For as much as I criticize various education reform policies and rhetoric, I try to regularly acknowledge the realities of educational inequity in Minnesota. When I was a teacher, I certainly saw that inequity in the experiences of many of my students. In case you’re unfamiliar with the scope of the problem, here’s a graph to get you started. There’s a lot going on, but the information is worth it.
(Data from MDE.)
These are the 6-year outcomes for Minnesota high schoolers in 2012. Graduates are those who entered high school in 2006 and graduated by 2012.
There are some disturbing findings. For starters, only 4 out of 5 Minnesota students are confirmed as graduating. That number drops below 3 out of 5 for students who are Hispanic, African-American, American Indian, and/or English Language Learners. There’s a 23.5 percentage point gap in graduation rates between students from low income backgrounds and those from middle class or wealthy backgrounds. (As always, remember that there’s even more variation by income than the simple “poor or not” division.)
This is just plain wrong. Minnesota is known for and proud of its quality of life, and that quality should extend to all Minnesotans. There should be no question that this is a moral outrage. People of all political stripes are right to demand change.
Unfortunately, achieving change is trickier than most will admit. We can’t just link incentives and punishments to graduation rates. Texas tried that over a decade ago, and all sorts of shenanigans ensued. The same goes for test scores. This is more than a math problem.
Each of our students has a story, and it’s important to know what shapes those stories. How do academics, personal characteristics, and outside circumstances interact for graduates compared to dropouts? How do the roles of schools, neighborhoods, families, peers, health care, public safety, and other factors relate to each other in shaping students’ paths? We have partial answers to many of these questions, but there’s still a lot of learning yet to do.
We need to keep pushing for the answers and working to improve our system. We’re reaching for a universal standard of achievement that’s unprecedented in US history. Let’s not pretend that the way forward is a settled issue. We need ideas and collaboration more than ideology and the blame game.