Chances are, most everybody at last week’s Minneapolis Foundation get-together — certainly the education honchos — had heard for years about the academic achievement gap between white and non-white kids in our schools.
Yet even they may have been a little startled to hear a think-tank bigwig from D.C. say this:
“Minnesota is doing pretty miserably compared to many other states. Your black kids are performing below black kids in Alabama and South Carolina.”
That’s what Kati Haycock told me, right before sharing that thought with a crowd of about 600 community leaders, corporate and foundation bigwigs, elected officials and involved citizens at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Hmmm. And we Northerners thought we could trump those Southern states on near everything.
Still, Haycock ought to know. As president of the Education Trust, she’s hell-bent on closing the racial achievement gap. And she took her role as rabble-rouser and truth-teller seriously, since 25 years of Minnesota Meetings have been designed to stimulate public discourse. She shook, stirred and served up food for thought.
Haycock said what needed to be said, according to Sandra Vargas, Minneapolis Foundation president. “Minnesota lives on a legacy that we’re great. It’s true in some areas. In education, we have a lot of work to do,” she said. This was the first of three public forums on “Raising Expectations” for all Minnesota students.
The blows kept coming.
“On state assessments in reading, about 80 percent of your white fourth-graders meet the state standards. For black fourth-graders, it’s more like 44 percent, for Latinos, about 33 percent, and somewhere in the mid-50s for both Asian and Native American students,” Haycock said, according to a news release from the Foundation.
Further, “When those same fourth-graders take national exams, the results plummet. Only 42 percent of white fourth-graders are proficient; the results for African-American fourth-graders are 12 percent, Latinos 16 percent and Native Americans 20 percent,” she said.
Where’d she get those stats? From NAEP, short for the National Assessment of Education Progress, a.k.a. The Nation’s Report Card, and a program of the U.S. Department of Education. The 2009 scores aren’t out yet.
Audience reaction to her remarks?
Provocative. Wide-brush. Common knowledge, said some educators.
Too negative, said one ed professional who didn’t want to be quoted. She preferred the message of another speaker at the forum: Rudy Crew, former superintendent of schools in New York City and Miami/Dade.
Crew talked about the need for schools to set high expectations for all students and about how important it is to demonstrate to all students a “high degree of human caring.”
As for Haycock, I asked her where the achievement gap blame lies.
“Is this about family? I don’t think so,” she replied, pointing out the better academic performance of black kids and smaller achievement gaps in many other states.
What then? Money won’t fix the achievement-gap problem, she said, pointing out that Alabama spends a lot less on education than Minnesota.
Nor does the answer lie in integrating minority and poor kids into middle-class school settings, an approach some education researchers think will solve the problem.
“I’m very much a believer in integration. I’m also a realist,” Haycock said. Integration is not happening. Plus, a black kid does not have to have a white kid sitting next to him or to her to do better, as successful one-race schools demonstrate.
OK, so, what’s the answer to closing the door on the academic achievement gap?
“What African-American kids, Latinos and others need isn’t different from what other kids need: quality teachers, challenging, rigorous assignments and support when they’re struggling. There is no voodoo weird thing you do for black kids you don’t do for other kids,” she said.
Research “overwhelmingly” shows that too often black and Latino and poor kids of all races are “more likely to be assigned to less effective, less-experienced teachers” because experienced teachers too often leave schools challenged by issues of race and poverty.
Federal stabilization money — those stimulus funds we’re hearing about — may help. To qualify for the bucks, Haycock says, states will have to identify strong and weak teachers and show that low-income and minority children “are not taught disproportionately by inexperienced, out-of-field or unqualified or uncertified teachers.”
As for educators in the crowd, the achievement gap was old news. Yet St. Paul Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen praised Haycock for sparking discussion on the achievement gap in the wider community. Teachers in their first three years in the classroom need more support from experienced educators, Carstarphen agreed.
Other educators, like Joann Knuth, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, stressed what’s working: “In many ways, we’re doing a really good job.” She cited high SAT and ACT testing scores among Minnesota high school students, for example, and said that principals are recognizing that more experienced teachers need to be assigned to students hamstrung by issues of race and poverty.
Cynthia Boyd, a former reporter and columnist for the Pioneer Press, writes on education, health, social issues and other topics. She can be reached at cboyd [at] minnpost [dot] com.