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What's the best way to ensure that all kids have equal educational opportunities?

June 15, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
In a few more years, the United States will no longer have a white majority. That's already the case with children under age 5. According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2012, racial and ethnic minorities currently make up about half of babies, toddlers and preschoolers in the United States. William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, told a reporter for the Associated Press that this fact highlights how important it is for the country for minorities to receive a good education.

Those statistics reminded me of a couple of stories I've read recently and made me wonder what it's going to take to ensure that minority kids have the educational opportunities they need to succeed and how much pushback there might be against policies meant to address educational inequities. For instance, the Supreme Court is set to rule this month on Fisher vs. University of Texas, a case that will determine whether race-based college admissions are constitutional. The University of Texas uses race as one of several factors to decide whether students who fall outside the top 10 percent of their graduating high school class should be admitted. Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff in the case, claims that she was denied admission in favor of less academically qualified applicants, because she is white.

Another case, closer to home, was the battle over school boundary lines in Eden Prairie, Minn., a well-to-do Twin Cities suburb that has had a recent influx of immigrants from Somalia and other countries. According to reporting in the Star Tribune, one particular school in this district had a higher share of minority and English as a Second Language speakers than the other schools and also had a higher percentage of children who qualified for free and reduced price lunches. Many of the lower income children are racial minorities. The school also had lower test scores.

Eden Prairie school administrators decided in 2010 that this was not a good state of affairs and altered the boundary lines so the number of children in Eden Prairie qualifying for free and reduced price lunches were more evenly distributed between schools. The boundary line change meant some of the children from the more affluent neighborhoods as well as children from more modest backgrounds would be required to change schools and be bused across town. No bus ride was longer than 22 minutes and the new schools were only a few more miles away, but many parents, particularly those in the more affluent neighborhoods, objected. The school board approved the new boundary lines, despite parent protests and threats of a lawsuit.

Within months, more than 300 of the children had been removed from the district schools by their parents and sent elsewhere, either enrolled in private schools or open-enrolled into neighboring districts that were further away. Neighboring Minnetonka, the district that picked up many of the Eden Prairie students, has a greater percentage of white students than Eden Prairie and some parents who were quoted believed that this district provided more academic opportunities. They also believed that the school administration and school board had done a poor job of communicating with parents and some said their trust in the Eden Prairie school district had been broken.

In the next school board election, the board members who voted in favor of the boundary line change were voted off the school board and replaced with board members who were in opposition. The school board bought out the contract of Melissa Krull, the school superintendent who had pushed for the boundary line change, in the fall of 2011. In June 2012, Krull wrote a column that appeared in the Washington Post suggesting that states and school districts should give a second look to open enrollment laws that make it easier for parents who oppose integration to enroll their children in other public schools. Krull also suggested that it might be a good idea to do away with school boards. Krull wrote that she believes that integrated schools are the best way to educate all kids. In the column, she also pointed out that all students in the district showed educational advancements after the boundary line change. Krull is currently an assistant professor of education management at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I suspect there will be many more cases like these in the coming years.

What do you think? Should more school districts adopt Krull's approach, even if parents object? What's the best way to make sure kids of all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to succeed?

 
 

Article Comments

(4)

AndreaJohnson

Jun-17-13 12:16 PM

A number of the parents who opposed the boundary line change certainly seemed to feel that way.

The question I think schools are going to be presented with, especially with the 50 percent minority demographic, is how to provide an equitable education to all children, especially when local politics can have this kind of impact. Schools all over the country are now more racially segregated than they were 20 years ago, at a time when the country also has more racial and ethnic minorities. Krull seems to believe that it's best practice to integrate schools racially and socioeconomically and took steps to make that happen. Many parents voted with their feet and used open enrollment to send their kids to other districts and voted the proponents of the boundary change off the school board. Can you have integrated schools AND complete local control? If integration is desirable, what's the best way to do it?

locomotive

Jun-17-13 10:51 AM

My main point in bringing up charter schools is that parental choice still matters there. What Ms. Krull proposes seems to lessen parental choice and influence, by virtue of the local school board. Doing away with this educational model might not be as positive as Ms. Krull suggests.

AndreaJohnson

Jun-16-13 6:16 PM

Melissa Krull's entire column is well worth the read. It's still on the Washington Post site. There was also an Education Week article about the Eden Prairie boundary line dispute.

I don't necessarily agree with the way that Krull and the school board handled that situation, though I think the demographics they were presented with were challenging. Charters have also been accused of increasing segregated schools. In some areas, the kids who end up in them are mostly white and have fewer learning disabilities than the rest of the district.

locomotive

Jun-16-13 5:51 PM

So doing away with local school boards will lead to educational advancements? And "experts" like Ms. Krull will be the sole determiners of how and what happen in a school district?

Looks like some educators have no need of parents or their points of view concerning their children's education. Just hand over those kids and your money and go away.

"What's the best way to ensure that all kids have equal educational opportunities?"

I've heard charter schools and/or school vouchers have been very successful in educational advancement in some areas of our country. Family choices are important in those educational means, not so much the choices of educational bureaucrats.

 
 

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