To hear the Minneapolis Public Schools tell it, black and brown parents don’t prize academic performance in schools. This argument shifts accountability and suggests a lack of intention on the district’s part to address the very real disparities faced by students of color and low-income families. Or, it reflects a disregard for those disparities. It’s a reality that isn’t surprising considering the district’s reaction to public outrage over recent layoffs of seven educators and staff of color.
As one of the 100-plus community members who protested the layoffs during last Tuesday’s school board meeting, I can tell you firsthand that in spite of our resolution passing, I wasn’t impressed with the district’s treatment of our frustrations.
It was on a par with “Survey: Minneapolis parents ditch test score info for other factors” (April 7). Both demonstrate a growing disconnect between what the district perceives and our community’s realities.
Laying off educators and staff of color with minimal explanation and, in the article, presuming that parents of color aren’t as concerned as others with student test scores — although 54 percent of parents surveyed thought test scores were important; why weren’t those parents also represented in the article? — are consistent with the district’s disconnect.
We’re at least three presidents into hearing that our community owns one of the worst opportunity gaps in the United States, from reading fluency to graduating high school. While some lean on white students’ academic results to rationalize these gaps, consider that Minnesota’s middling graduation rate trails Wisconsin by eight percentage points, Illinois by five and Iowa by 10.
I say this as a mother and as an ally who firmly believes it isn’t enough for some of our students to benefit. If our education system isn’t equitable, if the educators don’t also reflect the diversity of our student populations, then we aren’t doing public education right.
The inequities in K-12 education are reflective of the underlying racism of our state. The good news is, some get it. There are educators and schools in our community who are fully invested in nurturing and preparing our students for life — academically, culturally and socially. Take Hiawatha Academies for example, or Ramsey Middle School, both public schools that prioritize academics alongside cultural relevance. However, all of these efforts are for naught if our district’s leadership doesn’t step up to support these efforts. Or at the very least doesn’t undo their work.
What does it say about a district when it has a history of ignoring what parents of color and parents with unmet needs actually say about the choices left for our communities? Does the district have the courage to own that too many schools aren’t educating our children? Because that’s not the message we’re hearing.
To be clear, black and Latino parents do care about a school’s academics. It makes you wonder, in the Minneapolis Public Schools’ “massive” survey, how many of those surveyed were parents of color? How many of the households had children who qualified for free or reduced lunch? Are the survey demographics open to the public? What’s the survey’s margin of error?
The reality is, a whopping two-thirds of Minneapolis families enroll in schools outside of their neighborhoods — another district school, a charter school or an independent school. Might the district survey parents leaving their schools — more specifically, the thousands of black and Latino families — they might learn that these families do prize academics.
It might lead them to realize how ridiculously cumbersome the school search process is and how little information we parents have to go on. The Minnesota Department of Education and the district have yet to make reliable academic performance and other school information readily accessible for parents.
Feeling left out and frustrated at a school system is familiar territory for parents when your local school district leaves you with “Catch-22” school options. Academics or school environments that affirm our students? How is that a choice?
All students should be able to enroll in great schools with teachers who reflect their communities. We shouldn’t have to work twice as hard to be heard. And we shouldn’t have to say that the quality of our children’s schools, both culturally and academically, matter. It should be a given.
Emily Flower lives in Minneapolis.