The April 9 issue of Insight News featured an article about a recent Our Schools, Our City community forum on integration sponsored by AchieveMpls. While the article did a good job of highlighting the discussion, the headline “Costain: Some parents don’t care about integration” may have left the wrong impression about my personal beliefs and the commitments of AchieveMpls. I hope to clarify them here.
My own two children graduated from Minneapolis Public Schools, and I have always been the strongest proponent of integrated public school education. I purposely chose schools for my own children that were diverse, and as an active parent I worked hard to build inclusive and respectful communities within the schools my children attended. I know that my daughters’ lives were greatly enriched by attending schools with children of all races, backgrounds, incomes and religions. Living and going to school in a diverse community was one of the primary reasons we choose to live in the city.
As a Minneapolis school board member from 2007 - 2010, I advocated strongly for continuing the commitment to integration in MPS. We developed policies to strengthen magnet schools and ensure that they live up to their integration goals. Along with other board members, I advocated for intra-school district choice so that low-income families could send their children to schools outside their neighborhoods should they choose to do so. And I helped to encourage honest conversations on race and equity at every level of the district as we worked to elevate the voices of immigrant families, families of color, families with special needs children and families struggling with economic challenges.
At the same time, I understand that an integrated education environment, without a corresponding commitment to closing the achievement gap, is an empty promise. If integration is to be meaningful, it also has to include high achievement for all kids. While serving on the school board I heard countless parents of color and community leaders say that if asked to make a choice, they would chose high achievement for their child over the opportunity to attend an integrated school. I saw that strong achievement gains were happening in charter schools like Harvest Prep and Hiawatha Leadership Academy, schools that were overwhelmingly made up of children of one ethnicity. Achievement was the central concern of parents who chose those schools. As I mentioned in my remarks at the AchieveMpls forum, many individuals of color remarked to the school board, “I don’t care about integration anymore—just educate my child successfully.”
Because race, equity and achievement are very challenging issues, and we don’t often talk about them as a community, I am pleased that AchieveMpls is bringing complicated discussions such as these out into the open. Our monthly Our City Our Schools dialogues are designed to allow community members to speak their own truth to one another and to learn from a variety of perspectives. We encourage civic conversations that wrestle with difficult issues in which there is not one clear answer.
Our next conversation on Thursday, April 26 will offer a variety of parent perspectives and experiences with school integration. The forum will take place at 6:30 pm at Anwatin Middle School. We hope you can join us and share your own stories.
Whatever our perspective on integration, I know that we all want what is best for all of our children. Dr. Martin Luther King challenged us to create the “beloved community”.
Making that vision a reality is the hard part, something we must work on every single day.
By Pam Costain