Good news for public education in 2013

The year 2013 brought good news for education.
The Minnesota Legislature approved additional funds for early childhood education and for all-day kindergarten. Eighty-six percent of local school levies were approved. Money borrowed from school districts during poor economic times have been repaid.
The ECM Editorial Board, in a series of editorials last year, advocated these actions among others. ECM member newspapers keyed news coverage to major education issues: State funding, local funding and innovative classroom approaches.
Editorials also urged our state’s educational leaders to:
• Establish accountability to ensure the extra funds allocated to young children will be used effectively and fairly.
• Urge federal and state governments to live up to their promises of special education funding.
• Support and expand credit options for high school students, through dual credit opportunities and other programs.
• Support and expand vocational opportunities to help close the gap between students’ skills and employment opportunities.
• Maintain a singular focus on the need to ensure that all children are reading at grade level when they start fourth grade.
We shared test scores that were hard to digest. In Minnesota, 63 percent of all fourth-graders were not proficient in reading. Of black children, 88 percent were not proficient. Experts agree that a child needs to be reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade or face a distinct possibility of spending his remaining educational years at a disadvantage.
We also shared this sobering fact: Minnesota tied for 29th in the country for graduation of youngsters who entered high school in 2007 and should have graduated in the 2010-11 school year. Minnesota’s overall graduation rate was 77 percent.
Some progress has been reported. The annual study of kindergarten readiness by the Minnesota Department of Education showed that Minnesota children entering kindergarten are better prepared. Seventy-three percent of children were determined to be ready for kindergarten, up from 60 percent in 2010. A child who is ready for kindergarten is considered on track to meet the achievement targets on the third-grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the MDE says.
The 2013 Adequate Yearly Progress report says our graduation rate remained about 77 percent overall. However, that same report says 72 percent of Minnesota children are scoring “proficient” in math; 68 percent are proficient in reading — definite improvement.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress showed some narrowing of the achievement gap in its 2013 report.
By putting extra funds into education for young children, the intent is these dismal achievement numbers will improve. Parents, educators and taxpayers need to watch those dollars — are they being spent in ways that will foster educational progress from preschool through Grade 3?
We need to learn from schools that are succeeding. MinnCAN.org reports, for example, that black students at Monroe and Hoover elementary schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District are scoring 77 percent overall proficiency.
Students at Sheridan Elementary School in Richfield gained 17 percentage points over the past year in overall proficiency. Students of color at Champlin Park High School, Apple Valley High School and Coon Rapids High School are in the state’s top ten for overall proficiency. We need to learn what these schools are doing right.
Other major topics will arise in 2014 and beyond. Major overhauls of education financing will be discussed in the Legislature. Teacher accountability is another huge topic. How do we maintain a quality educational system and how do we keep teachers accountable?
These issues will also be part of the next round of teacher contract negotiations, a process that could be very contentious.
This editorial concludes our year-long commitment to raising and analyzing education issues. We are pleased with the accomplishments of the past year, but we urge diligence and emphasis continue to foster basic skills among the young, to offer specialized help to all students as needed and to expand alternative choices for high school and post-secondary students.
We will continue to comment on education issues important to our communities.
Our state has many challenges ahead, including a changing ethnic demographic and an aging population. Our economy is showing growth but still has issues.
Our future will be brighter with a well-educated and proficient base of young people entering the workforce.

An editorial from the ECM Editorial Board. (Insert newspaper name) is part of ECM Publishers Inc.

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