Debate Magazine

Graduation Rates in Minnesota: The Good, the Bad, and the Budget

Posted on the 13 June 2013 by Doggone
Cross Posted from MN Political Roundtable:
Graduation Rates in Minnesota: The Good, the Bad, and the BudgetThe EPE Research Center, part of the non-profit Education Week came out with their latest report on our high school graduation rates.  The Report, Diplomas Count, noted this:
GRADUATION RATES STILL RISING A new analysis of high school completion from the EPE Research Center, using its Cumulative Promotion Index method and  data from the U.S. Department of Education, finds that the national graduation rate for public schools stands at 74.7percent for the class of 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.   The new findings point to continued improvements for the nation. The graduation rate rose 1.9 percentage points from 2009 to 2010, marking the third straight year of increases following a period of stagnation and decline.    At 74.7 percent, the nation’s graduation rate has reached its highest point since 1973. Success among historically under-served groups drives national improvement.
The Good News nationally is.....we have had three years of improvement in a row, and seven out of ten years of improvement in the past decade.  The Bad News? We still have a long way to go, and there are still some shocking gaps in achievement by race and ethnicity, gender, and of course, affluence in the context of our extreme gap in wealth and income.
The Good News in Minnesota is that we are in the top ten states - specifically number 10 - for graduation rates.  Our white students have a pretty consistent rate of around 84%.
The Bad News is that for minorities we don't do so well, having one of the largest gaps in comparisons by state, and when it comes to our Native American students we're among the worst, not the best. We personify that  opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, depending upon the accident of your birth (Bonus point if you know and can remember who the author is):
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair.”
The EPE provides an interactive map that is quite informative, and easy to use for state to state comparisons.  You can find it here.
Besides showing we're 10th highest in graduation, the map app also shows that we have a 2.2% Native American student population, for example, and that the national average for states is 1.3%.  It shows we have a poverty rate, determined by free or subsidized lunches for students of   34.3%   compared to a poverty rate nationally of   46.6%.  And it shows that while the rest of the nation was improving in graduation rates, Minnesota actually went DOWN nearly 2%, between 2009 and 2010.
North Dakota, in comparison, was 2nd nationally, and has a Native American population of 9.4%; South Dakota is 24th in the nation for high school graduation, and has 12% Native American population.  Wisconsin is 3rd in graduation nationally; they have a 1.5% Native American student population.  Iowa is 4th nationally for high school graduation rates, and they have a 0.8% Native American student population.
So our five state area for the most part ranks well regionally, compared to the rest of the nation - except for South Dakota, but we aren't very competitive with NoDak over the border to the west, or the Cheeseheads to the east, or the Iowa cornhuskers to our south. To satisfy my curiosity about regional comparisons in graduation rates, I also checked out how the Canadians are doing over the border to the north - they're in the same general vicinity of performance.  We are around 80%, they're at 79%.
As this article from Reuters notes, the devil is in the details:
Even generally high-performing states such Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Connecticut have strikingly poor records with some minority students. Minnesota has the biggest gaps: The graduation rate for African-American and Hispanic students hovered around 50 percent in 2011, compared to 84 percent for white students.
"We need to look at these disparities head on," said Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's Education Commissioner.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has proposed $640 million in new education funding, including an effort to better integrate schools in hopes of boosting performance for minority students, Cassellius said.

According to this graph, we are ahead of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.
Graduation Rates in Minnesota: The Good, the Bad, and the Budget
Which raises the question - so what? Why do we care - other than to have some valid justification for the claim of American exceptionalism, and to be factually accurate for a change when chanting 'We're number one! We're number one!"?
The same site that provided the graph above outlines why graduation rates matter:
There is a growing consensus that high-school completion is the prerequisite stepping stone to post-secondary education, now deemed essential to success in the labor market. Governments have plenty of evidence that well-educated citizens are more actively engaged in society: they tend to make better choices about factors that affect their quality of life (e.g., diet, smoking, exercise); and they earn higher incomes than those who are less educated. Less prominent in the mind of the public, but equally well-known among decision-makers, is the fact that well-educated and skilled people make important contributions to business innovation, productivity, and national economic performance. In an interconnected global economy, countries with more highly skilled workers have a distinct competitive advantage.
But if that is not enough reason to explain why we need to invest in public education, both nationally and at the state level, this report which came out earlier this week does a better job of explaining why there are other issues involved in having a better educated work force, as well as where some of that budget needs to go at the 'front end' of education, early education, so as to improve those graduation numbers, as well as the numbers of students going on to post-K-12 education.
From Mission Readiness:

Retired Admirals And Generals Release New Report Showing State-Federal Early Learning Proposal Could Lead To Two Million More High School Graduates And $150 Billion In Economic Benefits

As students graduate from high school across U.S., retired military leaders call the federal early learning proposal a national security imperative

By MISSION: READINESS WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 -- /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Recognizing that 75 percent of all young Americans are unable to join the military, in large part because they do not have a high school diploma or cannot score highly enough on the military's entrance exam to be allowed to serve, the retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness today released a new report showing that the federal Administration's early education proposal could lead to two million more high school graduates nationwide and $150 billion in net economic benefits to society over 10 years.
As students graduate from high school across the United States, the group called on Congress and the Administration to work together to pass a proposal enabling states to create, strengthen and expand high-quality early learning programs to increase the number of future high school graduates, save money and increase national security.
The Mission: Readiness members released the national report, "A Commitment to Pre-Kindergarten is a Commitment to National Security," in Washington, DC and state reports at high-quality pre-K centers in Bangor, ME; Dayton, OH; Richmond, VA; Savannah, GA; Louisville, KY; Des Moines, IA; Las Vegas, NV; and San Diego, CA.
Mission: Readiness is the nonpartisan national security organization of 350 retired admirals and generals calling for smart investments in America's children to address the fact that military service is out of reach for an estimated 75 percent of all young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24, primarily because they are too poorly educated, are overweight, or have serious criminal records.
"Many young people are celebrating their graduation from high school this month, but 22 percent of teens nationwide aren't graduating on time," said General Victor E. "Gene" Renuart, Jr., U.S. Air Force (Retired). "Many of those who do graduate and try to join the military are both disappointed and surprised to learn that they do not have the literacy, math and problem solving skills we require. These academic deficits have a direct impact on our nation's military readiness. Expanding access to quality pre-K is the smartest thing we can do, right now, to get more children on track for academic success."
Newly released research shows that by the time children were in fourth or fifth grade in New Jersey, those who participated in a high quality pre-k program for two years were three-quarters of an academic year ahead in math and two-thirds of an academic year ahead in literacy compared to those who did not.  Children who attended were also 40 percent less likely to be held back in school and 31 percent less likely to need special education services.
The report also notes there was no "fade out" of program effects: children who attended the New Jersey program significantly outperformed similar children who did not attend in kindergarten, second grade, and now in the 4th and 5th grades.
Numerous studies of voluntary early learning programs in states such as Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia have also shown a range of academic gains and reductions in the number of children needing special education services or being held back in school.  Studies of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers program in Illinois and Perry Preschool program in Michigan showed increases in high school graduation and reductions in the number who become involved in criminal activity in later years.
The report also includes data showing declines in childhood obesity in Philadelphia, New York City and in Mississippi, due in part to the efforts of early education centers that have systematically improved nutritional quality of the food served to children, increased the physical activity of children at the centers, and initiated voluntary coaching for parents about how young children need nutritious food and physical activity.
While education policy debates are often contentious, policymakers recognize the value of quality early learning across the political spectrum. For 2013 alone, Republican governors in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia and Democratic governors in Colorado and New York have proposed and/or signed into law budget increases for quality pre-K.
"It's important to note that this truly is a bipartisan issue that gets support from all sectors of society," said Senator Brice Wiggins (MS-52nd District), who was the lead sponsor of legislation recently signed into law by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to create state-funded pre-K for the first time in the state's history. "We made a bold and budget-wise commitment to quality pre-K for the simple reason that it's the one of the best things we can do to give our kids the foundation they need for academic success and meet the future needs of our employers as well."
The retired military leaders said that states would benefit significantly from implementation of the early learning proposal presented in the Administration's 2014 budget proposal, which includes $99 billion over 10 years to enable states to offer high-quality preschool programs to every low- and moderate-income four-year-old while strengthening early childhood development opportunities for children from birth through age three. The proposal will enable states to create, strengthen and expand quality programs, as New Jersey and others have begun to do.
The report's projection of additional high school graduates is conservative. The Chicago Child-Parent Centers program achieved 29 percent more high school graduates; Perry Preschool achieved a 44 percent gain; and the state-wide program in Michigan saw a 35 percent increase.  So a 29 percent figure might be reasonable to use for projections, but we cut that roughly in half – 15 percent – to be conservative. Even at that lower rate, bringing pre-kindergarten to scale as this proposal suggests could produce nearly 2 million new high school graduates. That is almost as many individuals as are currently serving on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserve, combined.
Net economic benefits are based on an independent analysis of research studies that shows that high-quality early learning programs produce average net savings to society of $15,000 for every child served. These savings result from schools avoiding the costs of an extra year of education for children who are held back, lower special education costs, fewer children in detention facilities, fewer adults in prison, fewer expenses for crime victims and savings from lower welfare costs.
"Every responsible working parent across the country wants the best for their children, but for many high quality pre-K is as out of reach as college tuition," said Brigadier General Velma "Von" Richardson, U.S. Army (Retired). "We know from research that early learning programs that meet high-quality benchmarks cost between $4,000 and $9,000 per child, per year, depending on the state – which is way beyond what many working families can afford."
"Many children who are left out of these programs start school at a disadvantage and never catch up," said Rear Admiral Casey W. Coane, U.S. Navy (Retired).  "A commitment to quality early education is one of the smartest ways to get more children on track for academic achievement, high school graduation and suitability for military service for those who choose to enlist."
Mission: Readiness is the nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders calling for smart investments in America's children. It operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Council for a Strong America.

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