Education Crossroads

Sandra L. Vargas

Sandra L. Vargas

Minnesota is at a critical juncture. If and how we transform education today will influence our regional economy and quality of life for generations.

Many Minnesotans believe we have a strong education system. And it’s true that Minnesota continues to lead the nation on some measures:

  • Our overall reading scores typically rank among the top in the nation.
  • The majority of our high school graduates enroll in a post-secondary institution.
  • And our college graduation rates are above the national average.

Yet we are also clearly underperforming on too many critical counts:

  • Just half of Minnesota’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn.
  • 9 out of 10 African-American 4th graders are behind in reading.
  • About 40% of African-American, American-Indian and Latino students graduate from high school in four years.
  • 38% of Minnesota public high school graduates who attend state colleges and universities require remedial coursework.

When I speak with people in our community about the true failings of our educational system, they are often shocked to learn that Minnesota is faring so poorly. The truth is, we are creating a two-tiered society: those our educational system serves and those it neglects.

Often those who are aware there’s an achievement gap view the disparities with mild disbelief (“It’s not that bad.” “It’s only a few schools.” “The system works for most kids.”) or cynicism (“It’s too big to change.” “It’s the fault of the [fill in the blank].”) Sometimes I worry that we’re facing a perception gap as much as an achievement gap.

As a community, our long-term economic and cultural vitality depends upon everyone being able to contribute and share. Transforming our education system is our best hope of ensuring that opportunity is available to all.

We, at the Foundation, are working with nonprofit, public, philanthropic, and corporate allies through grant making and collaborative efforts to help make that transformation possible. We also seek to raise awareness of the facts, spotlight effective reform efforts, and build public will for change. This year, through Minnesota Meeting we’re partnering with the Itasca Project to focus on moving three aspects of this issue forward:

  • Our education system needs to be more flexible, innovative and accountable. It should reflect the fact that we live in the 21st century, and that our children will be competing with their peers from around the world for the jobs of the future.
  • We need to challenge and in some cases overturn the current orthodoxy about teaching methods as well as teacher training, licensing and evaluation.  We need to require that teachers be evaluated, in part, on student progress.
  • We need policymakers at all levels – from local school boards to the Governor’s office – to be held accountable for closing the racial achievement gap, which leaves thousands of students behind year after year.

On June 10, through the live on-line broadcast of Minnesota Meeting, you’ll hear from national education reform leader Alex Johnston. And over the next several weeks, individuals close to the education system and involved in local reform efforts will offer their viewpoints on this blog.

I hope you’ll stay with us and join the conversation. It will take a community to move this forward. We’re glad to be working with you.

Register now for the special live web broadcast of Minnesota Meeting.

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