We Minnesotans have a lot to be proud of. Our state has benefited from a great deal of prosperity over the last several decades, and we have had an enviable quality of life. But a growing body of research suggests that we are on track to reverse this positive trend. Our job growth rates have fallen below the U.S. average. Our income growth has stagnated relative to other parts of the country. At the core of our economic vitality is a highly educated workforce, but other states and countries are now passing us by. And, by many metrics, we have one of the largest achievement gaps in the country between white students and our growing population of minority students. Clearly, our future prosperity is at risk.
So what is the secret to ensuring Minnesota’s long-term prosperity in an increasingly global world? We’ve known the answer for a long time: Ensure that each and every child receives a world-class education from Pre-K to higher ed.
The Itasca Project has been working hard with our partners to explore what this really means. With the Minnesota Business Partnership, we assessed Minnesota’s education system compared to world-class education systems (see, Minnesota’s Future: World-class Schools, World-Class Jobs). We’ve also been working closely and directly with the Minneapolis Public Schools District on their plan to dramatically improve educational quality and achievement in the district
Through this work (and scores of existing research, including the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program) we know what changes are needed to ensure that our education system remains competitive and that we close the persistent achievement gap.
We need to do more to ensure we have a highly effective teacher in every classroom. Exploring opportunities to improve the way we recruit, train, and manage teachers is an important step. We also need to ensure we have top-notch leaders in the principal role at every school. Again, reassessing the way we identify, license, and evaluate principals is at the heart of important change. Setting rigorous standards for our students is key, as is a robust data system to track and improve performance in schools.
Though these strategies may seem simple – and even obvious – we have not yet addressed them effectively in Minnesota. What we need to do seems fairly clear, but we cannot seem to agree on how to accomplish it. This became painfully clear as our state failed to enter a competitive bid in Race to the Top – and lost our chance at millions of dollars that could have gone to our classrooms.
What will it take to transform our education system? Leadership, courage, and engagement. We need elected officials and education leaders to put politics aside and focus on what is best for the kids. We need leaders from the state, the districts, the unions, the colleges and universities, and others to work together towards solutions. We need parents and community members from across the state to get educated and engaged on the issue, and to demand better results from our education system. And we need all of this urgently because other states and countries are taking school reform seriously. Change is never easy, but if we don’t act now, we put our economic prosperity and quality of life at risk. – Mary Brainerd, the Itasca Project
Mary Brainerd is the President and CEO of HealthPartners and is the Chair of the Itasca Project.