Posted on October 30, 2012

In Minneapolis, White-Flight Era Enrollment Drop Reverses

Steve Brandt, StarTribune, October 30, 2012

It’s not something trumpeted by a school district sensitive to its yawning racial achievement gap, but white students in the Minneapolis public schools are testing above average in Lake Wobegon country.

Non-Hispanic white kids in the Minneapolis district are scoring at a higher level than their white peers across Minnesota in state math, reading and science tests. The gap ranges from a single percentage point in math to 7 points in science.

Those results may reaffirm the decision by more white Minneapolis parents to stay in the district, bucking a trend of families heading to the suburbs when their kids hit school age.

The share of white kids in the district has been rising since 2002. But previously that meant they were leaving a shrinking district more slowly than other racial or ethnic groups, many of whom took advantage of state-funded transport to suburban schools.

The absolute number of white kids bottomed out in 2008. There were a few dozen more white students the following year, and then their numbers jumped by several hundred in each of the next two years. Last year, the 10,999 white students made up nearly one-third of enrollment, up 7 percentage points from 2002.

Blacks represent 36 percent of students, Latinos 19 percent, Asians 8 percent and American Indians less than 5 percent.

One leading critic of metro segregation, Myron Orfield of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, said the prime factor is that growth is strongest in the city’s southwest corner. From a parent’s perspective, low poverty rates, high test scores and a largely white enrollment add up to a student population “very much like the best suburban schools,” he said.


The battered economy has also left parents less willing to invest in private schools. {snip}


Meanwhile in the southwest corner of the city, the lower campus of Lake Harriet Community School is adding space for 125 students. It was the district’s most racially unbalanced school last year at 88 percent white enrollment, which reflects the surrounding neighborhood.


At Sanford Middle School, Principal Meredith Davis arrived in 1998 to an enrollment that was 15 percent white, roughly opposite that of surrounding neighborhoods. Now the school is 40 percent white, the biggest of any racial group. That’s happened even as the school population has doubled, reflecting the closing of nearby Folwell Middle School and more rigid attendance boundaries.

Davis sensed more than five years ago that neighborhood students were returning. “Sanford really changed as a school, and the neighborhood wanted to give it a chance,” she said.

Marketing the superior test results for whites is something the district hasn’t done explicitly, even though it dates back at least five years.

“We’re sensitive in this district, we’re an urban district with many challenges, and we have a large achievement gap, and we are focusing whatever we can on lowering the gap,” district spokesman Stan Alleyne said. That means focusing communication to families and others about how they need to get involved in the education of students.

“At the same time, we cannot ignore our success stories,” Alleyne said, pointing to Southwest High School’s top ranking in Minnesota from U.S. News & World Report.