Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Education gleefully released the state’s sophomore graduation reading standard test results. 75% met the requirement, a fact that the department fell all over itself announcing.
Clearly, it was victory lap moment for Commissioner Alice Seagren and the department.
“These reading results show that if we increase rigor and we raise expectations, our students can and will rise up to meet the challenge,” Seagren says in the press release. “Minnesota students and educators deserve credit and praise for their outstanding effort.”
If anything, I think that last sentence is overly tame. Given the school funding circumstances created by Seagren’s boss, Governor Pawlenty, the achievement is remarkable.
It’s also fair to mention that Commissioner Seagren, then State Representative Seagren chairing the State House of Representatives Education Committee, carried the bill restructuring school financing, gutting the state funding formula and forcing school costs back on to a regressive property tax funded method. Consequently, I’m a bit surprised that Seagren is crowing about success after creating a disaster.
I should also mention that this whole deal is part of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate that, structurally and purposefully, creates school performance failure. Seagren opposes Minnesota leaving NCLB.
Excuse my prickliness over the Department of Education celebration but that 25% failure rate nags at me. Studying the data doesn’t improve things.
Divided by race, 82% of white sophomores passed. For black sophomores, the rate was half that, at 41%. All non-white students performed below their white classmates.
Personally, the most troubling result and one that, to the Department of Education’s credit, is included in their press release, reveals that only 54% of sophomores who qualify for free or reduced price lunch passed the state high school graduation standard.
Let me be blunt: if you’re poor, you’re headed for more poor. Regardless of workplace effort, illiteracy virtually guarantees a life of poverty. 46% of free/reduced price lunch eligible sophomores failing the graduation reading proficiency standard is not a healthy testing outcome. It’s certainly not producing a healthy Minnesota future.
Think this one through. What happens to these kids? Simple. They become poor adults with fewer options for financial success.
Minnesota has done well because we value education and we back that sentiment with money. We’ve built tremendous public schools that have created the most intelligent, hard working, and flexible workforce in state history.
Conservative public policy makers want to throw that all away.
Perhaps surprisingly, I agree with Commissioner Seagren when she favors rising expectations. I have rural farmboy’s hard-eyed, decidedly unsentimental view of life. I believe that not only can we always do better but that we must.
I know a host of teachers who consider the one out of four sophomores reading standard non-pass rate to be a personal and professional failing. Those are the teachers I want teaching my kids and yours. I don’t want them worrying about having enough pencils for every student or whether their year’s photocopying budget allocation will be exhausted by Christmas.
I don’t want methodological testing boondoggles and jimmy sunshine press releases glossing problems. I have great faith in people’s capacity to deal with the problems before them. But, I also know that people need to have honest, fairly presented data before proposing solutions.
Under the circumstances, Commissioner Seagren’s victory lap is premature.
Instead of patting ourselves on the back, let’s invest in public education. Let’s build a better future for Minnesota. Let’s not be satisfied with modest results.