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Minnesota Education Ranked "Average" Yet Again

March 30, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Another voice has been heard in the debate over whether Minnesota's education system is nation-leading or is simply average.

In its yearly "Technology Counts" survey, the respected publication Education Week gives Minnesota an average grade for how it supplies and uses technology in schools. In one category, Minnesota almost flunks.

The report does not issue overall grades for the states. Instead, it gives grades in policies related to the use of technology for learning, policies designed to increase educators' capacity to use technology and student access to technology. Minnesota ranked below the national average in the first two areas and above the national average in only student access to technology.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Minnesota routinely topped state comparisons. Many Minnesotans still believe the state ranks near the top of these surveys and indicators, but consider this:

  • A report by Education Week released in January found Minnesota below average in four of six educational categories;
  • Minnesota's student-to-teacher ratio is 40th in the nation;
  • The average Minnesota first-year teacher salary is 25th in the nation;
  • Minnesota ranked 45th in U.S. News & World Report's list of top high schools;
  • The ratio of school counselors to students was 49th in the nation;
  • In 1996-97 Minnesota ranked 21st in total spending per $1,000 in personal income. By 2005-06, the state dropped to 41st in that category.

Minnesota is no longer among the educational elite. This week's Education Week report on technology emphasizes that statement.

The publication first examined the use of technology in schools. States were graded on whether their standards include technology (Minnesota's does), if the state tests students on technology (Minnesota does not), has established a virtual school (Minnesota has not), and offers computer-based assessments (Minnesota does). Nine states - Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia - earned a perfect score. The District of Columbia received the only F. Minnesota received a B-, just under the national average of a B.

The U.S. has an average of 3.8 students per instructional computer while Minnesota has an average of 3.7 students per computer. South Dakota provided the greatest access with a student-to-computer ratio of 2-to-1. In Utah, Delaware, California, Mississippi and Rhode Island, five or more students shared every computer.

The report noted that computers need high-speed internet connections to be most effective. They found both Minnesota to be at the national average with 3.7 students per computer with a high-speed connection. A report similar to Education Week's, "America's Digital Schools," reported that states expect to increase their total bandwidth more than fivefold by 2012.

The report lauds Georgia, Kentucky, and West Virginia for enacting at least five of the six policies they say support the capacity for educators to use technology. Minnesota earned a D in this category. While technology is included in its teacher standards (46 states have this policy), it is not included in its administrator standards (37 states have this policy), initial teacher-license requirements (21 states have this policy), initial administrator-license requirements (10 states have this policy), teacher recertification requirements (10 states have this policy), and administrator recertification requirements (7 states have this policy).

More than half the states have virtual schools, where instruction is delivered over the Internet. Minnesota is not one of them. In the 2002-03 school year, only 16 states had virtual schools. Six years later, that number increased to 29 states. Just eight states have virtual schools serving elementary, middle, and high schools.

That same report noted that while only one-quarter of districts had launched a 1-to-1 student-to-computer initiative; those numbers were expected to double by 2010.

It's difficult to track how well schools are performing because it takes years for education indicators to rise or fall. Minnesota schools have seen a drop in education trends that correlates to the 13 percent drop in state financial aid since the state takeover of educational funding in 2003.

The analysis is simple: When education was a top investment priority, students compared favorably to others in the nation. When education is starved for funds, as it has been since 2003, then our students don't perform as well.

Yes, Minnesota faces a daunting budget deficit. However, cutting or keeping education funding flat only continues the system's decline in quality. Education must be a top investment priority for it to be fully effective.

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