In his inaugural address, Gov. Tim Walz was exactly right in stating that "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."
That fundamental truth is being proven day after day in the Minneapolis public schools. Addressing that disparity is a top concern of Minnesota's employers. Student academic achievement in the Minneapolis Public Schools is key to our state's overall success and, more importantly, to the futures of students. Unfortunately, while Minneapolis is one of the state's largest and most diverse districts, it also suffers some of the worst achievement gaps.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board recently correctly pointed out that sound financial management is an essential ingredient for the district's long-term success ("Minneapolis schools have more work to do," Jan. 5). That said, it's only a supportive ingredient to the more important work of ensuring that every Minneapolis student receives the basic skills necessary for a successful future.
As the editorial points out, the Minneapolis school district has been losing students for years — mostly because families are choosing better educational options — which is exactly what we'd expect families to do. After all, their children only get one chance at a quality education. Why would parents continue to send their children to schools that habitually fail their students — and particularly students of color?
How do parents know that the system is failing their children? They know, in part, because they can compare the performance of their students at Minneapolis schools with that of students at other schools, including public charter schools or out-of-district schools at which their students could enroll. Naturally, many chose to leave the schools that were failing their children.
The reaction of the schools to this challenge has been disappointing. Rather than focusing on reliable measurements of student progress in critical and fundamental subjects like reading, science and math to determine whether students are prepared for post-high school opportunities, parents are being encouraged by various voices to abandon the only gauge by which they could measure how their students are doing relative to state standards in reading, science and math.
We know that state test results are the most reliable indicator of whether students are meeting the state's academic standards. These standards, which were developed by classroom teachers, are intended to prepare students for collegiate and career success. The best measurement to determine how students are doing relative to the state's standards in reading, math and science is the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs).
Unfortunately, rather than ensure families have the information the MCAs provide, many Minneapolis high school students have been encouraged to opt out of the tests. This "opt out" movement has been supported by many in the education establishment. In fact, last year only 54 percent of MPS high school students took the math MCA while just 61 percent participated in the reading MCA.
As a result, families don't have information on their students' progress relative to state standards, nor do they have comparative information that would help them decide if a different school would be a better fit for their child. It is a well-accepted truth that "you can't improve what you don't measure." For the public, we are left with no comparable information on what most Minneapolis high schools are doing to help students meet state expectations. With no information, there is likely to be no improvement. And many Minneapolis schools desperately need improvement. According to 2018 test results, only 27 percent of students of color are proficient in reading, and just 24 percent are proficient in math. This is exactly the disparity that Gov. Walz intends to address.
The Editorial Board is right in stating that the new referendum dollars provide another opportunity for the district. The question is whether the district will use this opportunity to improve student achievement through real reforms and be transparent about expectations for student achievement and results.
Minneapolis has a long history of winning referendum votes, but that has not translated into improved outcomes for students. For the sake of our students' future, we need Minneapolis schools to be as focused on improving student outcomes as they have been on improving financial management.
Charlie Weaver is executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.