Hard work paying off for public schools, despite rising poverty and inequality

More good news for Minnesota and for the thousands of public school teachers and leaders who have been working so hard for so many years to improve achievement and attainment in our education system. High school graduation rates have risen over the last decade, even though our public schools are working with an increasingly poor and economically distressed student body every year.

America's Promise Alliance released a report this week showing a comparison of 2002 and 2009 graduation rates for the United States. The Building a Grad Nation report confirms that more Minnesotans are graduating from high school than in the past, and the report also shines a spotlight on targeted interventions that work.Download the full report here.

Two specific Minnesota programs are featured in the report:

  • Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, for its quality-based mentoring initiative. The QMAP provides a structured and systemic process to assess mentoring programs, with the goal of increasing the quality of mentoring.
  • Minnesota Reading Corps. Started as a pilot program in 2003, it has become the largest state Americorps program in the country. Its goal is simple: reading by third grade. Growth and Justice supports this goal. (See our Policy Brief on Kids Age 4 to 3rd Grade). Reading by third grade is a key benchmark for America's Promise Alliance as well.

Minnesota's increase in high school graduation is 3.5 percentage points over a span of 7 years. It's a modest amount, but it's promising, after years of stagnation and even decline for some districts and regions. Of the 9 states with graduation rates over 80% in 2002 (in other words, the highest performing states), 3 declined and 4, like Minnesota, made modest progress. Only two states with graduation rates above 80% gained at a higher rate: Wisconsin and Vermont. Wisconsin became the first state to reach 90% graduation (a full 11 years early), and Vermont is nearly there at 89.4%.

Most alarming in the report is the trend in 16 states that shows limited or no growth, and the decline in graduation rates in 10 states. That's more than half the nation not making adequate progress towards higher graduation rates. Some are nearby: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois.

Currently, MInnesota is tied with North Dakota at 87.3%, with only Wisconsin and Vermont graduating a higher percentage of their high school students. This is a success story for Minnesota and even more impressive considering our changing demographics.

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