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MN student academic performance drops again; where are the results of all our spending?

New data from the state’s Department of Education show student math scores have dropped for the fifth consecutive year and reading scores have dipped as well. In addition, very little progress has been made to close Minnesota’s persistent achievement gaps. Sixty-three percent of white students met math proficiency standards compared with 26 percent of black and American Indian students.

The department’s “first-of-its-kind” State of Our Students report paints a sobering picture of Minnesota’s academic achievement and progress. But according to state Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, “The state of our students is promising”—a response to the data that even threw off the Star Tribune’s Patrick Coolican as reported in the “Morning Hot Dish”:

On the education beat, I was struck during my absence by the response to falling math and reading scores by Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, who sounded more like the labor leader she once was than a school leader.

From Erin Golden’s story:

The release also included a new “State of Our Students” report, in which state Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said she sees promise in Minnesota students and called for using a “broader collection of data” to assess how well schools and students are doing, rather than narrowly focusing on test scores or any other single measure.

No acknowledgment that these results in literacy and numeracy are unacceptable?

Coolican also calls out the state’s history of dumping money into education with very little to show for it.

I would also note that these scores aren’t reflective of Walz’s time as governor, but they surely shed new light on the legacy of Gov. Mark Dayton, who put billions into education, with the Legislature’s assent from both parties. When do Minnesotans begin to wonder: Where are the results?

Minnesota’s achievement gaps remain among the widest in the nation despite the state sending schools millions of dollars to bridge the gaps. According to a Star Tribune data analysis, Minnesota sends more than $600 million a year to school districts that they “must spend on any of a dozen strategies to help low-achieving students catch up with their peers,” which according to the Strib is double what was spent 15 years ago. In fact, the Strib’s analysis found that more than $5 billion has been spent over the last decade to improve the academic performance of poor performing students. But if extra funding has not budged Minnesota’s achievement gap, what is the outcome of all the money being spent? (More on this in my upcoming education report set to be released later this fall.)

Governor Walz states in his most recent op-ed that his travels around the state have shown him

how the quality of a student’s education is too often dependent on their race or ZIP code. … Disparities in our educational system based on geography, race or economic status hold back not only our students, but our entire state from reaching its full potential.

If Governor Walz truly wants to fix these disparities, he needs to support education reform that improves academic success and does a better job closing the achievement gaps. This reform must include empowering parents to make education choices that are best for their child. And that includes working to remove the financial barriers that prevent students from accessing the school that best serves their needs. Governor Walz’s pledge to plug gaps in education and address the discrepancies in academic achievement is not possible until more Minnesota students have access to a quality education—whether that’s at a public school, charter school, private school or religious school.

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