Open enrollment leads to racial segregation in Twin Cities schools

12:23 PM, Jan 12, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Questions are being raised about the fairness of Minnesota's open enrollment policy.

A University of Minnesota study released Friday shows the practice of letting students enroll in districts outside of where they live is leading to more racial segregation in Twin Cities metro area school districts.

The study shows that white families in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud tend to use open enrollment to leave diverse districts. They send their children to predominantly white affluent schools. The reverse is also true; students who leave suburban white schools for city districts are typically students of color.

Myron Orfield is the director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. He co-authored the study.
Orfield does not question open enrollment, but told KARE 11 that the program should be more fair.

"It should be open enrollment for kids of all races, not just white kids who have money," said Orfield.

Orfield says his study's findings can partly explain the state's racial achievement gap.

"When kids go to overwhelmingly poor schools, it hurts their educational prospects." said Orfield. "It makes it much more likely they'll drop out, makes it much less likely they'll go to college."

Segregation can also have a negative impact on students who attend schools that end up becoming racially homogenous.

"Integration helps non-white poor kids; it also helps white affluent kids. They learn that the world is not just about one group of people, and they learn to be more flexible and they learn critical thinking skills," explained Orfield.

The study did not explore the reasons white families in urban areas use open enrollment to send their children to suburban schools more than families of color.

Melissa Krull, who served as superintendent of the Eden Prairie district for 10 years, told Minnesota Public Radio that it could be  a problem of economics.

"Some families just have the means to move around. And some families don't have the means to move around," Krull said. "Where they live and where their schools are near their home, that's where they're going."

Schools are not required to bus in kids who enroll from outside their districts. However, some school districts choose to participate in the "Choice is Yours" program, which pays for transportation for low-income families. Orfield notes that districts that accept students from the program are more diverse than districts that do not.

Open enrollment began in Minnesota in 1988. In the 2009-2010 academic years, more than 35,000 students in the Twin Cities metro area chose to go to school in a district other than the one they live in.

Reporting by Tim Post of Minnesota Public Radio contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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