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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that said "separate but equal" segregated schools were unconstitutional. It called for the integration of public schools and was followed by years of related steps — such as busing — that became controversial.

And yet all these decades later, many schools and school districts are more segregated than ever. A U.S. Government and Accountability Office report released in July 2022 found that over 30% of students (around 18.5 million) attended schools where 75% or more of the student body was the same race or ethnicity.

And a new study from University of Minnesota reports that segregation has an impact on whether students have access to and are more likely to attend high-quality colleges and universities. The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the U's Law School identified the Twin Cities metro-area schools that are best and worst for sending students to top schools.

The study called the top 30 metro-area schools for college placement "Golden Ticket" schools that send 66% of students to four-year post-secondary schools. At the other end of the spectrum are what the researchers labeled "Dead End" schools that send only 12% of students to four-year colleges.

Not surprisingly, high schools in the most affluent areas — such as Edina, Wayzata and Minnetonka — top the best 30 list, which includes five charters, along with several schools in the central cities such as Southwest and Washburn in Minneapolis. Among the bottom 30 are four Minneapolis schools (North, Wellstone, Longfellow Alternative and FAIR School for Arts) three St. Paul schools (Humboldt, Johnson and Creative Arts Secondary School) and 22 charter programs.

In the aggregate, the top 30 schools were 73% white, 9% Black and 6% Hispanic. At the other end of the rankings, the schools were 16% white, 38% Black and 13% Hispanic. Over 3 in 4 students in the bottom 30 schools either failed to graduate in four years or attended no post-secondary education after their fourth year. There is a strong correlation between a school's share of minority students and students in poverty.

Most studies confirm that family income and parental education levels are the primary predictor of who goes to the most elite colleges. But the study points out that another predictor is the high school the student attends because of the peers they have and the contacts and attitudes about education that they acquire.

Myron Orfield, director of the institute and a longtime advocate for integrated schools and neighborhoods, said when the state and schools more or less abandoned integration efforts in the late 1990s, rapid resegregation occurred and contributed to poor academic performance. Housing policies that place most affordable housing in poorer neighborhoods also have been an issue.

Orfield told an editorial writer that 154 K-12 schools in the Twin Cities metro area have 90% or more lower-income students and students of color. That's juxtaposed, he said, with similarly sized cities like Portland, with one, and Seattle, with 35. Both of those cities have housing and land-use policies in place to encourage desegregation.

As researchers from the Century Foundation reported in 2022, improving racial and economic diversity in schools requires conversations and cooperation between multiple levels of government to affect both school and housing policies.

That study rightly pointed out that in addressing school segregation, it's important to "pay attention to the experiences of different racial and ethnic groups, and to the separate but intersecting phenomena of economic and racial segregation. … [A]fter Brown v. Board, school segregation is not simply a 'Black and White' issue."

As the U's report points out: "Minnesota's state Constitution protects a fundamental right to an adequate education — a right that Minnesota courts have repeatedly reaffirmed. But in practice, Minnesota students are funneled into dramatically separate life pathways from the moment they set foot in their high schools.

"This contrast — where some children receive a golden ticket for prosperity, and others hit a dead-end educational wall — falls harshly along preexisting lines of social and racial advantage. Can such a system ever be deemed adequate?"

There are several good reasons for Minnesota to strive for greater integration in schools and communities — and the "fundamental right to an adequate education" is one of them.