The Minneapolis School District has put forward a comprehensive district design (CDD) plan to overhaul Minneapolis Public Schools. It's an ambitious effort driven by a need to advance integration and equity while cutting costs amid a perennially unresolved budget deficit. All told, it will result in 63% of Minneapolis students attending a different school than they do today.
The district argues that the current system deprives too many students of a well-rounded education, particularly students of color. Closing the achievement gap must be a priority, it argues. As three parents of color in the district, with young, school-aged children of color, we wholeheartedly agree.
We therefore find it odd the district plan chooses an innovative and proven program to put on the chopping block: Spanish language dual immersion. That's right. In an effort to increase integration in Minneapolis schools, the district is proposing to make integrated dual-immersion programs more difficult to access for families in neighborhoods with the largest Latino populations. It makes no sense.
Dual-immersion programs offer a learning environment balanced between students who are native English speakers and those who are English learners. Throughout the program, students learn the languages through standard curriculum as well as interaction with their peers. The goal is bilingual and biliterate students by the program's end.
These programs are widely effective, particularly for native Spanish speaking students. Students who learn in their home language make better progress in acquiring full proficiency in English and achieve at grade-appropriate levels in both English and Spanish. They are more likely to graduate on time. The programs successfully close the achievement gap in ways other programs cannot, which is critical because graduation rates for Latino students in Minneapolis in 2018 was only 57%.
Logically, these programs are in high demand. According to the district, over 60% of Latino families in Minneapolis identify dual-immersion programs as the program they most likely would consider for their children. A K-5 dual immersion school in south Minneapolis typically denies entry to over 40% of applicants due to space limitations. With the expected growth of the Latino population in Minneapolis, coupled with the rise of Spanish immersion preschools and day cares across the city, this demand will only increase.
School district leaders will tell you they fully support dual-immersion programs and believe in the value of a dual-immersion education. Yet their plan would do the opposite. Rather than maintain or grow dual immersion, the district merely shifts student capacity to an underutilized building far from the highest-concentrated Latino neighborhoods. The result is a net loss of K-5 dual immersion seats in the neighborhoods where the programs are needed most.
This presents the district and families with a confusing choice: Either increase district busing costs by sending current dual-immersion students farther away from their neighborhoods, or force current dual-immersion students into programs taught in a language they may not understand and a learning environment they are unaccustomed to. Many families may reject either choice by sending their kids outside the district, further compounding district budget challenges.
Before ramming through this plan, the district must answer these questions and others for Minneapolis parents:
How will moving the majority of kids to different schools across the district do anything to achieve district goals without programmatic supports and financial investments that accompany such disruption? Where will these financial investments come from? How will they guarantee current dual-immersion students a seat in a dual-immersion program in their neighborhood? How will the district hold itself accountable, and when?
In a recent interview, Minneapolis School Superintendent Ed Graff suggested his plan carried a very high risk for Minneapolis families while providing no assurances or data suggesting that it would even work. That's a big risk most families are hesitant to take. Minneapolis families should demand that district officials show their work, provide all the details and answer our questions first, then vote. Not the other way around.
Closing the achievement gap in Minneapolis Public Schools must be a priority. But closing opportunities to innovative dual-immersion programs, while disrupting the lives of kids across the city, only moves the district further from their goals.
Doble inmersión funciona. Dual immersion works.
Monisha Walters, Tamara Cabán-Ramirez and Beatriz Menanteau are three parents of school-aged children in the Minneapolis Public School district.