Why haven’t we closed the achievement gap between white and minority students in fifty years of trying?

The achievement gap is “any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities, for example, or students from higher-income and lower-income households.”

The gap between the level of achievement of minority students and white students in Minnesota is among the largest in the country. It’s not a new problem.

Efforts to improve outcomes for minority students began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act which required that the commissioner of education “conduct a survey and report to the president and Congress…concerning the lack of availability of equal educational opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin in public educational institutions.” The result was the Coleman Report, published in 1966.

We know what doesn’t work because we’ve tried: desegregation, busing, reforms such as the self-esteem movement, p­re-school, teacher quality, testing, class size, standards-based instruction or increased spending generally.

Page 325 of the Coleman Reports states: Schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school.

A 20-year-old study by the Brookings Institution posits that improving parenting skills may be as important as improving schools but immediately acknowledges the difficulty of attempting to tell parents how to raise their children.  “As a practical political matter, whites cannot tell black parents to change their parenting practices without provoking charges of ethnocentrism, racism, and much else.” Importantly, the study also surmised that closing the achievement gap would do more to advance racial equality in the United States than any other strategy they were considering at the time.

This spring the Atlantic Monthly ran an article about a parenting program called the “Boston Basics” and asked, “Can Love Close the Achievement Gap?”


NOTE: The achievement gap between white and minority students in Minnesota is as large as it not because our minority students do worse than the national average but because our white students do much better.

 

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This is what compromise looks like
On representative bills from our 2017 legislative session


Bus and light rail fares should cover 80% of operating costs.

As proposed, HF1150 (2017 Regular Session): Establish as a primary objective an increase of the average farebox recovery ratio, calculated for all regular routes and lines operated by the council, to at least 80 percent by 2022.

As enacted, HF3 (2017 Special Session): Requires a report to “include a section that identifies the total ridership, farebox recovery ratio, and per-passenger operating subsidy for (1) each route and line in revenue operation
by a transit provider, including guideways, busways, and regular route bus service; and (2)
demand-response service and special transportation service.”

Businesses that offer apprenticeships to high school students could receive tax breaks.

As proposed, SF2244 (2017 Regular Session):  An employer is allowed a credit equal to $2,000 per secondary school student, age 16 or older, participating in a youth skills program.

As enacted, SF1456 (2017 Regular Session): $500,000 once to the commissioner of labor and industry for grants to local partnerships for the implementation and coordination of local youth skills training programs.

Gov. Dayton lobbied hard for statutory authority in the Real ID bill to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

For example, SF224 (2015 Regular Session): “Driving card” means a class D driver’s license, provisional license, instruction permit, motorized bicycle operator’s permit, or motorized bicycle instruction permit, that is issued or issuable under the laws of this state by the commissioner to a person who is unable to demonstrate lawful presence in this country through current lawful admission status, permanent resident status, indefinite authorized presence status, or United States citizenship.

As enacted, HF470 (2017 Regular Session): The commissioner of public safety is prohibited from adopting any final rule that amends, conflicts with, or has the effect of modifying requirements in Minnesota Rules that require proof of legal status to acquire a driver’s license. State statute remains silent on the issue.

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How legislators establish their partisan credentials
and signal core policy positions of their parties

Republicans and Democrats introduce bills that assure voters
of their loyalty to positions on key issues and define their parties 


Democrat:

SF10:   Requires electors to vote for the popular vote winner of a presidential election
HF65:   Imposes a surtax on corporations with a high ratio of executive to worker pay
SF101: Amends the Minnesota Constitution to guarantee gender equality
SF134: Requires special prosecutors for certain police use of force cases and prohibits use of grand juries
HF245: Automatically registers driver’s license applicants to vote
HF277: Amends the Minnesota Constitution to declare healthcare a fundamental right
HF275: Creates a commission to develop a strategic plan to address impact of climate change on health and well-being of Minnesotans

                                   Republican:

SF19:   Reduces the state tax on Social Security income
HF26
:   Requires local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration detainers
HF238: Allows the use of lethal force in defense of one’s home, repeals the duty to retreat
HF55:   Increases the penalty for obstructing traffic
SF65:   Requires zero-based budgeting: state agencies must justify all expenses each budget period
HF188: Establishes the right to carry a firearm without a permit
SF150: Prohibits the Met Council from spending money on light rail without explicit legislative approval

There are also perennial favorites with bi-partisan support, though not enough to pass so far.

SF235: Repeals the ban on certain fireworks
SF152: Increases the speed limit on I-35E, the “practice freeway”

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Why our state legislature may matter more
than Congress

Updated 12/29/16

There are 7,382 state senators and representatives in our country’s 50 state legislatures. In their 2015-16 legislative sessions, they passed a total of 29,122 bills into law. Over the same two years Congress enacted just 199 new laws.

Minnesota’s 201 legislators passed and Gov. Dayton signed into law 184 bills during our 2015-16 biennial session. These state laws impact every corner of Minnesotans’ lives. For example, new laws

  • lawAllow pharmacists to dispense a 90-day supply of a prescription drug. 
  • Permit termination of spousal maintenance when the party receiving spousal maintenance is living with another person.
  • Require a license from the Board of Cosmetologist Examiners to apply, remove, or trim eyelash extensions.
  • Allow pet owners to set aside funds in a pet trust to be used after they die for the care of their animals.
  • Remove the limitation on the number of physician assistants a physician is allowed to supervise.
  • Allow a mentally or physically impaired person to stay in a temporary dwelling on a relative or caretaker’s property.
  • Eliminate the five-day waiting period for marriage licenses.
  • Allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol beginning at 8 a.m. Sundays.
  • Require a technician to obtain proof of age from clients who state they are 18 years of age or older before performing any body art procedure on a client.
  • Allow eligible patients to use a drug that has successfully completed Phase 1 of a clinical trial but has not been approved for general use by the FDA.
  • Permit banks to hold raffles where tickets are earned by making deposits into savings accounts. 
  • Extend the statute of limitations for identity theft to five years.

Legislatures are not only productive and wide-ranging. They also move fast. For most there are just a few months to introduce a piece of legislation, discuss it in one or more committees, pass it with a floor vote in two chambers and get a governor’s signature. Minnesota’s recent biennial session was nineteen weeks in 2015 and eleven weeks in 2016.

questionmarkblue2Is passing more laws necessarily a good thing? Conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke said, “I vote Republican because they have fewer ideas.”


How to stay in touch with legislative activity

Learn who your state senator and representative are here.senatechamber

Sign up to receive information daily about committee schedules, floor session agendas and more.

Watch legislative activity live on TV all day Monday through Friday on TPT’s Minnesota Channel beginning January 3.

Get Senate and House TV and webcast schedules and video archives here.

Learn how the process works and how to participate, how to search for or follow a bill and much more on the legislature’s website.

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How much are we paying to care for other people’s children?

nurseryschoolLast year Minnesota taxpayers spent $247 million from federal, state and county dollars to help parents pay for child care. The State of Minnesota subsidizes the cost of day care for more than 30,000 low income children each month.

For low income families in a basic sliding fee program, the average total monthly assistance was $1,030; for families in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, who are making more than 47 percent of the state median income, the average total monthly assistance was $1,486.

Along with proposals in the 2015-16 legislative session to generally increase funding, some unsuccessful attempts to expand child care assistance included HF3194, appropriating $3 million for at-home infant care; HF3275, increasing eligibility for child care assistance for parents who are in graduate school; and SF 3056, providing child care grants to help recruit, prepare and retain women in high–wage, high demand, nontraditional jobs.

Because of serious fraud in the day care system the legislature in 2015 gave the Department of Human Services more power to investigate and prosecute fraud, including one St. Paul day care center that bilked the State of more than $4 million that would have otherwise paid for care for a low-income child.

The 2016 legislature also passed a bill, SF 3208, that established a child care task to address the affordability of child care and related issues. The task force will report its findings to the legislature in January.

moneytree3Gov. Dayton has stated that he wants to expand state-funded early education in part because child care is expensive. Parents who don’t qualify for state child care subsidies would no longer have to pay the out-of-pocket costs of child care while their children attend preschool programs. Advocates for expanding public preschool say families would save thousands of dollars every year:  One infant and one four-year-old can cost Minnesota parents as much as $25,000 a year for day care.

Gov. Dayton’s original proposal would cost taxpayers $1.25 billion over the first four years, and  hundreds of millions of dollars from the general fund every year thereafter.

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You paid $34,000 of a

St. Paul homeowner’s $50,000 rooftop solar system

solarpanelsystem2

St Paul homeowners received a credit on their federal income taxes and a rebate from Xcel Energy to reduce the cost of their home solar electric system by more than 60%.

The federal government allows homeowners to take a credit on their income taxes of 30% of the cost of installing residential solar electric systems.

Xcel Energy gave the homeowners a one-time rebate when they installed their system. Xcel now pays residential producers of solar electricity annually based on the amount they produce, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a year.

The Made in Minnesota program offers rebates per kilowatt hour of electricity produced when the panels are certified as made in Minnesota. Our state commerce commissioner sets the amount of the incentive payment “by determining the average amount of incentive payment required to allow an average owner of installed solar photovoltaic modules a reasonable return on their investment.”

There is no sales tax on residential solar systems and no property tax on the increased value of the home.

Minnesota has 170 tax credit and rebate programs available to anyone interested in converting to solar.

If solar is such a good deal, why does it need subsidies? 

oilrefinery

The myth of oil company subsidies: According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal energy tax subsidies in 2013 were $16.4 billion–$7.3 billion for renewable energy and $3.2 billion for fossil fuels. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy spent $3.4 billion–$1.7 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy and $0.5 billion for fossil fuels.

Many of the supposed subsidies to the oil and gas industries are available to all U.S. businesses.

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Are we asking our schools to do too much…
or too little?

inlocoparentis2What, exactly, is it that we want today’s schools to do?

Traditionally, we have asked our schools to deliver specific and essential areas of knowledge and to prepare children to become productive members of our democratic society.  But today, do our schools have time to teach? And what do teachers really do all day?

The number of school administrators and other school staff has increased nearly three times the increase in the number of teachers and more than seven times the increase in the number of students since 1950. Nationwide, we are spending 10 times more than we spent in 1950 on education and five times as much per pupil.

Despite the investment of money and personnel, there is a persistent gap in achievement levels of white and non-white students, especially in Minnesota. It is important to note, however, that only one-third of the achievement gap can be attributed to factors within the school. Other factors such as poverty, homelessness and poor health and nutrition account for two-thirds of the gap. That is the so-called opportunity gap.”

puzzlepieces6Should our schools do more? Advocates believe that a new model called the “full service community school” will shrink the opportunity gap and, ultimately, the achievement gap. A full service community school is a place that not only educates our children but also provides access for families to food, clothing, housing, health care, parenting classes and other services. Congress has authorized $55 million in grants to establish trial full service community schools throughout the country.

Four schools in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth and Brooklyn Center, were among the first to receive funding from the federal government to experiment with this new model. Brooklyn Center Community High School, which converted in 2009, and Myers-Wilkins in Duluth have had good results with improved attendance, graduation rates and test scores in these low-performing schools.

In 2015 the Minnesota legislature appropriated $500,000 to fund additional community schools. Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, will ask the legislature for $2 million next session to support these efforts.

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Good ideas that should get more attention
from the legislature 

SF 2429:  Exempt Minnesota from daylight saving time.billmagnifyingglass

SF 3345:  Require a display on gas pumps to read, “The price for each gallon of gasoline includes the current state and federal gasoline taxes totaling 46.9 cents per gallon.”

HF 2631:  Require students to demonstrate their knowledge of civics as a condition of receiving a high school diploma.

SF 2704:  Restrict government’s ability to compel access to electronic communication devices. 

SF 3343  Limit annual payment due on the state’s outstanding debt to no more than 3.35 percent of the non-dedicated general fund revenue received by the state during the same fiscal year.

SF 2491:  To gauge how behavior changes with policy changes, require the Department of Revenue to provide dynamic scoring when assessing the financial impact of legislation.

AndHF 3621: Make it a misdemeanor to misrepresent the use of an animal as a service animal for the purposes of securing the rights or benefits accorded to persons with disabilities.

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