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What can be done to narrow the achievement gap?

Consider this:
• Students of color are two to five times as likely to drop out of school as their white peers.

• 50 percent of white students entered a Minnesota college after graduating from high school last year, while 35 percent Latino students, 44 percent American Indians and 49 percent African-Americans did the same.

• 71 percent of white students scored proficient or better in this year’s seventh-grade reading assessments compared to 64 per cent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, 44 per cent of American Indians, 39 per cent of Latinos and 37 per cent of African-Americans.

There’s an alarming educational achievement gap between students of color and white kids in this state. It’s been there for years, and the gap isn’t shrinking.

A fresh report released this morning by the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, Inc. concludes that there’s been “scant progress” towards eliminating racial disparities in education outcomes.

That’s a sobering conclusion considering closing that achievement gap has been a  top priority for the best minds in education in Minnesota and around the nation.

“I know there’s a strong will to get it right in terms of students of color, but we don’t get it right,” said Carlos Mariani, executive director of the group that did the study, which examined the status of Minnesota’s 195,099 public school students of color.

But what can be done?
The non-profit group, working toward increased school success for students of color, has an idea.

At the group’s annual conference with about 400 participants today at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Mariani is introducing an 18-point action agenda, a kind of equity blueprint aimed at eliminating the achievement gap. Then he’ll start asking for signatures of support and pledges to work toward fulfillment of the goals from leaders in education and government as well as ordinary citizens of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. (Mariani calls the pledge “A New Minnesota Covenant for Equity with Students of Color and American Indian Students.”)

“It’s a pretty aggressive long term strategy that will create a dynamic in the state that will build up the social and political will to end race disparities in education,” said Mariani, who is also a DFL legislator representing St. Paul in the House.

Goals range over eight categories, beginning with a commitment to “change Minnesota’s perceptions” of students of color, according to Mariani. Like other students, most kids of color want to be successful in school and in life, he said. More than 65 percent want to attend college after high school, according to a 2007 survey of ninth and 12th graders by the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health.

Here is a sampling of other goals: 
• expand early childhood education programs for children of color by 2010;
• transform kindergarten to 12th grade education by taking such steps as elevating literacy rates for students of color to 95 percent by third grade and increasing high school graduation rates for students of color to at least equal graduation rates of white students by 2015;
• expand college access by raising students’ college readiness skills and participation in college prep courses over the next two to four years; and
• improve post-secondary enrollments for students of color to 80 percent.

Where does the money for these programs come from in tough economic times?

“That is THE question in every area right now,’” Mariani said. “What we do know is that we will not be successful as a society and economy with our current educational outcomes. Ultimately, we’re talking about sacrifice but to continue to have horrific graduation rates with our fastest growing communities, what that means is that we will not be able to grow industries, to provide the kind of human resources we need to have a healthy economy.”

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