Posted on February 3, 2006

Chaos at the Top Causes Black Families to Flee the City Schools

Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Feb. 2, 2006

The three-ring circus surrounding Minneapolis school superintendent Thandiwe Peebles’ resignation last week is a symptom of a school district in crisis.

It’s a bad time for chaos at the top.

Problems abound: Last year, only 28 percent of black Minneapolis eighth-graders passed the state’s basic skills math test, and 47 percent passed the reading test. In 2004, the black high school graduation rate in the district was 50 percent. The racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide.

A dysfunctional school board is charged with turning this unacceptable situation around. Change is coming at a glacial pace. That’s one reason some vocal African-American leaders have been calling the board on the carpet.

Folks who dismiss all their complaints as noisy rabble-rousing had better listen up. Otherwise, there may soon be little left of the district to salvage.

Louis King, who served on the Minneapolis school board from 1996 to 2000, is one of those critics. “Today, I can’t recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools,” says King. “The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world.”

Remember “white flight” from big-city schools in the 1970s? Well, today it’s black families who are fleeing fastest. In Minneapolis, those families can now opt out of troubled district schools, thanks to an explosion of school choice options, including charter schools and open enrollment in suburban schools.

Ironically, the district’s white enrollment, as a portion of all students, has increased slightly in the past two years after decades of falling. It’s black families from high-poverty neighborhoods — North Minneapolis, Phillips, Whittier — who are leading the exodus.