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Closing Minnesota's Racial Divide in Academic Achievement

PHOTO: Parents, students and community leaders are now at the table with school districts, working on ways to address the state's academic achievement gaps between white students and students of color. Photo credit: Thomas Martin/Flickr.
PHOTO: Parents, students and community leaders are now at the table with school districts, working on ways to address the state's academic achievement gaps between white students and students of color. Photo credit: Thomas Martin/Flickr.
September 15, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As the state continues to wrestle with one of the worst academic achievement gaps in the nation, some progress is being made to lessen that divide between white students and those of color.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius says while the advances are coming slowly, schools are now taking concrete steps to close the gaps, as laid out in the state law called World's Best Workforce.

"Which requires that school districts address achievement gaps specifically in those school districts' strategic plans,” Cassellius explains. “And engagement of parents and communities of all different stakeholder groups is a requirement of that new law."

The statewide goal is to reduce the racial achievement gaps by 50 percent by 2017, and Cassellius says based on data from this year, Minnesota schools are largely on track.

In a handful of districts, a pilot program is underway to assess equity and remove barriers to success for students of color.

The Organizing Apprenticeship Project is helping lead the endeavor, which brings communities, parents and students to the table with school leaders.

Interim Executive Director Vina Kay says erasing the racial disparities in education will also help close the gaps in such areas as employment, home ownership and health.

"Education is still, I think, viewed by many as the key to opportunity,” she points out. “And we think by addressing the inequities and the barriers in access to education for communities of color and American Indians, we can really address larger opportunity structures."

The districts taking part in the program represent urban, suburban and rural communities and include St. Paul, Robbinsdale, Osseo and Deer River.

Funding for the pilot project comes from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN