Minnesota leaders have recently said they want to focus our state’s education efforts on improving graduation rates, with a goal of graduating 100% of high school students.
While that’s a worthy goal, it shouldn’t distract from the need to improve student achievement. Unfortunately, increasing graduation rates doesn’t have much meaning if students receive diplomas without mastering basic skills or being ready for college or a job.
Minnesota’s test scores in reading have been on a steady decline, and math scores have dropped significantly in nearly a decade. Even more disturbing, while overall test scores are dropping, the academic outcomes gap between white students and students of color continues to be the worst in the nation and is a moral stain on our state’s legacy. The overall four-year state graduation rate was 83% in 2018. But 88% of white students graduated on time, compared with 51% of American Indians, 67% of black students and 67% of Hispanic students in Minnesota.
An important tool in improving academic achievement is allowing students and families the ability to have children attend the education setting that best fits their needs.
While Minnesota was once a leader in giving students greater access to a wide range of educational opportunities from homeschooling, online learning, private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and open enrollment into public schools, we have fallen behind other states that provide a wider range of options for kids and families.
Giving students access to better education options shouldn’t be political or partisan. It isn’t a political or partisan issue for families, but unfortunately it has become so for some elected officials. Access to better education options should be about families making personal decisions for their children. It’s also about empowering parents with the opportunity to find the best educational environments for their own kids – regardless of where they live or how much money they make. It is immoral for us to allow kids to be trapped in low-performing schools.
As 2020 begins, let’s reaffirm our state’s leadership in this area and commit to doing better for our students. The unfortunate reality is that no matter how the state measures educational performance, Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps between white students and students of color. Providing access to great schools for disadvantaged families can help by allowing students to learn in the most conducive environment possible for their needs and interests.
There is no “one size fits all” model that works best. All of our educational decisions must center on kids. Some students perform best in traditional public schools. Others succeed in a public charter school or a public magnet school, and yet others benefit from attending a private school that meets their needs or learning online or in a homeschool setting. It’s not about the system – it’s about the children.
No matter the option they select, parents cite similar reasons to support their school choice decision. Parents seek the best for their kids – they want them to have engaged teachers who challenge their students and inspire them to achieve their full potential.
Research shows that when parents actively choose schools and education environments for their children, students are more likely to succeed in school. They are also more likely to graduate from high school, get good jobs, and participate in their communities.
This week is National School Choice Week, in which parents, friends, teachers, and students will gather at more than 50,000 events nationwide. These events will celebrate the millions of school choice success stories occurring all over the country, including here in Minnesota.
As we celebrate in Minnesota, we can give thanks for the success that school choice has brought to so many families in our state. In 2020, let’s work together to help more children access the best schools for them.
Rashad Turner is the executive director of the Minnesota Parent Union.