Looking on the bright side in Minnesota

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The Minnesota Compass annual meeting was packed with positive messages. Yes, we still have an achievement gap, unemployment, and various problems throughout the state — but Minnesota knows what to do to overcome these problems, and, by golly, we’re moving on up! (Or, as the title of the meeting put it, “positioning ourselves for prosperity.”)

As usual, Compass offered a wealth of data, but Wilder Foundation president and CEO MayKao Hang started off with a call for something more, saying, “How do we ensure that it’s not only about the data, it’s about the action that follows?”

Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, focused on business and higher education, suggesting changes in “grades 11 through 14.” (I’ll have more on his talk in a later column.) College, however, comes at the end of the education process, and the morning’s review of research pointed to the urgent need for action in early years.

Wilder Research’s Craig Helmstetter reviewed the usual statistics on the achievement gap. He said the key message was “about 25 percent,” which describes the racial reading gap at third grade, the high income vs. low income reading gap, and the math proficiency gap at 11th grade.

He noted that the racial achievement gap is greatly reduced for kids with similar income levels. Students from families with higher income levels had higher achievement, and the gap between white students and students of color was relatively small.

Even so, said Helmstetter, “Income is not destiny.” He pointed to examples of how to get high achievement with low-income students, such as the Eagle Valley school district or Concordia Creative Learning Academy. Moreover, the on-time high school graduation rate has been slowly but steadily rising for all racial groups in Minnesota.

Minneapolis Foundation VP Karen Kelley-Ariwoola called for action for equity, noting the huge difference in school readiness between children of color and white children in Minneapolis. Only 36 percent of Hispanic children of color in Minneapolis are ready for kindergarten, compared to 94 percent of white children, according to the One Minneapolis report.

“We’re spending a lot of time vetting stadium sites. Let’s invest as much energy in trying to solve the equity gaps we are facing,” Kelley-Ariwoola said. “We know early childhood works. We don’t need to study it more – just do it.” 

Kelley-Ariwoola called for people to be outspoken, and outraged. “To look at this data year after year, and not do what works is not acceptable,” she said. “There’s too much at stake for us not to stay at this.”