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Let’s support education for kids, not systems

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.

Rashad Turner
Rashad Turner
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.


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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/29/2020 - 10:23 am.

    No Mr. Turner, I will not support destroying my child’s public education to finance the religious indoctrination of wealthy conservative’s kids. I understand the achievement gap issue, find another way. There will NEVER be vouchers for private schools in this state, and a great many of us will fight the ideology that has decided that destruction of public education for the vast majority is needed to uplift the outcomes of minorities. I can understand the desperation that parents must feel as their children are left behind, but remember that good decisions are never borne from desperation, and getting into bed with the privatization crowd will NOT mean that those you care about will succeed, it simply means that everyone else will ALSO be left in your position. They mean to return us to a state of rigid class division, where one’s birth status determines their educational prospects, whatever lip service paid to the achievement gap is nothing more than a smoke screen to obfuscate their true goals.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 01/29/2020 - 11:05 am.

      Matt, you choose a system over educating our children? I can’t for the life of me understand “sorry about your kid not being educated after 13 years of public education but we need to keep this system”. MPSD has proven they cannot educate ALL kids with current curriculum. Change is needed. Having folks say they know better than the child’s parents is baffling.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/29/2020 - 11:38 am.

      Matt – you already subsidize private and even religious education through your tax dollars for kids who attend private and even religious colleges and universities.

      Thank you!

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/29/2020 - 12:39 pm.

        Those that meet accredited status yes. Christian madrassas, preaching creationist nonsense and unwilling to accommodate non-believers, not so much.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/29/2020 - 01:52 pm.

        You’re forgetting that a college that lets its students accept federal loans or aid is subject to Title IX oversight.

        Are you willing to let your local church-affiliated school be under state regulation?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 01/29/2020 - 10:24 am.

    Thank you Mr. Turner! So refreshing to read a common sense approach that will actually help students, parents and eventually our community.

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/29/2020 - 11:18 am.

    Another Minnpost piece brought to you by the right-wing billionaires trying to destroy public education. No, lets not do vouchers and other failed nonsense just because the Wal-mart heirs are paying for a bunch of astroturf groups to push them.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/29/2020 - 01:00 pm.

      The data proves public schools are failing miserably. Parents know best and it’s time to let them decide where kids go and take the power away from the Teachers Union and school admins. Charter, private schools and even homeschooling all easily surpass public schools in education outcomes for kids.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/29/2020 - 07:55 pm.

        My children attend a wonderful public school, with an engaged and highly performing group of energized students. They are happy, and love going to class every day. Why do you want to take that away from them (and all those like them, constituting the vast majority of public school kids) to force them to attend a cut rate private institution. Surely you don’t think the private education that will be available for the masses will in any way resemble that which exists for the wealthy now? Why should my children be forced into the Walmart of education while the children of the wealthy are treated to the high end boutique?

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/29/2020 - 08:58 pm.

        The data says nothing of the sort. That is completely false.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 01/30/2020 - 07:39 pm.

      The person who wrote this is Rashad Turner, the Rashad Turner who was the head of the St. Paul chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement so I’m not exactly sure how this is from from right-wing conservative movement.

  4. Submitted by Brian Mann on 01/29/2020 - 11:55 am.

    An educator in the field whom I trust says her data shows that classroom success is predicated only by 40% of classroom instruction. The larger 60% is based on external factors such as stable and safe home environment, adequate nutrition and sleep, and parental support with schooling and homework. It’s not much of a leap to believe whatever research this came from makes sense – if a student is hungry, tired, depressed, unsafe, and unloved, how could any school “strategy” or “system” compensate? The issue is increasing poverty and societal decay. Until and unless these are improved, expect more of the same “gap” results.

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/29/2020 - 06:36 pm.

      I agree that pressure needs to be applied to feckless parents, but let’s not kid ourselves, the system is rigged for the benefit of the unions and special interest groups.

      We need to start at the roots.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 01/30/2020 - 03:20 am.

      Excellent post. Often people in our nation compare our students’ results to top nations in educational achievement, one being Finland; however, one can’t separate education from society as a whole. Your last two sentences summarize the problem well.

  5. Submitted by tom kendrick on 01/29/2020 - 12:47 pm.

    Joe, some teachers DO have a better idea of what kids need than some of the parents. The great majority of St Paul Public Schools teachers I know and work with are extremely dedicated to their students and their profession. We want to see the parents and families in the school where they would be very warmly welcomed. Unfortunately many stay away entirely, do not respond to notes, phone calls or visits, and the teachers are left to educate their charges with no support from home. Where is the neglect in this picture.
    Suggestion: please volunteer in your local public school.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 01/29/2020 - 06:39 pm.

      Tom, do you consider a school district successful when half of their students are not proficient in math or reading? That is the MPSD! You have 3 levels of students (always will have, even with equity programs) advanced learners, average learners and below average learners. Teaching them all at the same level (which the teachers do) doesn’t work for advanced learners (they are not challenged) or below average learners (they never get it). Do that for 13 years, add pushing students through the grades and now you have 50% of all MPSD students not proficient in reading or math.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/29/2020 - 01:26 pm.

    Mr. Turner – as well as Mr. Smith and Mr. Gotzman – are incorrect on multiple levels.

    To begin with, schools don’t fail. There are no low-performing schools. There ARE schools with numerous, sometimes far too numerous, low-performing students. One of those areas where many students perform poorly, for example, is reading. When Mr. Turner (or Mr. Smith or Mr. Gotzman) can provide examples of teachers in “school ‘x’” providing reading instruction to one segment of their classroom, but not to another, or some students in their class, but not others, only then will we have some evidence of failure, not of the school, but of the teacher.

    Since I’ve yet to encounter a rational argument from people who like to call themselves “conservative” that shows a public school in the state staffed with unlicensed teachers, who lack the relevant educational background and certification, or that show a classroom such as I just described above, wherein a qualified teacher provides instruction to part of the classroom, or some of the students, but not to the other part, or the other students, achievement gaps (which are quite real, unfortunately) must be laid at the feet of something or someone other than teachers who don’t provide instruction or schools that don’t provide qualified teachers.

    In some circles, it’s fairly common to lay blame, if there’s blame to be laid, at the feet of parents, who are, after all, undeniably every child’s first teacher(s). If you don’t read to your children on a regular basis, stretch their toddler and preschool imaginations with trips to museums or parks, or other sorts of unusual outings that differ from their usual experience at home, you do your children a disservice. While there’s some truth to that argument, I think, it’s too easy. Many a parent, especially and particularly a single parent, or a parent at the bottom of the income pyramid, have neither the time nor the financial resources for museum memberships and a home library from which to read to their children every night. Television is a poor substitute for an interactive, living human being, but even in that arena, it seems pointless to blame PBS for being unable to undo the toxic effects of commercial TV, little of which is intended or made for children.

    The “school choice” endorsed by Mr. Turner, Mr. Smith, Mr. Gotzman and others will merely exacerbate the existing pattern(s) of segregation and discrimination that already exist. Those with the resources to do so will – as they have always done – see to it that the educational opportunities afforded to their children are bountiful and high-quality. Those with fewer – or no – resources available to them will not be able to match the opportunities provided by affluent families. A return to the educational systems of the 19th century, which is essentially what “school choice” provides, does not constitute progress for the community as a whole.

    • Submitted by Kerry Nelson on 02/26/2020 - 01:29 pm.

      I entirely agree, but wish to add something else: that the Minnesota “narrative” has to change. Being one of the most liberal and progressive states in the Union might be the exact reason that Minnesota’s achievement gap is greater than in other states. From what I’ve been seeing, the current narrative states that it’s racism that is causing the achievement gap, but I think that’s barking up the wrong tree. I only recently saw the claim that all white teachers, especially women, in Saint Paul Schools are racists or white supremacists. This is so wrong, but it’s a message that is subtly being promoted by the district, the teacher’s union, the community, and the media. No other ideas allowed. On the face of it this might seem well-intentioned, but it’s hurting everyone, and mostly the students themselves. Teachers go along with it because they either believe it, or they are fearful, or they don’t know what else to do to fix things, but this narrative does not help students succeed. Instead it fuels the dislike of school and teachers. John McWhorter, a Black liberal professor of English (and a linguistics expert) at Columbia University, writes about this phenomenon, suggesting that the achievement gap is cultural–both socioeconomic and attitudinal–and that the overriding belief among many students is that education and good grades are for whites (or Asians). Pushing the idea of racism as the problem only exacerbates the achievement gap:, it does not help students engage with academics or build trusting relationships with their teachers. And unfortunately, the majority of teachers are white because districts cannot find enough teachers of color to fill positions (it’s not the fault of districts, as it’s often painted).

      Minnesota has a wealth of educational options. We do not need more. Minnesota teachers graduate from the same handful of teaching colleges. Teachers are not “bad.” Schools are not “bad.” Instead of promoting this racism narrative, education incubators and think tanks would make better use of their time figuring out how to change student behavior and attitudes (including getting more students to go into teaching) so that kids can get the most out of school. It’s only with all students’ engagement that the achievement gap will begin to close. Continual focus on racism will do nothing but engender resentment and dysfunction, but creators of charters are motivated by their livelihoods and this current narrative to create yet more charters. According to John McWhorter, decades ago students of color were hurt by racism, but no longer. Current students have “a world of opportunities,” as the St. Paul Schools’ slogan says, if only all students would take advantage of them.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/29/2020 - 01:50 pm.

    Making parental choice the paramount concern in education policy ignores the fact that education is not something for the parents, nor is it solely for the kids. Public education is meant as a public benefit for society as a whole, because we (or those who went before us) made a conscious policy decision that an educated populace is a good thing in and of itself. It’s not about turning out good, productive (compliant?) workers for industry, and it is not about giving parents an amenity for their children. We have public schools because the “stability of a republican form of government depend[s] mainly upon the intelligence of the people.”

    The “but it’s for the kids!” line does much to obscure the true agenda of the “choice” crowd. Charter schools and private schools tend to be non-unionized, so strengthening the hands of those operates does even more to decimate organized labor in the US. Furthermore, public schools have long served as community anchors. What happens to that anchor when every student attends a different school? What holds the community together at its smallest, most cohesive part?

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