Report looks at minority education gap

The report notes discrepencies in the educational accomplishments of varying ethnic groups in public schools.

Eric Swanson

A new report detailing the achievement gap for Minnesota minority students was unveiled Friday at a conference held at the University.

The 2004 State of Students of Color report notes discrepancies in the educational accomplishments of different ethnic groups in Minnesota public schools.

The Minnesota Minority Education Partnership organized the conference. Two of their goals were to raise the visibility of minority students in the educational system and to eliminate the gap, said Carlos Mariani-Rosa, the group’s executive director.

“There is a persistent education gap in the K-12 and higher education system,” Mariani-Rosa said. “The outcomes of students of color are not acceptable.”

One example of the education gap is the National Assessment on Education Progress’ eighth-grade math exam, which echoes the results from the state’s basic skills math test, according to the report.

Although Minnesota’s eighth-grade students scored highest in the country in the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, 43 percent of black students met the basic skills achievement compared to 87 percent of white students, creating the largest gap of its kind in the country.

Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota Department of Education’s commissioner, said eighth-grade black students are performing at the same level in math as the state’s fourth-grade white students.

Mariani-Rosa did not cite specific solutions, but said the state’s educational system needs some adjustments.

“We have to work on the achievement gap. We need to approach it in a different way than standardized tests and a rhetorical goal of achievement,” he said. “It’s about getting a degree, obtaining a high skill to achieve a high quality of life.”

“We want the bar to be set high. Our state can choose to be a low-skill, low-wage state, or a high-skill, high-wage state,” Mariani-Rosa said.

The Minnesota Minority Education Partnership’s two-day conference, which costs $175 to attend, was organized to inform educators, students, policy makers, parents and community leaders on issues of race and education.

A 2001 report by the partnership came to similar conclusions regarding minority students, but was not as extensive.

Several distinguished Minnesota educators were at the conference to reply to the report’s findings and answer questions about the state’s educational system.

Yecke praised the report, calling it “fair and balanced,” and is very concerned about its results.

“We have a moral obligation to narrow the education gap,” she said. “The first step is admitting it exists.”

Yecke suggested tougher standards for students as a possible solution.

“Success is measured by the rigor of the high school education,” she said.

These findings inevitably carry over to higher education, said Linda Baer, senior vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Baer said there are two keys to success in higher education for minority students. The first is having courses that effectively prepare them for the transition from high school, and the second is affordable college education.

University students found the conference and report important to minority students.

“I think (the conference) is a good idea,” said senior Surya Sukumar, president for the Asian-American Student Union. “They are trying to improve what is already in place and I support that.”

Gladys Mambo, Black Student Union vice president, was unaware of the conference because of a hectic Black History Month, but has witnessed discrepancies in educational opportunities between the General College and the rest of the University.

Minority students made up 47 percent of fall 2003 General College enrollment.

“It is something that everyone in the Black Student Union has talked about,” she said.

In the entire University, minority students represent about 16 percent of total enrollment.