What might a DFL governor and Republican Legislature bring us in 2011? One priority issue they should work together on is education.
Minnesota’s reading scores have remained flat for nearly 20 years on the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) and on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCAs), and the achievement gap continues to persist. Nineteen states have higher Grade 4 NAEP reading scores, and five states have the same score. That means that 24 states perform better or the same as Minnesota on reading scores, making Minnesota on par with the national average.
While Minnesota’s performance has not dropped over the course of 20 years, other states have made improvements during this time and have surpassed our performance. For Minnesota to remain competitive, we must reform our education system. We need a stronger focus on students and student learning, and accountability for results.
Remember the campaign — you could not have forgotten already, even if you would like to. Mark Dayton said a good education is the cornerstone to grow jobs, keep the middle class strong and keep Minnesota ready to compete in the global community. Tom Emmer was right there, too, in saying, “Next to new jobs our highest priority as a state must be educating our kids well.” Tom Horner echoed the message, saying “Few investments are more important than education.”
Our benchmark should be proficiency
Businesses and Education Minnesota agree that funding public education and student achievement need to be high on the state’s agenda. We are all concerned about the achievement gap. Only half of Minnesota’s non-white students are reading at grade level. However, our benchmark for education excellence should not be white student achievement; our benchmark should be proficiency. While the achievement gap is unacceptable, it is monumentally important to ensure that all students are proficient. Right now, almost one in three students in Minnesota cannot read at grade level, and most of them, 60 percent , are white students.
No one needs to take a poll to know that Minnesota citizens are expecting the new governor and Legislature to get some things done and to work a lot harder to find common ground. People understand that there are different perspectives and approaches to policy, but aren’t there also some core values around education that could lead to change and progress?
A glimmer of hope may be seen in legislators, representatives from the Minnesota Business Partnership and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce attending the National Summit on Education Reform convened by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in a few weeks in Washington, D.C. Isn’t it hard to disagree with what they present as cornerstones of reform — high expectations, measurement and reporting, rewarding and funding success and parental choice?
We know some approaches that work
Geoffrey Canada‘s approach to education in Harlem has captured the interest of President Obama, mayors and superintendents, and business leaders. We also know that mentoring and programs like Teach for America can make a difference in the lives of students. People at our Capitol should be able to find ways to support our teachers and increase mentoring opportunities.
Youth, themselves, may also be helpful in finding solutions and common ground. Those under 18 did not vote on Nov. 2, but engaging youth with the administration and Legislature would help guide them in a good direction. We have also seen that youth who are involved in their community and who experience service learning not only make the community better, but do better in school.
We can hope that this election will bring out the best in Minnesota. We have done it before, and why not demonstrate that civic spirit with work on education?
Jim Scheibel is Executive in Residence at the School of Business at Hamline University. Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Fellow with the Foundation for Excellence in Education.