a legitimate problem, their solution — eliminating informed family choices while protecting the status quo — does not accomplish their goal. It is now up to the courts to determine how we define an adequate education. If they choose the narrow definition proposed by the plaintiffs, it would be to the detriment of the very students this lawsuit intends to help.
In Minnesota and elsewhere, there are schools showing every day that all students can succeed — not because their students were forced to be there, but because they provide an education that meets their academic needs and families choose to enroll their children in them. Many families choose to send their children to high-performing charter schools that predominantly serve students of color because those schools serve their children far better than other public schools, even if those other schools have a more diverse racial makeup. In addition, unlike district schools, public charter schools must meet the criteria in the performance contracts they sign with authorizers or become subject to sanctions including new management, transformation or ultimately being closed.
If the plaintiffs succeed, public school choice (including charter schools and open enrollment), which has helped many low-income students of color succeed, would be severely limited, and students would be bused around the metro to achieve some arbitrary mix of student demographics that, theoretically, will allow schools to provide an “adequate education.”
The way to close achievement gaps is not to reduce choices for families.
Replacing informed family choices with government mandates doesn’t work — particularly when it comes to education.
Rather than maintaining the status quo — which has consistently failed students of color over the past decade — and busing students around the metro, we need to give families useful, comparable information about schools and let all families choose the school that best meets their children’s needs. The money the state would spend on busing would be far better spent attracting and developing effective and diverse teachers and school leaders, for example.
We know all students can succeed — not because they attend a school that meets an arbitrary demographic profile, but because the school’s leadership, teachers and staff have high expectations for all students, have implemented strategies and practices that meet the needs of students, and have fostered relationships with families.
Pat Ryan is chair of the Minnesota Business Partnership’s education committee and chairman of the board of Ryan Companies US.