It’s rare these days to run into upbeat coverage of education issues, so I encourage everyone to take the time to read through Beth Hawkins’ MinnPost piece on Minnesota high schools recognized by the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings. As always, there are caveats and areas desperately in need of growth. Still, the overall story is one of progress.
The significance of these rankings is a matter of some debate, and Hawkins notes the tendency of some schools to meet the letter of the criteria without doing the hard work necessary to make initiatives like expanded Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate options actually help students improve. This is school policy as marketing, and it’s a recipe for money and time spent not helping kids learn more. AP and IB aren’t magic, and their mere presence in a school doesn’t make it better, nor do bright and shiny new computers if there isn’t high-quality curriculum and instruction available to capitalize on their potential.
Cutting through the buzz, Hawkins lays out what got Patrick Henry and South High Schools in Minneapolis onto the list. Again, read the full piece for more details, but suffice it to say that the approach taken by both schools shows more effort than simply using AP or IB as a mere marketing gimmick. In South’s case, the school doesn’t even offer IB coursework, but still did well on the rankings because of its strength elsewhere.
One of the broader points Hawkins draws from the results is the success of addressing the “aspiration gap” that tends to reduce the number of students of color or from low-income backgrounds in advanced coursework. By getting intentional about placing more such students in advanced coursework and providing the resources and support necessary for those students to succeed, schools can make real progress.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the not-so-small victories of some of our traditional public schools.