Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

7/05/2004

Finally, some sanity from the Pi Press editorial staff

The gap is not nearly as bad as some portray it, but it is real. However, the Governor, many Minnesota Republicans, and the Taxpayer's League want you to think the answer to the achievement gap is to abolish public schooling. Whatever their motives, they cannot succeed if we want to keep the Minnesota we love.

Opinion 7-5-04
School designations should hold out hope

News from the U.S. Census that African-American students graduate from high school at the same rate as white students in Minnesota — though not on the same timetable — changes the arguments about student achievement gaps. What should change next are education policies that reflect an idealized past rather than the current lives of today's students.

Many legitimate factors cause a young man or woman to stretch four years of high school into five or six, or cause a student to drop out for a period of time and then receive a general equivalency diploma. Moreover, it's ironic that the very programs that we now know fill that gap — adult education, equivalency degree programs and English learner classes — were among the first wave of state budget cuts last year.

Census data show that by the age of 25, 92 percent of African-American and white Minnesota residents are high school graduates. At the same time, records from the St. Paul School District in 2001 show that only 45 percent of African-American students graduated in four years, compared with 73 percent of white students.

Rather than denote any nonreturning students as dropouts, districts and the state should broaden the time limit. Many students have to work part-time or full-time jobs, for example, and contribute to the family income. Some have to drop out for a semester to baby-sit for younger siblings. Others struggle with English language deficiencies. Others are in their mid-teens and older, are new to the United States and have no formal education. Others have babies and return to finish their education when their lives stabilize.

The above describes lives as they are. Many young people quit high school, certain that the alternative is better. After a time of unemployment or underemployment, they realize their limited options and return to finish their studies. The Census points to varying ideas about the value of a high school diploma among students of color. Of Asians age 25 and older, 85 percent are high school graduates, while among Latinos, 47 percent graduate. Both groups have large numbers of immigrants, which creates language and cultural barriers. As these students become acculturated, they, too, may take longer than four years to graduate.

That information, also, will be easiest for the U.S. Census to accumulate and report. Schools, on the other hand, simply report that a student appears to have dropped out, data that may or may not be entirely accurate. A better designation? The student didn't graduate in four years.

Such a designation holds out hope that kids will figure out what they really need and return to get it.