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Minnesota - Home to an Average Education

January 26, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

An above average education in Minnesota? Sadly, that's so 20th Century.

While Minnesotans pride themselves on having a top-of-the-line education system, a new report by Education Week magazine ranked our system solidly in the middle of the nation. The highly detailed analysis by the respected publication graded the state average last year as well.

State education experts blame the poor showing on lack of investment and leadership. Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said that because students are in the education system for many years and the system is so large, declines can take years to appear. "This started in the 1980s, and governors have offered no leadership for schools," he said, adding that "no new taxes" and an imbalanced education finance system work against quality education.

The Education Week report follows years of hard data that shows Minnesota's education system is in decline:

  • From 2003 to 2007, Minnesota's student-to-teacher ratio fell from 25th to 40th in the nation.
  • The average Minnesota teacher salary is $50,582, 19th in the nation.
  • The average Minnesota first-year teacher salary is $33,018, 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 795-1, 49th in the nation.
  • Minnesota has an average of one school nurse to 1,400 students, 30th in the nation.
  • 319 Minnesota teachers have earned the prestigious National Board Certification, 33rd in the nation.
  • In 1996-97 Minnesota ranked 15th in total spending per student and 21st in total spending per $1,000 in personal income. By 2005-06, the state dropped to 22nd in total spending and 41st in spending per $1,000 in personal income.
  • Last March, Education Week assessed each state's education technology. The state earned a grade of C, while the nation earned a C+.

"We're doing the best we can," said Lee Warne, Executive Director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. "Our system hasn't provided the resources to keep moving forward as other states."

Here's how Minnesota ranked in the recent Education Week report

The first indicator, Chance for Success, identifies 13 indicators in an individual's trip through the education system. Minnesota earned high marks for its educated parents and test scores on the NAEP math and reading tests.

In K-12 Achievement, Minnesota performed well in standardized tests. However, a lack of achievement gains in test scores between 2003 and 2007 put Minnesota at the bottom of the nation, as did attempts to close the gap between low-income and other students.

The state ranked 44th in the nation in Standards, Assessments and Accountability, earning low marks in for the support it gives low performing schools.

The state ranked 22nd in the nation in Transitions and Alignment, which measures a state's ability to link early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education, and 22nd in School Finance which measures four measures of economic equity and four of education spending.

The state received a D+ in the Teaching Profession. Most noticeable was the state's lack of a cohesive mentoring and evaluation program for teachers, lack of teacher license reciprocity, incentives for teachers to earn National Board Certification, any program to limit class size and a student-to-teacher ratio median for elementary schools.

Over the years, our leaders have made clear their desire for less money in schools and more money in their wallets, but Dooher makes a solid point: "We need to lower class sizes. We need to have a longer day or longer school year. We need up-to-date equipment and books. These are things the state can address, but does not.

"The greatest stimulus package is an educated workforce. We need to work toward the future."

Minnesota 2020 Fellow and long-time superintendent Tom Westerhaus sought to measure the report's findings. While it raises an alarm, he said some of its claims can be disputed and others are the result of a simple educational philosophy. "Take National Board Certification. Minnesota's just not that into it," he said. To receive National Board Certification, teachers must undergo a rigorous series of tests and produce an in-depth portfolio of work.

Even with the caveats, Minnesota's slide is indisputable. What was once a source of pride has been underfinanced and devolved into an average program that works hard to do right by our children.

Minnesota can and must do better for our children and our economy.  An investment made today will pay off handsomely tomorrow. Unless we invest, our rankings will continue slipping.

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