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Education Achievement Gap - Minnesota's Negative Mark

Category: Education
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.
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About Those Education Test Scores

Category: Education
Posted: 08/02/15 07:03

by Dave Mindeman

The student test scores were released a few days ago and the data had some disappointments. Everyone is hoping and expecting for dramatic improvements, both in general scores and especially in the achievement gap. It looks like both are treading water right now.

First some observations:

1. The achievement gap is not improving and has gotten slightly worse in each of the last two cycles. We need even more focus on why this continues. And I am not convinced that testing is telling us what we need to know.

2. A chart breakdown examined the schools that were the lowest in scores while having the lowest percentage of students in poverty - an attempt at getting a control group. Three of the lowest 5 in scoring for math were charter schools. And the 5 lowest in reading were all charter schools. So obviously, more charter schools would not be a quick fix either.

3. Black, American Indian, and Hispanic students all have proficiency in the low to mid-30's. This seems to indicate that it is a multi-cultural problem, but also that poverty is playing a larger role.

4. It is still difficult to make direct comparisons because we keep tweaking the tests and we also have problems with the companies that score the tests. Can the data be trusted? Can it really be used for proper study of where we are at? These are important questions if testing is to be the sole criteria by which we measure our progress.

Now with those observations as background, are there things that we are doing right and are there things that can be done better?

A. Early Childhood. Governor Dayton has been focusing on early education during the last cycle. Obviously, this is not a short term fix. The benefits will not be felt for 5 to 10 years, but we need to be consistent about this. The current problems need to be addressed, yes, but that does not mean shifting our emphasis away from early ed. That is the long term solution and if we pull back in the middle of the investment, we will lose out on those long term goals.

B. It's Still About Money. Republicans complain that we are throwing money at the problem and getting no results. Well, when it comes to education investment, money is the method for finding the fixes. Yes, there will be times when we invest in something that doesn't work. But that only means that we need to learn from that and invest in something that has more potential. Cutbacks in funding only delay progress and cuts off our search for real solutions. Governor Dayton won't quit - we need a legislature that won't quit either.

C. Teachers. Republicans are quick to point fingers at teachers as part of the problem. But, quite frankly, the opposite is true. Teachers will be the solution if they are utilized properly. It is teachers who can see how kids are learning. It is teachers that can individualize the skills. It is teacher suggestions that we should be paying more attention to. And in addition, we need to compensate them fairly and subsidize recruitment of teachers who have experience dealing with minority achievement gaps.

Yes, the testing scores show us that we have many things to work on. But we also have to be sure we find the right areas that need to be worked on. Our education network is about to have another overhaul. Keeping the testing and the curriculum in such flux is counterproductive. But Minnesota still has to do better. Other states do not have the kind of achievement gap that we have, so obviously we are doing something wrong.

Let's not overthink this. Keep moving forward on early education. Keep true to the longer vision. Find ways to target minority education. And keep working on our students' overall environment - education, financial, and physical health.

We can and will do better, but only if we work as a team with the right tools.
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Dayton Takes Strong Position - But, Again, With An AWOL Bakk

Category: Education
Posted: 07/23/15 01:30

by Dave Mindeman

On Tuesday, Governor Dayton tried to be pretty clear about next year's legislative session....

"Anybody ... in the Legislature who thinks we're going to give all this money back in tax cuts better understand that I will not sign a tax bill that does not have an equitable amount overall for early childhood," Dayton told reporters.

I didn't see too much ambiguity about that, but of course Speaker Daudt has his "doubts"....

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the governor's remarks Tuesday are an attempt to "hold hostage tax relief." He added that if the governor wants more funding for early childhood education, "it's his job to go out and earn the support for it."

Dayton also sent a clear message about investigations into Planned Parenthood....

He also rejected recent calls for an investigation into Planned Parenthood clinics in the state by Minnesota Republicans.

The Republican Senate minority leader was quick to respond...

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, expressed disappointment after Dayton said he saw no basis for an investigation. Hann argued that the surreptitiously obtained video should be enough to launch a probe.

There isn't any ambiguity about Dayton's positions here. But you know what is missing....once again?

Senator Tom Bakk.

No quotes. No words. No written support.

Will Dayton be voicing a Democratic position but, again, without the Senate leadership being his legislative voice? Will the end product be a Bakk/Daudt trade off.....with the Governor left out?

A Democratic governor with a Democratic majority Senate should have more leverage to work with.

But then, this Senate majority is under Bakk control.

With that in place, we can't be certain of anything.
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