Posted: 12/09/15 10:36
by Dave Mindeman
The Minnesota achievement gap is terrible. We really do have an extraordinary problem and the answers have been elusive and frustrating. Governor Dayton wants to address some of this in a special session, and that is great, but it is hard to see how progress can be made when we still are not sure of what the baseline problem is right now.
Andy Brehm, a Republican operative, wrote a piece in Minnpost's Community Voices. He believes he has the "obvious" answer....vouchers.
Brehm cites some disturbing numbers...
One important driver of this economic inequality sources back to the poor job some Minnesota schools have done educating minority students. While 85 percent of white students graduate high school on time, fewer than 60 percent of the state's black and Hispanic students receive a diploma in four years. And the rate for our Native American students is the second worst in the nation at 49 percent.
This is a very serious issue and very troubling. Brehm's voucher solution seems to be driven by an example he gives of Hope Academy....
Consider a special place called Hope Academy, a private, faith-based school located in a destitute neighborhood in South Minneapolis that has a student population that is 41 percent African-American, 33 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white. Hope has every hurdle of any Minneapolis public school; 77 percent of Hope families live near or below the poverty line. In fact, the percentage of low-income families represented at Hope Academy is higher than that of the Minneapolis Public Schools and more than twice the state and nationwide percentages.
Remarkably, however, 81 percent of Hope Academy's students test at or above grade level in reading and 75 percent in math, compared to 28 percent and 24 percent respectively at neighboring public schools. 100 percent percent of Hope's student body graduates on time and 95 percent of its alumni is headed to post-secondary institutions.
Yes, pretty impressive. But the surface numbers do not tell the whole story. Hope Academy gets no public funding. They are a faith based school and they do want to help the local students of impoverished neighborhoods.
But here is the rub. The parents have to pay part of the cost. The school keeps it low...(about $600 to $1000) per year, but it is still a daunting sum to families with stiflingly low income. And they have criteria that must be met before acceptance. Students are assessed for "school readiness"...grade 6 or above must pass an entrance exam. In other words, the students they accept already have a better chance than the average student would have at the Minneapolis Public System. Kids in low income families do not get the early education benefits or often don't have a stable home environment that can give them a learning discipline. And in addition, parents must sign and commit to a "Parent Covenant" which requires them to attend all parent/teacher conferences and at least 3 other school events. It has long been postulated that a parent's involvement in their child's education is a major factor in success for the student.
Would Hope Academy's impressive numbers continue if they weren't allowed to be selective in accepting students? Would a state voucher program require them to have a more challenging student body?
These are the things we have to grapple with when vouchers are discussed. I have always felt that a voucher system will merely shuffle students around and reward family's that already have good parental commitment. Vouchers themselves are not a bad idea, it is just that they are often structured in a way that will take the better students and move them out of the public system...along with the corresponding public funds. And leave an already struggling school with more challenges.
We have to find a solution that can translate into a positive for every student. We need to get away from isolating students with poverty issues and find ideas that can lift them out of that isolation.
Yes, Minneapolis costs a lot more per pupil. Nobody is questioning that. But the Minneapolis system is asked to meet challenges that few other districts have to deal with. The school is asked to not only educate but to furnish social services as well. And maybe that is all right if that is what is necessary - but first and foremost, the public schools need to have all the tools necessary to educate.
I would hope that we are looking at other areas of the country that are making progress on these gaps. Obviously since we are near the bottom of the list, we shouldn't have to look far to find better methods.
We need to get serious about this because our minority students deserve much better than this....and these education gaps translate into other minority failures that this state has to be held accountable for.
We should be done defining the problem - let's do something.