Letter: Closing the achievement gap will depend on sustained funding

Published 8:30 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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The March 29 Albert Lea Tribune article “Albert Lea’s overall graduation rate decreases” has multiple implications.

Consider that the graduation rate at Albert Lea High School increased from 86.6% (2022) to 88.3% (2023) and is higher than the state average of 83.3%. In effect, the headline could have been “Albert Lea High School graduation rate improves and exceeds state average.”

The report indicates that the achievement gap between English language learners and students of color persists and is getting worse. This is central and deserves a bigger share of reporting.

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What is the achievement gap? Briefly, it’s the difference in educational outcomes when comparing students by race and socioeconomic status. Minnesota does well for affluent white students and quite poorly for all others. Minnesota has failed to close this identified gap for decades.

The article provides no details regarding the 24.4% of local students, disproportionately from the ALC, who didn’t graduate. Based upon my time as a school administrator, numerous factors including addiction, mental health, poverty and family stability were likely in play for many of these students.

Rep. Bennett frames her reaction to the report as, “Democrat strategies have failed our schools, failed our parents and failed our students.” A disappointing response from a former educator who asserts “people over politics” as her legislative focus. Consider that Republicans were in the majority in at least one chamber for four of her five terms.

More productively, Rep. Bennett lists increasing local control, empowering parents and focusing on the science of reading as solutions. John Hattie’s’ educational research identifies an effective teacher working collaboratively in teams as the most important influence to student learning. Rep. Bennett correctly identifies reading programs and parental involvement as relevant, but both rank far below of having an effective teacher in every classroom.

Closing the gaps in educational achievement will ultimately depend on proper, sustained funding for all public schools in this state. Currently, Minnesota ranks between 15th and 21st nationally in public education funding. Not coincidentally, that is also how our student achievement ranks as well.

The state’s “historic”investments that Rep. Bennett criticizes are the beginning of a necessary commitment to ensure that Minnesota regains its former status as a national leader in educational achievement.

Jeff Miller
Albert Lea