Board of Education scraps diversity rule

ST. PAUL (AP) — A proposal that would have required school districts to develop multicultural curricula and track students by race fell on a 5-3 vote Monday by the Minnesota Board of Education.
The statewide diversity rule “is an insult to the intelligence of the minority community,” said Wendell Maddox, a black board member. He suggested the focus on race implied it is a factor in an individual’s ability to learn.
“I think this rule is going to divide Caucasian students from non-Caucasian students in Minnesota,” Maddox said.
A key factor in Monday’s vote were two new appointees of Gov. Arne Carlson, who opposed the rule. Ken Morris and James Bartholomew joined the board Jan. 1, replacing two diversity rule supporters. In addition, any attempt to resurrect the rule would have put the board back where it started seven years ago.
Had the rule passed, districts that failed to comply would have lost some state funding.
Pressure against the rule increased in recent months as school officials warned of an administrative nightmare and minority groups split over whether it would improve test scores. Supporters said the rule would have helped minority students by more closely tracking and addressing their needs. For instance, a history class would include perspectives of black slaves and American Indians, as well European settlers.
But Maddox and other opponents said minority student achievement is best addressed through the graduation standards, a plan to mandate statewide learning standards for all students.
“We’re not going to give you any more feel-good legislation,” he said. “We’re going to give you legislation that means something.”
The rule’s supporters, however, said the graduation standards will not compensate for broad deficiencies in what students learn about nonwhite cultures.
“My tribe has a whole story of how we got here. … Does anybody here know that story?” asked board member Tom Peacock, an American Indian.
Peacock said once the graduation standards are approved, probably later this year, he expects more minority students to end up in remedial programs or drop out of school.
“Without the system changing, the only thing we’re doing is raising the bar,” he said.
Peacock tried to salvage the diversity rule by stripping most of the record-keeping provisions while retaining the threat of lost state funding.
That threat would have been the key difference between the proposed rule and existing law directing districts to develop diversity plans and train teachers in multicultural studies.
Morris said he’s satisfied with the current law.
“Good teachers, good districts, good superintendents will ensure that this is in place,” he said.
Peacock was not satisfied.
“We all know what happens to rules that are not required to be implemented. They don’t even sit on shelves,” he said.
The Council on Black Minnesotans said it was displeased.
“It seems like the state Board of Education has backed off its commitment to address disparities,” said council Chairwoman Debra Leigh. “There are children who are falling through the cracks daily.”