Addressing the Achievement Gap: All students deserve an excellent school

/ 8 April 2012 / jennifer

Bonnie Cannon and Vallay Varro, Duluth News Tribune Opinion, April 08, 2012 –

Our community must seize opportunities to meet the needs of all students. If not, alarming, downward trends beginning to emerge will take root.

A transformation is in full swing.

By 2018, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require higher education, outpacing the national average. Concurrently, we are an increasingly diverse state with more global families proudly calling Minnesota home. Census data for Duluth from 2010 indicates a population uptick and a younger-than-average median age. Duluth also has seen its minority population double from 2000 to 2010. Today, students of color represent 11 percent of the 8,900 students enrolled in Duluth public schools.

Our community must seize opportunities to meet the needs of all students. If not, alarming, downward trends beginning to emerge will take root.

For much of the 20th century our nation recognized Minnesota as a pioneer in public education. But in the 21st century, excellent public schools in the North Star State are increasingly a privilege for some instead of a right for all. The educational disparities between the haves and the have-nots are severe and embarrassing. They’re bad for our kids and they’re bad for our state.

Minnesota’s achievement gaps are second-worst in the nation, falling squarely along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. No matter in which pocket of Minnesota you reside, the system fails many. In Duluth, according to Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the achievement gap is 7 percentage points smaller than that of the state at large. But students in Duluth perform worse overall, with only 56 percent meeting or exceeding proficiency standards in comparison to 61 percent in the state. Additionally, Duluth’s low-income students do worse than other low-income kids in Minnesota, scoring eight points below their peers.

While the achievement gap is an important indicator of the equality of public education, our shortcomings are extensive and pervasive: 40 percent of Minnesota high school seniors who enter college require remedial math or reading.

Teachers, you have our support.

The job of a teacher is rewarding but also incredibly challenging. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire state to alleviate achievement gaps so every child has a chance to succeed. Educators are leading what many dub today’s civil-rights movement: public education. It requires everyone to understand the gravity of the crisis in Minnesota public schools and pitch in.

We must find common ground and embrace opportunities.

The belief that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity or class, have the ability to succeed drives Minnesota’s education reform dialogue. Please visit our organizations’ websites ( and to get involved and to share meaningful solutions with elected officials.

Urge them to:

  • Facilitate data-informed decisions from quality pre-K education through Parent Aware to track records on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and achievement gaps. This could help parents decide which public school is right for their child.
  • Replicate school models with proven results. The more great schools, the better the chance of meeting every student’s needs.
  • Apply the Common Core State Standards to accelerate school equality and quality. The standards entail evidence-based instruction aligned with college and work expectations, consistent benchmarks for all students and growth-focused formative assessments, and revolutionary teacher collaboration. Developed by teachers, administrators and experts, the state standards improve educational outcomes through common, voluntary, internationally benchmarked academic standards in mathematics and English language arts. And they reflect the best models in the world.
  • Leverage existing parent-engagement state law by collaborating with local school districts on family-engagement policies and by participating in curriculum reviews. Done effectively, this can bolster student achievement.Minnesota is a land of distinction and pride. Let’s make sure we sustain this legacy for our next generation. It begins with navigating a new frontier of education reform to provide all students access to a great public school. Let’s be pioneers, once again.

Bonnie Cannon of Duluth is president of the Minnesota Parent Teacher Association ( and Vallay Varro is the founding executive director of MinnCAN: The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (, based in St. Paul.