Minnesota schools see gains

With a waiver from No Child Left Behind, local schools are getting the help they need.

In midst of the stream of bad news coming out about the United States’ failing education system, there are signs of progress emerging here in Minnesota.

Last week, the Star Tribune reported that the Minnesota Department of Education had lifted “failing designations” from 27 schools.

With new data showing significant improvement, 17 schools will be removed from the “Priority” list, a term used for schools with poor overall student achievement. Ten others will no longer be listed as “Focus” schools, which concerns schools unable to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

The gains made by these schools, and others, were measured under the state’s new school-ranking system called Multiple Measurements Ratings, now in its second year. With a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state has been able to send extra help to struggling schools, and it appears to be working.

MMR works to support struggling schools rather than relying on the “test-and-punish” approach of NCLB, a huge improvement over the old ranking system. The Star Tribune reported that “of the state’s 25 Priority schools, 78 percent experienced improvement, while 71 percent of the 74 Focus schools saw gains.”

Perhaps the most important difference between MMR and NCLB is that the new system tracks schools on how well they’re addressing issues such as the achievement gap and academic growth, whereas NCLB merely assessed students’ math, reading and science scores.

While there is room for improvement, such as getting the data out well before the start of the school year, the early signs of success under the new system are encouraging. Though federal aid plays a crucial role in the operating budgets of the schools that saw gains, it’s becoming increasingly clear that expansive federal laws are not the answer to improving lagging schools. Decisions about ways to improve are better made at the
local level.