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On average, Minnesota schools do well. In Pre-K-12 education, the state ranks relatively high on standardized test scores, graduation rates and college readiness rates – but these are declining. High school graduation rates now sit a few points below the national average and college readiness rates have declined in the past ten years for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income white students. These disparities that cut across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status have contributed to this education gap that has persisted across two decades.
The state of Minnesota has some of the nation’s largest education gaps. They span across indicators, including standardized test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness rates. Increases in the rates of each indicator have yet to be correlated with spending levels, meaning funding plays less of a role in outcomes than is normally perceived. Let’s explore spending, indicators, and how Minnesota can learn from other states who are closing their education gaps.
Minnesota spends more than $13 billion a year on the public school system and spends on average about $14,000 per student each year in primary and secondary schools. Public schools are one of the largest elements of the state budget and the majority of spending covers teachers’ salaries and wages.Comparatively, the U.S. Department of Education’s annual survey of states puts Minnesota 18th among the states in overall per-pupil spending. In the Midwest, North Dakota and Illinois are the only states that spend more per pupil than Minnesota. However, education funding does not correlate positively with Minnesota’s education gaps, challenging a commonly held belief that spending equals achievement.
The state of Minnesota administers its own statewide standardized tests called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) and the Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS). These tests help districts measure student progress toward meeting Minnesota’s academic standards plus federal academic standards. There are large disparities in test scores when evaluated on racial, socioeconomic, and urban versus rural lines.
For example, reading test scores for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and lower-income students are over 20 points below state average. When it comes to math, test scores for BIPOC and lower-income students are 20-30 points below the state average. Test scores can also be used to measure the number of students meeting or exceeding proficiency standards. In Minnesota, 65 percent of white students are proficient in Grade 4 reading and Grade 8 math. Less than 32 percent of Black students, less than 35 percent of Hispanic students, and 36 percent of lower-income students are testing as proficient in these subjects.
Minnesota’s high school graduation rate has gradually increased in the last two decades, with the most recent data indicating that 86 percent of Minnesota high schoolers will graduate in four years. Despite this average gradual increase, graduation rates remain below average for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income white students. This is important because graduation rates are often used as an indicator of college attendance and how well a school is serving all of its students. Graduation rate gaps are especially persistent when examined by socioeconomic status and race. Minnesota ranks 47th in the nation for American Indian students who graduate on time and 50th in the nation for Black and Hispanic students who graduate on time.
Minnesota has one of the worst college-readiness gaps in the nation by race, ethnicity, and income, and it is getting worse. College readiness is a measure of a student’s ability to successfully complete first-year math and English courses at a college or university. It is most often measured by standardized tests like the ACT or SAT.
For example, in Minnesota, only 25 percent of Black students, 28 percent of American Indian, and 26 percent of Hispanic students are prepared for college. Research indicates that BIPOC students who attend college must take significantly more remedial courses than their white peers at the same starting points. Remedial courses don’t typically count as a credit towards a degree, leaving the students who need them with higher financial burdens to attend college.
While not as prevalent, there are also large gaps in college readiness across income groups, which have substantially widened since 2014. Only 36 percent of students from a household with an income of less than $36,000 are college-ready as compared to 87 percent of students from a household with an income of at least $100,000.This means students with the least ability to pay more are left needing to pay more for remedial courses before they even start taking credits for their degree.
Minnesota has some of the worst education gap in the nation, which is in part because several states have begun to take steps to address and begin closing their gaps. Louisiana was one of the first states to pass a constitutional amendment to address education in October 2003. The amendment allowed the state to take over failing schools, which placed accountability on the institution to set and meet new educational standards. By 2016, all 17 schools that had been taken over showed substantial achievement gains for low-income students and also showed a large positive cumulative effect over time on achievement, where achievement is measured by test scores.
Florida updated their constitution in 1998 to recognize education as a fundamental value of the state, making it the strongest education clause in the nation. Nearly identical to the proposed Page Amendment, the Florida amendment requires the state to provide high quality education, and makes the provision of education a paramount duty of the state. A suite of policy changes followed the 1998 passage, and, by 2017, Florida boasted higher reading and math test scores, decreased education gaps between Hispanic-White and Black-White students, and substantial reductions in test score gaps across socioeconomic status.
The state of Minnesota’s public education system is reflective of the language that designed it in 1857, the year the state constitution was ratified. Without an effort to reform the public education system and modernize its design, our state is set to continue widening education gaps in a broken status quo.
The Page Amendment ensures modern education policy debates are focused on the most important thing: the children who deserve to be at the center of all of our decisions. By establishing a clear civil right for all citizens to receive a quality education as children, we achieve a more collective responsibility to and for all of state government. Specifically, the amendment would ensure that education is a paramount duty of the state and ensure that the judicial branch is a place for families, parents, and students to seek resolution if their rights are compromised. By building a system that is focused on quality, we can ensure that all Minnesota schools are serving every child no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or geographical location.
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