Minnesota, we have an education problem. The system is failing our 76,000 Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, and while Gov. Tim Walz’s Due North Education Plan is a step in the right direction, it still falls short of actually giving students the help they need.
The 2019 MDE State of Our Students Report shows the four-year graduation rate for English Learner students is 65.7% compared to 88.4% of white students overall. Further, only 30.8% were achieving grade level reading proficiency in reading and only 29% in math. These results are being further aggravated by the pandemic. How is this acceptable?
For far too long, Latinx and English Learner (EL) students have been left behind in Minnesota’s education system. Our education system must focus on providing each of these children and their families, regardless of ethnicity or language(s) spoken, high-quality education. They deserve more and it’s time to do something about it.
Over the past year, LatinoLEAD’s education action team committee, composed of some of Minnesota’s top Latinx education leaders, has been working on proposals to address the lack of attention and support provided to students with Limited English Proficiency in Minnesota. We were pleased to see that Due North has several proposals that are aligned with our recommendations as it provides a great vision and articulates the hopes and dreams we have for students. However, the problem is that vision without strategy falls short, and mandates without accountability ultimately fail.
A good step, but not enough
The plan includes several parts that are a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to help those who most need it. This includes the addition of five interpreters and engagement positions for the entire state. While helpful, and a step in the right direction, we doubt these positions will provide enough capacity for 76,000 LEP students across Minnesota and provide meaningful, long-term engagement. We want to ensure that our interpreters and cultural liaisons feel supported and have the capacity to do their jobs effectively.
Additionally, Due North aims to strengthen the voices of communities in school decision-making, but to successfully achieve this, it requires better funding. It would require district advisory committees to include students, parents or guardians and community members to ensure that curriculum, learning and work environments are inclusive and respectful to all racial and ethnic groups, and establish a path for equitably engaging stakeholders to revise discipline policies. Again, a step in the right direction, but with a budget of $600,000, it simply isn’t enough to develop ethnic studies curricula. Without adequate funding, we cannot ensure that these advisory committees will be effective, as the schools will likely face barriers in providing the recommended curriculum.
Though translation and engagement positions are often held by multilingual and multicultural people, we want to ensure that the mental health providers are also multilingual and multicultural. Our EL students and families deserve culturally competent and relevant social workers and mental health providers so that each of our students can reach their true academic potential.
The governor’s office needs to hold the Education Department and system to the same standards of equity and success that Housing, Human Rights or Employment and Economic Development receive. We need families to arrive, connect, and have access to essential services in a language they can understand. Parents also have the right to know how their child is academically performing. All colleges must become responsible for graduating teachers fully educated on equity and inclusion in order to help ensure these goals.
A great asset for the state
English learner students and their parents should stop being seen as a liability, and instead as the great asset they are for our state. Students who speak a second language deserve access to high-quality early childhood multilingual care and education so they don’t start kindergarten behind their peers. Other languages must be taught to students at early grades so they graduate being academically multilingual.
We need notification of a school’s failure to comply with policies that are sent directly from MDE to families. We need accountability, standards and tools more tailored to measuring English Learner students’ growth, support and clear benchmarks across the board for the plan to make a meaningful impact. We are asking for change, we are asking for investment, and we are asking for a commitment to One Minnesota that includes all of us.
Franny Marino is a language access and support manager at Hiawatha Academies, Milca Domínguez and Clara Montbriand are cultural family advocates for Minnesota School District 196. They are all members of the LatinoLEAD education action committee. LatinoLEAD is a cross-sector network of Latinxs leaders working together to advance our collective influence, success and power.
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