For at least two decades, significant attention, resources and research have been devoted to Minnesota’s student achievement disparities. And yet this state still has one of the nation’s largest gaps between lower-income students of color and their white peers.
Now comes another plan to narrow the state’s stubbornly entrenched disparities — this time from a group of metro-area superintendents. It has potential to succeed, but it will work only if educators follow through on its goals. The project should not become just another education report that fails to move the achievement needle.
After nearly a year’s work on the Reimagine Minnesota 2017 project, a recently released action plan concluded that state educators must do a better job of meeting diverse students where they are and modifying how they teach so that all children can thrive. Guided by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, the project included a dozen community meetings in which more than 2,000 students, parents, educators and others offered their ideas about how schools can narrow achievement gaps.
That’s an impressive level of engagement — especially considering that hundreds of student voices were in the mix.
Initially, a small group of superintendents came together to discuss responses to a 2015 educational equity lawsuit that alleges state policies created segregated schools that do not adequately educate students of color. The suit was dismissed in lower courts, but it’s is now on appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
But as the Reimagine Minnesota project grew, Edina Superintendent John Schultz said his colleagues started to focus on what districts could do collectively to assure that all students succeed — regardless of what happens with the lawsuit. He and other superintendents see the report as a guide for how districts throughout the state can improve achievement.
The action plan concludes that schools need better training for educators, including improving cultural understanding among teachers and students; recruiting and retaining more teachers of color; and better shaping instruction to meet student needs and challenges. The study also recommends eliminating disparities in discipline and improving relationships with broader school communities.
Many of those ideas are familiar. This certainly isn’t the first time culturally competent teaching or rethinking discipline has been suggested. And it should be noted that there has been pushback against those strategies in communities where some argue that equity efforts are products of “political correctness” or “liberal indoctrination.”
School leaders and others who care about equity shouldn’t be deterred by naysayers. Pursuing the reasonable goals of Reimagine Minnesota is in the best interest of all state residents, especially those young students who will be the direct beneficiaries of the work ahead.