Minnetonka Parents’ Letter to MN Senate & House Education Committees
Dear Honorable Members of Minnesota State Education Committees,
We are a group of parents whose children are currently enrolled in the Minnetonka school district. We are writing to you to voice our serious concerns about ethnic data disaggregation and its likely negative impact on our state and the minority students in state public schools.
A few weeks ago, we learned that Minnesota passed two statutes 120B.31 and 120B.35 in May 2016, which require Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to collect and report ethnic disaggregated data from all public schools. Based on these statutes, students of minority groups, including American Indian / Alaska Native, Asian, Black / African American, Hispanic / Latino, need to answer questions about subcategories within their races. We also learned that five school districts have been chosen as rollout sites and Minnetonka is one of the rollout sites.
We are deeply concerned about these statutes for several reasons:
First of all, we are concerned these statutes are poor measures to address achievement gap issues within minority races and as a result, taxpayer money will be wasted without actual payoff. Research has shown that race is not the root cause of achievement gap. Instead, factors such as students’ health, housing and family environments, and parents’ education levels play much more important roles. These differences are tied more closely to families’ socioeconomic status than race. In fact, we believe there are children in disadvantaged situations who need help in each racial group. Making decision based on race subcategories may benefit some specific community but risk leaving other equally deserving ones behind, which nobody wants to see happen.
Secondly, with vague benefits, ethnic data disaggregation is an expensive program with significant costs. This is why in 2016, MDE applied for and obtained a 2 million dollar federal grant to pay for the initial years. Once the grant runs out, it will require significant state budget to continue future operations and re-evaluations, in order to update “the detailed demographics to meet the needs of the state’s changing racial and ethnic demographics” (p. 13 of the “Data Disaggregation Report to the Legislature”). Furthermore, rural areas of Minnesota have very low percentages of minority students. Schools in these rural areas are also required to collect the data which poses undue burden on the schools with little benefit.
Thirdly, we are disappointed in the process through which the statutes passed into law and the lack of action from MDE to involve and listen to broader key stakeholders whom the statutes will directly impact. To our best knowledge, up until summer of 2017, the Chinese American community was never consulted or informed about these statutes or MDE’s action of implementation. In August 2017, a small group of Chinese American parents found out about the statutes and asked to be included in the discussion. Even after that, voices from the Chinese American community continued being ignored, and very few (if any) changes suggested were incorporated into the revision of the form or the implementation plan.
The Chinese American community is not alone. According to MDE’s “Data Disaggregation Report to the Legislature,” MDE reached out to 93 groups (page 119-120), and these 93 groups included NO Asian Indian, or Korean groups although both ethnic groups were among the top five most populous Asian groups. The list included 3 Chinese American groups, we have contacted these groups and NONE of them received invitations or was approached by MDE to participate in feedback sessions. In addition, MDE solicited feedback from 41 school districts. But none of the districts with a large presence of Asian Indians, Chinese, and Korean such as Eden Prairie, Edina, and Wayzata was included in the list, despite the size and prominence of these districts.
We also have serious concerns with the design of the form. There are many issues that need modification or clarification (see long lists of concerns on p. 67 & 115 of the report). We will only highlight the most concerning issue, i.e., the form mixes disaggregated data with the seven high racial categories required by federal law. Only federal categories are required and state ethnic disaggregated data are optional. The form, for whatever reason, seems to be designed to give the impression that both sets of data are required by law (p. 122 of the report). Several groups have raised this as an important issue to MDE, so far, no change has been made to address the issue.
Lastly, we are concerned that these statutes will perpetuate the tension and stereotypes against minorities as “foreigners.” Asking American-born students to label themselves by their ancestor’s country of origin sends a very confusing and misleading message to minority children, many of whom are already struggling with identity crisis and racial remarks and bullying in school. This may also legitimize questions like “where are you really from” and “go back to your country,” which are often directed at minority groups such as Asians, whose appearances make it hard for them to blend in. We are also puzzled why other communities with larger populations do NOT need to answer such questions even though disparity in income and education levels equally exist within those communities just as in all minority communities.
This topic has crossed state boundaries and has become a national issue. As of March 2018, five states including California, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, have proposed or passed laws to implement ethnic data disaggregation. Fortunately, due to recent public awareness and protests, California has postponed its statute to 2022.
Legislatures of Connecticut have proposed a bill to proactively prohibit ethnic data disaggregation by including the following statement in their state statute: “Such data relating to students shall not be disaggregated by ethnic subgroups unless such disaggregated student data is (I) required under federal law, or (II) collected uniformly for all ethnic subgroups among the entire student population in the state”.
Massachusetts legislature has responded to the outpouring opposition of a similar bill by diverting it into an extensive and comprehensive study process.
We urge you and your colleagues to consider the following actions:
Delay the rollout sites until the forms truthfully incorporate and reflect broader stakeholders’ feedback.
Postpone the state implementation of ethnic data disaggregation until there is greater awareness, inputs, and support from most, if not all, populous minority communities.
Re-evaluate the ethnic data disaggregation statutes and their likely consequences on our state finances, school districts, well-beings of all students, and community relationships.
Amend the two statutes based on the results from above actions.
As proud US Citizens, we all believe in the American dream and values. Therefore, it was heartbreaking to witness the increasingly deeper divisions among our communities. We ask you, our well-respected legislatures, to please work on laws and policies to help unite, not further divide, the people.
We look forward to meeting and working with you side-by-side as fellow Americans!
Concerned Parents of Minnetonka School District
Association of Minnesota Chinese Physicians
Center for Community Service
Chinese American Alliance
Chinese American Association of Minnesota
Chinese Social Service Center
Eden Prairie Chinese Association
Edina Chinese Association
Hindu Society of Minnesota
Minghua Chinese School
Minnesota Alliance for Stopping Ethnicity Registry (MASER)
Minnesota Chinese Association for Science and Technology (MCAST)
Minnesota Chinese Coalition
Minnesota Yucai Chinese School
MN HuaXia Chinese School
Senate District 53 Residents Group
United Education For All (UEFA)