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Good Question: Why Such A Large Achievement Gap In MN Classrooms?

(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – ACT scores are out for Minnesota students and, overall, Minnesota ranks No. 1 in the country. But, a closer look at the numbers reveals a huge gap when it comes to race.

Sixty-one percent of white students met college readiness standards compared to 16 percent of black students. That’s not the only test where Minnesotans fall behind.

When it comes to 4th grade NAEP test scores, Minnesota kids overall rank fifth or sixth from the top. But when it comes to gap between black and white students, Minnesota is fifth or sixth from the bottom.

High school graduation rates for Hispanic and Native American Minnesotans are the lowest in the country. Rates for black Minnesotans are the second lowest.

So, why is our achievement gap larger in Minnesota compared to most other states?

According to experts, this is one of the most complicated and complex questions Minnesotans face.

“One of the reasons that this inequality is great is that whites here do exceptionally well. The white population here is very well educated, very healthy, very prosperous,” said Myron Orfield, a professor the University of Minnesota Law School. He teaches and writes on government, finance and civil rights.

“The good question to ask is, ‘Why haven’t blacks who live here locally been able to keep up with whites in the same way?” he said. “I think that’s rooted a lot in the deep racial segregation we have between blacks and whites in the neighborhoods and school systems we have … in the way we experience Minnesota.”

When asked, many parents had a hard time putting their finger on just one answer.

“I feel as though racism still exists,” said Sharon Wilson, a mother from Minneapolis.

Orfield said part of the problem is racism. He points to Minnesota’s large documented gaps in incarceration, lending, employment, and housing. Minnesota also has some very highly concentrated areas of poverty.

“Compared to a place like Portland or Seattle, which is white like we are, we’re much more segregated,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 3 percent of teachers in Minnesota are minorities, compared to 10 percent of students.

“We used to do a good job at trying to provide that equality of opportunity, and we don’t do that much anymore,” Orfield said.

Many experts hope for Minnesota’s big investments in early childhood education might lesson the gap 10 or 20 years down the road.

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