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School Choice in Action: More students leave Minneapolis Public Schools

Despite education spending increases year after year, Minnesota continues to hold one of the largest academic achievement gaps in the country. Not all students are getting the education they deserve through their neighborhood public schools, and families continue to respond by sending their children elsewhere.

The Minneapolis Public Schools district is a case in point. Consistently low test scores and lack of academic growth paired with unruly behavior and lack of discipline have driven thousands of students to charter schools and neighboring school districts—and the latest numbers show this flight is continuing.

According to the Star Tribune, the district lost nearly 1,500 students last year, with more than 80 percent of them students of color. But it’s not surprising the many students leaving Minneapolis schools are minorities. The school system has a history of failing them, and school choice is allowing these students to move to a different school that will meet their needs.

Superintendent Ed Graff recently assembled a task force “to stem the flow of students out of the district and woo new families,” the Strib reports.

At Tuesday’s meeting, task force members said there’s a sense of urgency to create a system that will stabilize enrollment.

“We believe that taking the steps required to change the climate and the culture of our schools to better retain existing students … will naturally increase our enrollment,” Graff said. “It will increase academic success and ultimately our student enrollment.”

The 25-member task force has apparently been working on “diagnosing” the district’s history of student flight since March and has recently recommended “improving efforts to listen to and respond to families’ needs, crafting retention plans for schools and improving the district’s culture and school climate.”

Superintendent Graff’s new strategic plan also “calls for strengthening academics to lure about 6,000 additional students into the district.”

This isn’t the first time Minneapolis school leaders have vowed to improve. In Fall 2017, Graff and his team added new literacy programs and a focus on “social-emotional learning” to address low test scores and student needs. But lagging academics persisted. Only 38.8 percent of Minneapolis students performed at grade level in math, and only 42.2 percent performed at grade level in reading. Among black students, only 17 percent were at grade level in math, and 20.5 percent for reading.

Test scores for the 2018-2019 school year were just as worrisome. The number of students performing at grade level in math remained the same: 38.8 percent. Students reading at grade level slightly improved from the previous year, to 43.5 percent. Academic progress was also concerning, especially for students of color. In math, nearly 70 percent of black students saw their academic achievement level decrease or stay at “does not meet standards.” In reading, nearly 60 percent of black students decreased in their achievement level or stayed at “does not meet standards.”

For a school district who spends twice the state average per student, it’s clear that throwing more money at the system has not resulted in much needed academic improvements. (Watch for my education report coming out later this fall that examines Minnesota’s public education system and spending.)

The continued flight of students across the Minneapolis district is a sign that families are tired of lofty pledges that do not manifest into improvements. Thank goodness that school choice is empowering these families to find the learning environment that best fits the needs of their child, and for many that’s not Minneapolis Public Schools.

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