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HometownSource: Minnesota can indeed learn from outstanding rural schools

Can/should Minnesota learn from outstanding rural high schools such as those in Hibbing, Henderson, Little Falls and Lake of the Woods? “Yes” is the clear answer of research the Center for School Change (where I work) has carried out in the last year. Some of our conclusions will surprise plenty of people.

We’ve visited 10 rural communities all over the state, and done an intensive review of research about successful high schools. We defined “successful” high schools as those that sent a high percentage of students on to some form of Minnesota public college or university, AND prepared their graduates so well that 25% of them, or less, took remedial courses in reading, writing and math at the public college or university.

We found six major things in the communities we visited:

· High expectations for virtually all students

· Very few “fluff” or low level courses in the core academic subjects

· Very strong encouragement for virtually all students to take challenging college level classes while still in high school

· Close collaboration between the school and community

· Recognition for academic, as well as athletic accomplishments

· Explicit, ongoing assistance to help young people get into college

In Little Falls, 56% of the 2000-2003 high school graduates entered a Minnesota public college or university (that compares to 49% statewide in those years.). Only 24% of the Little Falls graduates who entered public colleges and universities took remedial courses (compared to 36% statewide).

In Caledonia, 31% of 2000-2003 high school graduates entered a Minnesota public college or university. (That does seem a bit low). But of the graduates who entered Minnesota public colleges and universities, only 17% took remedial courses.

In Canby, 54% entered Mn public colleges and universities, and only 22% took remedial courses.

At Hibbing, 67% of the 2000-2003 graduates entered Minnesota public colleges and universities (compared to 49% statewide), and 34% of those graduates took remedial classes (compared to 36% statewide).

Fifty-two percent of the Lake of the Woods 2000-2003 graduates entered Minnesota public colleges and universities, yet only 21% took remedial courses.

More than half of Minnesota New Country School graduates went on to a Minnesota public college or university. But less than 15% of the graduates of this Minnesota charter public school, located in Henderson, took remedial courses.

Recently, two suburban superintendents raised concerns about the research reported here. They said that the study does not examine what percentage of their graduates entered a private college, or public colleges and universities outside Minnesota. Those are important points.

I’ve suggested to a number of state legislators that Minnesota include students attending private Minnesota colleges in this research, and determine whether we can get information from Wisconsin colleges and universities, which thousands of Minnesota students attend.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge success. Several national studies from groups like Center for Higher Education Policy at University of Southern California, or the American Youth Policy Forum, urge what we found happening in a number of Minnesota communities.

We did not visit all of the communities named above. However, the full report, found in the Rural Minnesota Journal at describes in greater detail what we found in the places we did visit. I hope this research will help us acknowledge excellence, and apply lessons to make a difference for youngsters.

Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota

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