Study shows correlation between school segregation and poverty enrollment


A study released May 15 from the University’s Institute on Race and Poverty aims to show how unequal access to quality education is in Twin Cities schools.

The 56-page report, “The Choice is Ours: Expanding Educational Opportunity for all Twin Cities Children,” details the number of schools in the area that are “segregated,” or have a concentration of one racial group disproportionately higher than the rest of the district’s schools.

Suburbs such as Columbia Heights and Richfield have seen at least a 20 percent increase in poverty enrollment from 2001 to 2005, the report shows.

Once thought to be limited to schools in the inner cities, numerous suburbs are seeing similar increases in poverty enrollment, said Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Race and Poverty.

One reason the report gives for the increase of school segregation is that “families who can, tend to choose schools that do not have excessive poverty enrollments.”

Some findings also bring up a strong correlation between housing segregation and school segregation.

“School segregation reflects residential segregation, and for many poor persons is an outcome of a history … of government decisions to isolate affordable housing in areas of concentrated poverty,” the report says.

Dana Lundell, director of the University’s Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, said one of the important things about the institute’s study is that “its framework is tying (data) to legislation, rather than just presenting facts.”

The legislation the report endorses is a program called Choice is Yours.

Part of a settlement in a 1990s lawsuit against the state of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Schools, the program “permits some students in segregated Minneapolis schools to attend nonsegregated schools in western suburbs,” the report says.

Orfield was quick to point out that Choice is Yours is “not a cure-all,” and that the main point of the program is to provide families with options, not to force them to move or change schools.

However, Steven Liss, director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Minneapolis Public Schools, didn’t fully agree with the findings.

“The report is clearly well-researched, but it implies students have to be in an integrated setting to achieve,” he said. “And that can be done without shipping our kids to the suburbs.”

Liss and Yusef Mgeni, director of educational equity for St. Paul Public Schools, cited Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary and Hans Christian Andersen Open School as city schools that fit the definition of “segregated” yet have good achievement records.

Mgeni also said that, personally, he thinks simply transplanting children from poor, racially isolated schools to more affluent suburban schools is not enough to ensure success.

“It assumes that through osmosis, if they’re in the same room, they get the same education,” Mgeni said.

A better answer, he said, is that schools provide “all-inclusive learning environments” to address the needs of children from all racial and economic backgrounds.

“If their culture and values and history aren’t woven into all subjects, then ‘at-risk,’ for these kids, means not being engaged in school,” Mgeni said.

Elisabeth Palmer, director of research and development at Aspen Associates, a research organization, led the evaluation of the Choice is Yours pilot program. She said training of teachers in suburban schools to meet the needs of economically and racially diverse students has increased since the program began.

She also said two-thirds of students who stayed with the program for an entire school year returned to the same school.

While the evaluation cast that statistic in a positive light, Liss said he wonders why no steps have been taken to make Choice is Yours a two-way program.

“If integration is the goal, why should the burden be on students of color to move?” he said.

Orfield agreed.

“White families don’t really make those arguments,” Orfield said. “They should, though, because white kids and workers are really not prepared for what our society’s going to be like in 20 years.”

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