Last week this story described a still-active lawsuit filed in 2015 charging that segregation by race and socioeconomic status has resulted in low graduation rates for students of color in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The story concludes this week with some dissenting views.
The State responded to the Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota lawsuit by saying the legislature, not the courts, is responsible for making sure equal educational standards are upheld, and therefore the case should be dismissed. In summer 2016, the district court rejected this motion and said the case could go forward.
The State appealed the dismissal, and in March 2017 the Court of Appeals found that an adequate education cannot be determined by the courts.
The plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in January of last year. The case is currently in mediation behind closed doors. Shulman said the trial will take place in January 2021.
“Commissioner Ricker is sincerely committed to the mediation currently in process around the Cruz-Guzman litigation and working towards a resolution that benefits all of Minnesota’s students and public schools,” a Minnesota Department of Education spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The charter school challenge
While the case has uncovered a pressing issue of educational equity in Minnesota, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of integration.
David Law, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District, said in his district’s most racially balanced schools, Champlin Park High School and Coon Rapids High School, achievement gaps are still present.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that purely moving students to a school where there’s a balance in ethnicity addresses discrepancies in student outcomes,” said Law, who is a member of Reimagine Minnesota, a collaboration of metro superintendents aiming to ensure educational success and equity for students. “It takes an awful lot more than that.”
Concerns around integration remain especially relevant for charter schools, which sometimes cater to families from specific backgrounds. During litigation, three charter schools intervened and sought exemption from the case, including Friendship Academy for the Arts, which serves predominantly Black students.
Daniel Sellers, executive director of EdAllies, a nonprofit devoted to educational equity in Minnesota, said if charter schools are not exempt, schools like Friendship Academy could be forced to hold 30 percent of its seats open for White students.
Nearly a third of charter schools in the Twin Cities are more than 95 percent students of color, according to the court complaint. There has also been a growing pattern of predominantly White charter schools cropping up near more racially diverse traditional schools in the suburbs.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a community activist and civil rights attorney representing the intervening charter schools, said children of color and those who receive free and reduced lunch are “more than capable of being academically successful when placed in a culturally affirming and loving environment.”
She said the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that led to school desegregation, showed that integration has been unsuccessful at addressing historical inequities.
“Students of color who have attended school in what some may call ‘integrated environments’ all too often experience racial discrimination, harassment…facing harsh disciplinary practices, such as suspension, or being sent to school resource officers, placed in special education at alarming rates, and not provided with an opportunity for advanced placement classes,” Levy Armstrong said.
“Pushing for integration does not remedy the underlying problems of racism and White supremacy that exist within many of those educational settings.”
Sellers said success for students of color is not just about proximity to White success, but that Minnesota’s students of color are performing worse compared to the rest of the country.
While White Minnesota students score in the top five states for mathematics at the fourth and eighth-grade levels, students of other races aren’t nearly as successful, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Black Minnesota students scored 24th of 48 states in fourth-grade math and 43rd of 48 states in eighth-grade math.
He said many individuals within the school systems are pushing for equity, but the imbalance lies within the system and resources are allocated to those with political power.
“If you are a student of color, the best way that you can improve your chances of graduating on time is not to go to a White school in Minnesota, it’s not to go to Minnetonka or Wayzata or Edina,” Sellers said. “The best way to improve your graduation rate is to go to any other state in the entire country.”
No sole solution?
Court cases take years, and a burgeoning crop of advocacy organizations have formed in the Twin Cities metro to address student performance and equity issues. Many advocates say there is no sole solution to the disparities addressed in the Cruz-Guzman case.
Some groups have said addressing root causes would be more effective than forced integration, including diversifying the teacher workforce, empowering parents, individualizing education, and investing in communities that need it most.
Minnesota Comeback has favored data transparency for school choice. The group created the Minneapolis School Finder, which details a school’s demographics and academic performance. They also fund the Family Advocates program, which connects parents with an individual who can help them navigate the enrollment process.
Khulia Pringle, a family advocate in Minneapolis schools, is campaigning for priority enrollment. She said high-performing schools have long waiting lists, and families in low-performing schools should have first choice on where to enroll their kids. The key, she said, is parental choice and autonomy.
“If White people want to have those schools integrated, then they should come to those schools,” Pringle said. “But to…dismantle those schools and say that Black and Brown kids, in order to achieve integration, that we got to put our bodies into White spaces, and then all of a sudden everything’s going to be okay, we’re going to magically learn, we know that’s not the truth.”
Many have said expectations are different for students from different backgrounds and point to a lack of teacher diversity as the reason. They’ve also said traditional ideas of education are not working for students of color, and education requires cultural competency and individualization.
“We can’t take a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to education,” Levy Armstrong said. “We have to figure out what works and then allow for those settings to flourish, which in turn would allow kids to flourish.”
Paula Forbes, an education attorney who consults Reimagine Minnesota, said poverty in Minneapolis and St. Paul create added barriers and exacerbate inequities.
“We really gotta start thinking beyond our own limiting beliefs and our own fears, and start thinking about what is best truly best for our children and how they’re going to live in the world tomorrow,” Forbes said.
“What can we leave them with, right? And what are the tools we can best provide for our kids tomorrow?”