Neighbors and partners: Every child should have stable housing and every child should have access to a high-quality school in Minneapolis. Stable housing is important but should not be a pre-requisite for access to a great school.
Stemming from recent coverage of Minneapolis’ new “Stable Homes, Stable Schools” pilot, the narrative that we have to “fix” housing or poverty before addressing school quality fails to recognize and appreciate changing-the-odds schools across Minneapolis that are already showing improved outcomes for all children. These schools, that enroll largely underserved students, outpace district averages in academic proficiency or growth. And, according to MDE, these students have higher rates of graduation and college enrollment.
What’s more, any narrative – housing, special education, funding, teacher diversity, etc. – shouldn’t be treated as either/or but addressed as both/and in parallel with tailored, intentional efforts to help schools improve the student experience and outcomes. We need to stop pointing fingers and start working, together, to provide schools with the support they need to improve.
Every child should be able to benefit from a school that meets their academic, social emotional and cultural needs, experience deep student-teacher engagement, a culture of high expectations, and grade-appropriate instruction.
Attempting to fix poverty before improving schools ignores the urgency of the problem
Minneapolis still has one of the largest academic performance gaps in the country and some of the lowest graduation rates for non-white children in the country. For kids, who spend a majority of their days in classrooms, unequal access to great schools is compounded for those who endure homelessness.
But we need to appreciate how these inequities and systems intersect. Yes, students with stable housing are better prepared to learn, but denying homeless and highly mobile students a high-quality education that prepares them for success is not equitable by any means.
Minneapolis should be leading the charge. Mayors – including those from progressive cities like Denver, D.C., Oakland and Chicago – are pioneering efforts that are improving their cities’ schools all while they face similar housing challenges. Waiting to address schools until after poverty is “fixed” permits people in positions of power to avoid the hard, political work of transforming school systems to meet the needs of all students today.
Some schools already demonstrate that all kids can learn
According to MDE data from the 2017-18 school year, several schools that serve among the highest rates of homeless and highly mobile students in Minneapolis are posting notable outcomes:
KIPP North Star Academy achieves higher growth for students significantly behind compared to other schools serving similar student populations in Minneapolis.
Green Central Elementary, too, has one of the highest academic growth rates in Minneapolis. College persistence for Henry High graduates rivals the district’s average.
The city’s approach to tackling housing instability should also be agnostic to school type, and support students whether they go to a traditional district, public charter or independent school. The mayor serves all children of Minneapolis, not just the ones who attend MPS schools.
Supporting families underserved should be a multi-pronged approach
Stable housing for everyone is urgently needed, and it should be paired with strategies for more great schools.
Because affordable housing is not a pre-requisite for access to a great school, city and education leaders can do more to directly improve local schools:
- Call for transparency and consistency in reporting data on students most vulnerable (e.g., adhering to the McKinney-Vento Act).
- Ensure students who experience housing instability – and are already attending changing-the-odds schools – stay enrolled. This requires sustained transportation and direct services, even if that child’s family moves.
- Offer our most-vulnerable students – including those who are homeless and highly mobile – priority enrollment at our city’s best schools.
- Embrace strategies so we have more schools that are prepared and equipped to meet the academic, social emotional and cultural needs of all students. For example, empower what works: Learn from the above schools that already demonstrate all kids can learn and grant school communities with more decision-making authority (scheduling, budgeting, staffing) to best meet the needs of the children they serve.
If local leaders can champion stable housing and high-quality schools simultaneously, Minneapolis’ most vulnerable children will be better positioned for success in college, jobs and life.
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