According to Minnesota's Constitution, "it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools." By the time the state Constitution officially established public education in 1857 local public schools were already thriving, particularly in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The latter eventually became Special School District No. 1, the largest and most visible school district in Minnesota.
In the years following the district's founding, the area formed a school board, expanded its student population, and adopted the national trend of progressive education. Minneapolis also followed the national trend of school desegregation in the 1970s through the means of busing and magnet schools. The district's recent history, however, shows an unfortunate trend of wide achievement gaps, poor No Child Left Behind (NCLB) performance, and high costs.
In 2011, Minneapolis public school enrollment was a little over 32,000 students. Approximately 70% of those students were non-Whites, a drastic change from 30 years before when approximately two-thirds of the Minneapolis student body was Caucasian. During that same period, the district's rate of free and reduced lunch usage also soared, a strong indication that Minneapolis students face difficult life challenges.
The high academic achievement gap in Minneapolis public schools is a result of the challenges these students face. According to Minnesota standardized tests (MCA-II tests), the 2008-2010 reading achievement gap between White and African American students was over 50%, while the gap between White and Hispanic students was slightly less.
These large achievement gaps naturally produce poor Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) numbers in the No Child Left Behind program. Indeed, the 2011 AYP reading achievement gap between White and African American students was approximately 35%, while the AYP math achievement gap was nearly 50%. This lack of success leads to low graduation rates, and between 2007 and 2011 Minneapolis graduated less than half of its students. In 2012, Minneapolis schools received a waiver from the federal government because they were unable to meet NCLB's AYP standards. The NCLB waiver allows the district to "shed the 'failing' label" until the Spring of 2014.
Poor academic success is often blamed on a lack of revenue and expenditures. Minneapolis, however, is not lacking monetarily. According to school board director Jill Davis, the district has "close to a 685 million dollar budget" and "a little over 34,000 students." Minneapolis Public Schools' fact sheet on the district does contradict those numbers slightly. It claims that the district has a total budget of $656,503,252 (General Operations - $513,209,000) and a total student body of 32,263. Although this budget covers more than academic instruction, these numbers suggest that the district spends more than $20,000 per child.
There is widespread agreement that Minneapolis schools need fixing. However, the solution remains a huge subject of debate. One of these debates concerns funding, and whether or not schools need more or less of it. Compared to other districts in the state, Minneapolis spends much more money to educate its students. Yet, many feel that recent budget cuts adversely and unfairly affect the disadvantaged children in Minneapolis. Some suggest that more school integration is needed to level the playing field for disadvantaged children. But there are studies that show disadvantaged children do worse academically when they are bused away from their neighborhoods and placed in suburban schools.
One solution that both sides of the debate agree on, however, concerns the need for more challenging instruction and discipline. According to one former school board member, the progressive education idea of "open schools" simply does not work. Given the high academic success of students in one Minneapolis charter school which stresses diligence, respect, and the traditional education tactics of memorization and repetition, some suggest that Minneapolis public schools should implement the same methods.
Exploring history, costs, demographics, and academic achievement, this topic gives readers an overview of the Minneapolis public school district.