Educators discuss Minn. education gap

As test scores of minority students fall, panelists talk possible improvements.

Adam Daniels

Of the more than 44,000 high school juniors and seniors who took the ACT this year in Minnesota, the stateâÄôs minority studentsâÄô average score was 3.8 points lower than their white counterparts.
These scores directly correlate with the achievement gap found in higher education, a problem that plagues the American education system and reveals disparities of academic performance based on gender, race and socioeconomic status.
âÄúIn and of itself, itâÄôs a problem we should be trying to solve,âÄù St. Paul Federation of Teachers President Mary Cathryn Ricker said at a panel discussion on the issue at Macalester College on Wednesday. âÄúIt can also frame the broader conversation of what teaching and learning should look like in the 21st century.âÄù
The panel was made up of administrators, legislators and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
About 200 educators and students listened in on the panelistsâÄô views on improving the education system in Minnesota, namely K-12.
This year, the Minnesota State Demographic Center found that the percent of minorities in MinnesotaâÄôs schools has tripled since 1990, and itâÄôs projected to continue to increase. The stateâÄôs minority population is expected to reach 25 percent in 2035, meaning that closing the achievement gap is crucial for education in Minnesota.
How wide the gap is can be determined by educational factors such as grade point average, dropout and college-enrollment rates and standardized test scores like the ACT.
Of the nearly 560,000 postsecondary enrollments in Minnesota in fall 2009, 252,725 were white students. Blacks made up the second largest ethnic group with 25,764.
Minnesota is becoming less white and less European, Coleman said. âÄúIt is becoming a very diverse demographic âĦ with people from all over the world.âÄù
The panelists applauded the achievements and efforts that have already been made and stressed the continuing need for immediate action.
âÄúI think at this point, after being [in this position] for a year, IâÄôm the right person, at the right time, in the right place,âÄù St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva said. âÄúIt has made me realize that I have a tremendous challenge [on] my shoulders âĦ This is a job that canâÄôt be done alone.âÄù
Ricker said the result of the Minnesota gubernatorial race would have a huge impact on education, citing the candidatesâÄô starkly different views on funding education.
Whatever the result, Coleman said finding solutions to this issue is part of every MinnesotanâÄôs responsibility.
âÄúIf you donâÄôt close the achievement gap, those high-tech companies that are so dependent on educated workers will not have the workers that they need to continue and âĦ theyâÄôll look elsewhere. TheyâÄôll look at other parts of the country, theyâÄôll look at other parts of the region or theyâÄôll look at other parts of the globe.âÄù