Great Effort and Great Schools

main.jpg“Closing the achievement gap” has become a hot topic in Minnesota, especially for members of the non-profit community. Twin Cities community leaders recently identified over 500 distinct initiatives designed to address this pressing issue. Despite broad acknowledgement of the problem, the solutions of education reform remain controversial. As YNPN members who work for many of these organizations, and future community leaders who will be responsible for this issue, it is important we think critically about the impact of all of these efforts. The myriad tutoring programs, district reform efforts and direct school service organizations certainly gives Minnesota an A for effort, but the key metric of success for our community is how many of schools are delivering equitable educational outcomes for all students.

For parents in our largest urban area –Minneapolis– there exists a harsh reality. Academic data shows that only a few schools consistently produce the equitable results necessary to improve educational equity, while many others are deepening this gap for a majority of their students. While this fact is bleak, the existence of schools that close gaps in educational outcomes in Minneapolis and around the country provides hope that we can deliver on the promise of an equitable public education for all.

How many students are getting an equitable education in Minneapolis? 

My organization, Charter School Partners (CSP), works to start new schools and supports existing schools that achieve equitable outcomes for all of their students. In order to support this work, CSP conducted a market analysis of the current educational options for low-income families to identify the most educationally underserved areas in Minneapolis where new schools would have the biggest impact.

The results of this research show how many Minneapolis students are educated at high-impact schools vs. low-impact schools. The full report and methodology are on CSP’s website here. To summarize, the study found that in 2013, about 28,000 low-income children in Minneapolis attended both district and charter elementary, middle and high schools. Only 15% of children that attended district and charter schools received a high-impact education over the last three years; 59% attended a school that on average had a negative impact on the academic performance of their students.

For those wondering why educational inequity persists despite all of efforts to close it, look no further than the academic performance of the schools available to Minneapolis families. As leaders that are concerned for the future of our state’s workforce, we must realize that children attending these schools deserve better.  We cannot let the community’s collective efforts continue to fail to provide an equitable public education.

Come on, aren’t you being a little harsh? People are doing great work and changing kids lives!   

For the most part, Minneapolis district and charter schools are largely perceived to be good schools. Compared to some of our urban district peers around the country, our buildings are nice, the schools seem safe, and the performance on basic proficiency measures looks pretty good. In addition, great teaching and learning is happening in many classrooms in public schools, district and charter. Hundreds of non-school organizations are working to change the lives of students every day.  

These are all great efforts, but when compared to the scope of the educational crisis in Minnesota that demands we have a school system that prepares all students equally, “great efforts” are not enough. For students who are often years away from basic reading and math proficiency, achieving equitable outcomes demands exceptional academic performance class to class, day to day and year to year.

The data shows that some district and charter schools accomplish this level of academic excellence and too many do not. Test data certainly does not say everything about a school, but the great things happening every day in any school can’t outweigh its ability to get kids proficient in basic math and reading skills. What is exciting about the research findings is the diversity of the types of schools that achieved outstanding academic results: district, charter, IB, Afro-Centric, social justice, fine arts, etc. The variety of models among high-impact schools shows that delivering an outstanding, gap-closing education is not the fixed mindset, one-size-fits-all proposition that too often characterizes the issues of our education debate. 

As future community leaders who have a stake in the future of Minnesota, all of our education reform efforts should begin and end with creating exceptional schools that provide an equitable education for all students.  Ultimately, we should measure our success by dramatically increasing from 15% the number of low income students educated at a high impact school.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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