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Walz’s ‘Due North’ education plan lacks outcomes

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced their new education plan called “Due North” on Monday (Jan. 25) that will “serv[e] as a guide toward a future where every child receives a high-quality education, no matter their race or zip code.” The governor’s budget proposal calls for $745 million in new state education spending (in addition to $649 million in federal money) to pay for the Due North plan.

Included in the plan’s priorities:

  • “Ensure academic standards address the modern needs of the workforce, are inclusive of ethnic studies, and are reflective of students of color and Indigenous students.”
  • “Establish an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Center at the Minnesota Department of Education to address systemic racism.”
  • “Ensure students receive an accurate history of Minnesota’s Indigenous people.”
  • “Develop and provide training for all school staff on anti-bias practices.”

 

Other agenda items are “prioritizing in-person learning for as many students as safely possible,” “expand[ing] academic opportunities and mental health services to support every student in summer 20021 and through the following school year,” and “expand[ing] career and technical education pathways,” to name a few.

But what struck me as I read through the two-page document is that the plan makes no mention of student outcomes.

Nearly 65 percent of Minnesota black students aren’t proficient in reading. Over 72 percent of Minnesota black students aren’t proficient in math. Reading and math scores across demographics have been stagnant or in decline for years.

Yet language on reading literacy and numeracy is not in the Due North plan. Nor are there measures to evaluate the quality of the plan’s inputs and their effectiveness in addressing the state’s educational disparities. Given the state’s persistent achievement gap, it’s clear there are inputs being utilized—no matter how much money we continue to spend—that continue to result in poor outputs and outcomes. Therefore, maybe it’s time to acknowledge there are inputs being focused on that aren’t the right ones.

Look at Mississippi, a state that spends thousands of dollars less per student and yet black and Hispanic students outperform Minnesota’s black and Hispanic students in both reading and math on national assessments. Equally important, national test scores among black students in Mississippi have been scaling up over the years, compared to Minnesota’s declining scores and inconsistent growth among the state’s black students. Nearly 49 percent of the Mississippi student body is made up of black students compared to Minnesota’s 10.7 percent. Mississippi is one example that how money is spent in a state matters far greater than how much is spent. The state has focused funds on instruction and literacy programs and making sure its teachers understand the science of reading. And it has paid off. According to 2019 NAEP test results, Mississippi ranked #1 in the nation for significant gains in core subject areas, continuing its 10-year trend of steady increases, while other states’ scores—Minnesota included—and the nation’s scores stagnate or decline.

If we hope to bring meaningful change to our state’s education system, it’s important to include educational outputs and outcomes. Without these, the Due North plan is likely to bring about little change in ensuring all students are set up for success.

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