Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Offers New Kindergarten to Grade 12 Achievement Gap Map, Intended to Change Minnesotans’ Beliefs About Their Schools

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MMost people in Minnesota think their schools are among the best in the country. And for successful white students, they are very good. But for many black, Latino, Native, and Southeast Asian students, they fail – a fact that often arouses disbelief.

Now, to raise awareness of what it calls “some of the country’s most serious disparities,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has released a new data tool that lets people see exactly how the public education system is serving them. children in their communities. , including the state’s racial and economic academic achievement gaps.

For the first time, voters and policy advocates can call up an education profile for each legislative district in Minnesota, including all school systems within its boundaries, student demographics, graduation rates, and performance on annual school tests. reading and math. The information is distributed very simply, with graphs showing the performance of rich and low-income students, and white, non-white, and native children.

The data tracker is distinguished by the new way it combines existing information. In the past, the gaping disparities between the academic performance of children from different socio-economic backgrounds were difficult to disentangle.

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Test results are available on the state Department of Education website, but broken down by subject, level of study, disability status, income level, and English learner status. Getting a picture of the overall gaps between white kids and students of color took a lot of digging and tabbing.

Information on schools located in a given state electoral district is available, but a person would need to know to turn to the state’s little-known Legislative Coordination Commission to find them. Likewise, it is not immediately clear that many of the state’s underachieving students will not necessarily show up in district statistics after being transferred to alternative programs.

“The information landscape in Minnesota about educational outcomes is fragmented and complex,” says Vanessa Palmer, data scientist at the Federal Reserve Bank. “It’s really hard for the average person, even the most passionate and engaged member of the community, to see how all of the schools as a system and in their neighborhood are serving children. “

The main goal of the bank in creating the tool is to raise awareness that Minnesota’s success gaps are a statewide problem, rather than being a problem arising from a particular type of school – charter, district, rural, suburban or urban. As such, they require a statewide solution, say Palmer and Alene Tchorumoff, senior vice president of community development at the bank and the Center for Indian Country Development.

Yet advocates for more equitable education most often voice their concerns to local school boards rather than state legislators – who are responsible for the policies that directly influence how schools are funded, staffed, and enrolled. Lawmakers decide on things like teacher dismissal and appraisal laws, how disciplinary disparities are handled, and how much funding goes to English learners and students with disabilities.

Linking the way schools are – or are not – serving students in the home communities of lawmakers rarely happens. “When you look at the responsibility from a political point of view… it really lies with the legislator,” says Tchourumoff. “The constitution of Minnesota is written this way. This is directly part of their main responsibilities.

For example, the majority of Minnesota’s public education dollars end up, literally, with the chairmen of the main Senate and House education committees, Republican Roger Chamberlain and Democratic Farmer Party member Jim Davnie, respectively. -worker.

They rarely agree on how much money to appropriate or how it should be spent, but each positions itself as a champion of children of color. It is nearly impossible for voters to assess their policy prescriptions in light of the needs of students in their particular community, or the disparities in schools across the state.

Chamberlain Senate District 38 has 83,000 suburban students attending schools in a number of districts. Before the pandemic, 71% of white students in District 38 passed the state’s reading exams, compared with 53% of children of color and 47% of low-income children.

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His Home counterpart, Davnie, represents a quadrant of Minneapolis where a traditional neighborhood and a number of public charter schools serve 41,000 children. Three-quarters of white students in House District 63A read at school level, compared to 29% of black, Latino and indigenous children and 28% of poor children.

Chamberlain is optimistic about the choice of school, although traditional district schools in his relatively wealthy legislative territory face little competition. Davnie is a staunch opponent, despite his community being home to some of the state’s worst performing schools.

As part of its Congressional mandate to maximize employment, the Minneapolis Fed has a tradition of conducting research on education. Almost two decades ago, he published a landmark study showing that for every tax dollar spent on high-quality preschool education, the return on investment was 16%. Most recently, he reported on the scale of Minnesota’s achievement gaps and organized a series of events to explore the economic impact of racism.

In January 2020, Bank Chairman Neel Kashkari and former NFL star and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page joined forces to propose amending the state’s constitution to recognize a ” fundamental right to quality public education ”. State lawmakers would have to agree to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for it to take effect.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court justice and NFL superstar Alan Page, left, and Minneapolis Federal Reserve Chairman Neel Kashkari.
(Beth Hawkins)

Although Minnesota pioneered inter-district student registration and passed the first charter schools law, state education policy aligns with traditional party lines, focusing more on funding than on improving schools. The role of lawmakers in shaping education policy is opaque to most voters at best, and the voices of low-income student families and children of color who are disproportionately behind are rarely heard in debates across the country. Capitol.

Representing the Ninth District of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Minneapolis also serves Montana, North and South Dakota, part of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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