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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

ALERT: MN Is Dead Last In Education Support Services

Category: Education
Posted: 03/08/16 02:10

by Dave Mindeman

There is this Republican talking point that comes up every election year. It goes something like this....

We spend too much on education. You can't just keep throwing money at the problem and expect to get better results. It's not working.

MPR put together a study and this is one of the conclusions:

Many schools here and elsewhere have improved their graduation rates in part by following a simple formula of early intervention. They identify students who are at risk of dropping out, then match them with the support they need. But the effort requires staff power, and Minnesota as a whole lags in that support, especially for at-risk students. Schools here spend 2.6 percent of their education dollars on pupil support, a smaller portion than every other state. And it has been that way for a decade, according to an MPR News analysis.

We talk about the embarrassing achievement gap regarding students of color in Minnesota. We have talked and studied and commissioned to just about every possible angle, and still the problem remains unchanged.

We discuss the general needs of more revenue for the schools, but we don't get specific enough on the need for student support services. We need to identify and focus on students that need that extra help....that can help them overcome the barriers that leave them trapped without opportunity.

Here are some of the problems that this study identified....

1. Schools would need to spend $75 million a year more to get back to 2002 levels of student support.

2. To match the national average rate of 5.5 percent, they would have to add about $260 million, doubling what they spend now.

3. Today Minnesota has one of the most severe counselor crunches in the country, particularly in elementary schools.

4. State education officials say it would cost about $7 million to hire the number of high school counselors needed to bring Minnesota's ratio up to the national average.

5. The fastest-growing segment of the future workforce is students of color...the students least likely to earn diplomas.

6. If you're Hispanic, black, Asian-American or Native American, your chances of completing high school are worse in Minnesota than in almost any other state.

These are sobering facts. And Republican assertions that we are just throwing too much money around is just plain wrong. In 2006, Gov. Pawlenty proposed a plan that would require all districts to spend at least 70 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction. A noble undertaking, but in order to do that, support services had to be sacrificed....and we have never recovered. Identifying students at risk is the key to solving that achievement gap....and once they are identified, it is imperative that they have the student support services to help them.

Gov. Dayton has been repeatedly calling for more investment into early education. That is another key to solving this issue. Early learning can reduce the need for support services...it will not solve the problem alone, but it is a key component.

We need to look deeper into the achievement gap. We still need more investments, but they also must be smarter and more targeted investments.

One thing is certain though - do not buy the argument that we are spending too much on Minnesota education. Yes, it is a large portion of our budget, but that goes for almost all other states as well.

This is Minnesota and we expect better. We are better. Remember that during this legislative session.
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Daudt: Early Ed Is A Payoff To Education MN

Category: Education
Posted: 02/22/16 02:37

by Dave Mindeman

At the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, legislative leaders sized up the coming session in several areas. But when the subject of early childhood education came up, Kurt Daudt decided to spout off....

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, accused DFLers of promoting universal pre-kindergarten in Minnesota's public schools as a result of campaign contributions from Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union. "This was pushed by the teachers union," Daudt said. "You increase the dues-paying members of the union by 8-10 percent. Democrats get money from unions."

So early childhood education is some kind of payoff to Education Minnesota? That seems to be Kurt Daudt's reasoning. Let's forget the merits of the issue and go right into partisan wrangling. Forget about kids, this is just a Democratic method of getting more teachers.

Man, what a bunch of hogwash.

The ironic thing about this is that his Senate counterpart, Minority Leader David Hann seemed to be in favor of early ed, at least in part...

Hann indicated that Art Rolnick, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota and a former leader at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, provided him with "very good studies" that showed that targeted investments in early childhood education could help disadvantaged children.

You get broader help with full early ed across the board. But then what can happen when Kurt Daudt is blocking everything before it starts.

It looks like this legislative session is shaping up to be more of the same in the Minnesota House.
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Education Achievement Gap - Minnesota's Negative Mark

Category: Education
Posted: 12/09/15 10:36

by Dave Mindeman

The Minnesota achievement gap is terrible. We really do have an extraordinary problem and the answers have been elusive and frustrating. Governor Dayton wants to address some of this in a special session, and that is great, but it is hard to see how progress can be made when we still are not sure of what the baseline problem is right now.

Andy Brehm, a Republican operative, wrote a piece in Minnpost's Community Voices. He believes he has the "obvious" answer....vouchers.

Brehm cites some disturbing numbers...

One important driver of this economic inequality sources back to the poor job some Minnesota schools have done educating minority students. While 85 percent of white students graduate high school on time, fewer than 60 percent of the state's black and Hispanic students receive a diploma in four years. And the rate for our Native American students is the second worst in the nation at 49 percent.

This is a very serious issue and very troubling. Brehm's voucher solution seems to be driven by an example he gives of Hope Academy....

Consider a special place called Hope Academy, a private, faith-based school located in a destitute neighborhood in South Minneapolis that has a student population that is 41 percent African-American, 33 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white. Hope has every hurdle of any Minneapolis public school; 77 percent of Hope families live near or below the poverty line. In fact, the percentage of low-income families represented at Hope Academy is higher than that of the Minneapolis Public Schools and more than twice the state and nationwide percentages.

Remarkably, however, 81 percent of Hope Academy's students test at or above grade level in reading and 75 percent in math, compared to 28 percent and 24 percent respectively at neighboring public schools. 100 percent percent of Hope's student body graduates on time and 95 percent of its alumni is headed to post-secondary institutions.

Yes, pretty impressive. But the surface numbers do not tell the whole story. Hope Academy gets no public funding. They are a faith based school and they do want to help the local students of impoverished neighborhoods.

But here is the rub. The parents have to pay part of the cost. The school keeps it low...(about $600 to $1000) per year, but it is still a daunting sum to families with stiflingly low income. And they have criteria that must be met before acceptance. Students are assessed for "school readiness"...grade 6 or above must pass an entrance exam. In other words, the students they accept already have a better chance than the average student would have at the Minneapolis Public System. Kids in low income families do not get the early education benefits or often don't have a stable home environment that can give them a learning discipline. And in addition, parents must sign and commit to a "Parent Covenant" which requires them to attend all parent/teacher conferences and at least 3 other school events. It has long been postulated that a parent's involvement in their child's education is a major factor in success for the student.

Would Hope Academy's impressive numbers continue if they weren't allowed to be selective in accepting students? Would a state voucher program require them to have a more challenging student body?

These are the things we have to grapple with when vouchers are discussed. I have always felt that a voucher system will merely shuffle students around and reward family's that already have good parental commitment. Vouchers themselves are not a bad idea, it is just that they are often structured in a way that will take the better students and move them out of the public system...along with the corresponding public funds. And leave an already struggling school with more challenges.

We have to find a solution that can translate into a positive for every student. We need to get away from isolating students with poverty issues and find ideas that can lift them out of that isolation.

Yes, Minneapolis costs a lot more per pupil. Nobody is questioning that. But the Minneapolis system is asked to meet challenges that few other districts have to deal with. The school is asked to not only educate but to furnish social services as well. And maybe that is all right if that is what is necessary - but first and foremost, the public schools need to have all the tools necessary to educate.

I would hope that we are looking at other areas of the country that are making progress on these gaps. Obviously since we are near the bottom of the list, we shouldn't have to look far to find better methods.

We need to get serious about this because our minority students deserve much better than this....and these education gaps translate into other minority failures that this state has to be held accountable for.

We should be done defining the problem - let's do something.
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