March 05, 2006

School Choice in Minneapolis

A good article on school choice in Minneapolis from the Washington Post

…in 2003–04, black enrollment [in state schools] was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004–05, black enrollment dropped another 6%. Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state's basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district's racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: "Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world." Mr. King's advice? "The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else."

They can do so because of the state's longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

Read in full here.

Again, the issue of vouchers / more choice within the state system choice isn’t one of public sector vs. private sector. Whether public or private, some schools are great, some average, some poor. Advocating more choice is to acknowledge that poor state schools exist and that under the status quo some have no choice but to attend them. They can certainly improve but while they’re trying to do so, why not make it easier for other parties (charities, businesses, parents, religious groups, etc.) to step in. While education secretaries promise imminent turnaround, the future of many students is being affected in a non-beneficial way. Our goal is good quality education. Who it's provided by is secondary. The quoted article illustrates that it’s not just well-to-do families who are willing to look into better alternatives for their children and new schools wouldn't cater soley children deemed wealthy and bright.


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