The quiet education gap

Minnesota’s lauded education system is less balanced than we’d like to believe.

John Grimley

Focusing on homework in middle school is much easier if you live in Minnesota than if you grew up in states with a low annual snowfall.

MinnesotaâÄôs harsh winters may play a role in why the state consistently scores well in education.

Unfortunately, massive budget deficits have forced states to slash spending left and right, including large cuts to education budgets.

Minnesota has not been immune to this belt-tightening, and its public schools are feeling the pinch.

This is especially vexing because Minnesota is a state traditionally recognized to offer a very strong education system. The state has long taken pride in how it compares to others in education, and common sense says children living here receive a better education than they would elsewhere.

This is easy to assume because the media hasnâÄôt said otherwise. Both the national and local media often mention the state as one of the most educational in the nation. Numbers prove otherwise.

A 2009 National Center for Education Statistics study measured reading achievement gaps between students of all ethnicities. Results showed that MinnesotaâÄôs achievement gap for black fourth-graders ties it for second to last in the nation. The state it tied with? Wisconsin.

Despite the stateâÄôs pride for its outstanding education, many students arenâÄôt seeing it.

Comparing other minorities doesnâÄôt improve matters either. The state is also second to last in the gap between white and Hispanic fourth-grade students.

Some may argue that the apparent gap is due to how much better MinnesotaâÄôs white students do than other states, but the NCES data begs to differ.

The stateâÄôs white students scored merely one point higher than the national public school average. WisconsinâÄôs average was two points lower than average.

Neither Minnesota nor Wisconsin hit the state reading average for black fourth-grade students. For a state with such a glowing reputation around education, the school system has some serious issues.

Although Wisconsin has lessened the discrepancy between white and black students in recent years, in Minnesota the reading gap actually grew larger.

So why is no one talking about this?

According to a Pew Research Center study, education overall was a topic only covered in 3 percent of total newspaper stories. Meanwhile in other media, that number drops to 1.6 percent.

The study does not measure how many stories focused on the national achievement gap, but needless to say, any part of 3 percent is not very big.

Part of the problem is that unlike some of the more popular topics covered by the media (foreign news, elections and foreign affairs were the top three), education stories will never have a definite beginning or end.

There are no easy answers for MinnesotaâÄôs education problem. This doesnâÄôt mean the state shouldnâÄôt be looking.

The state will continue to diversify as time goes on. This is a great thing. Yet the government is doing a huge disservice to everyone by continually failing to provide adequate education to its minorities.

The issue will only be amplified the longer it is ignored. The state needs to act now. The larger the gap becomes, the harder itâÄôll be to fix it. ThereâÄôs no one right answer to this growing problem, but doing nothing is definitely the wrong one.

Education and snow are the two things Minnesota is best known for. Failing an increasing section of our population leaves everyone out in the cold.

 

John Grimley welcomes comments at [email protected].