Business forum: We can reset K-12 education

  • Article by: SANDRA L. VARGAS
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 11:40 AM

Status quo is harming students, especially minorities, and will hobble Minnesota’s economy.

The educational achievement gap between white students and students of color in Minnesota is a moral and economic crisis that many people are only casually aware of. Even fewer are aware of the solutions — within our reach — to ensure all of our children excel academically.

The statistics paint a stark picture: Minnesota has the lowest high school graduation rates for Latino and Native students in the nation. Put simply: no one does it worse. That 58 percent of third-graders are proficient in reading masks the fact that 87 percent of white third-graders are proficient while just 36 percent of Latino students are. A shocking 12 percent of African-American fifth-graders are proficient in math.

A school system that works for only a portion of Minneapolis residents is not only unfair — it is increasingly unsustainable.

Today, 40 percent of Minneapolis residents are people of color; within a few decades people of color will be the majority. If we fail to educate all of our children, our regional economy will become less competitive, businesses will have a harder time finding qualified workers, and our residents will lack the skills to participate fully in our economic and civic life, whether as innovators, employers, taxpayers, consumers, philanthropists or productive community members.

The status quo is also condemning a generation of young people to a life of limited opportunities, poverty and a variety of social problems.

Instead, if we graduated students of color at the same rate as white students, we could add $1.3 billion annually to our state’s economy by 2020. And education remains one of the most direct pathways out of poverty.

The achievement gap didn’t happen overnight and it has many causes, including poverty. But we can’t wait to end poverty before we confront the gap. And the good news is we don’t need to. A growing number of public charter and district schools in Minnesota and around the country are successfully educating all of their students each year — students of color, from low-income families, many of whom don’t speak English at home.

How do they do it? They use a combination of five strategies we call RESET.

This month, the Minneapolis Foundation is launching a major public awareness campaign to “RESET” education and promote proven strategies that, when used together, create K-12 schools where every student succeeds. RESET stands for:

Real-time use of data. Successful schools continually monitor student progress and use data to drive and differentiate instruction. At present, information about student proficiency is not available until after the school year ends when the students have already moved on.

Expectations not excuses. Successful schools expect every child to excel and accept no less. Teacher expectations are shown to account for 42 percent of the difference between white and African-American students’ realization of their potential, after controlling for all factors.

Strong leadership. Successful schools empower school leaders to shape staffing, resources and culture and hold them accountable for student and teacher success. Having a strong principal can result in two to seven months of additional academic growth per student per year.

Effective teaching. Successful schools consider teaching to be effective when students master the material, not just receive it. Students with a highly effective teacher can gain up to a full year of additional academic growth.

Time on task. Successful schools have their students spend more time in the classroom and make every minute count. By adding 15 school days a year, students would gain the equivalent of an additional year of instruction by the time they graduate.

As consumers of and stakeholders in the school system, parents, employers, educators, taxpayers, students and others can push for every school to adopt these proven strategies to maximize student learning.

Through the RESET campaign, we’ve partnered with local organizations that believe and demonstrate that we don’t need to solve poverty to educate all of our children. We’re also looking to engage new voices in our community who care about our collective future and our children’s individual well-being.

Instead of being No. 1 at failing our kids, let’s lead the nation in educating all children. Let’s RESET Education in Minnesota.

Sandra L. Vargas is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation. Watch RESET strategies in action and sign up for Minnesota Meeting events at the Fitzgerald Theater at http://reset education.org/.

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