ECM Editorial: Our editorial focus will be on education

There’s evidence that the education system in Minnesota needs to be examined and strengthened.

ecm logoThe task of improving it is always evolving with the goal of providing the best education possible for all students.

The state constitution says a general and uniform system of public schools should be established through taxation or otherwise to secure a thorough and effective system of public schools throughout the state.

The editorial board of this newspaper, comprised of Publisher Julian Andersen, President Marge Winkelman, editors and three lay members, has decided the top priority of the 2013 editorial agenda is to provide the best possible education for our students at all levels.

Accordingly, we will focus on specific concerns, recommending and urging passage of targeted legislation this session.

We will publish a series of editorials on education, and our Capitol reporters and local editors will be encouraged to update readers on the latest information and the effect of proposed laws on local school systems. After the session we will follow up on laws that are passed.

Why is this a high priority?

While we once thought Minnesota’s educational system was among the country’s top 10 by most measures, a startling U.S. Department of Education study shows this is no longer true. The study revealed that Minnesota tied for 29th in the country for graduation of students who entered high school in 2007 and should have graduated in the 2010-11 school year.

The data show that Minnesota’s overall graduation rate was 77 percent, compared with top-ranked Iowa’s 88 percent. Wisconsin and Vermont tied for second with 87 percent.

Even more surprising is that 84 percent of Minnesota’s white students graduated from high school after four years, ranking the state 24th.

Another concern is the state’s poor ranking comparing white students’ graduation rates to those of minority groups. Only 42 percent of Native Americans, 49 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanic/Latino students graduate in four years. This gives Minnesota one of the largest graduation gaps in the nation.

Minnesota schools have a good record of preparing some students for college. The ACT college entrance scores of Minnesota students who take the tests are high and in some years lead the nation.

Recent math and science tests of Minnesota’s fourth-grade and eighth-grade students showed rankings in the top 10 among 63 countries.

Yet the number of Minnesota high school students who must take remedial reading, writing and math tests upon entering Minnesota public colleges and universities nears 40 percent.

Our editorial board will have as its highest goal backing programs that will improve the system, boost the graduation rate and narrow the achievement gap.

We will examine funding to allow every kindergarten  student to attend an all-day, everyday program. Another goal will be to target programs that will enable all students to learn better, particularly minorities. We will focus on school choice and making more vocational-technical subjects available.

The board also will take a position on the need for the federal and state governments to fully fund special education so millions of school districts’ operating funds now used to subsidize local special education  programs can be used for needs of regular-ed students. When the federal government mandated special education programs at the local level, it promised to fund 40 percent of the cost. Today it funds less than half of that 40 percent.

A new system of funding education now making its way through the Legislature will be another important consideration.

Our editorial board in its focused editorials and reporting is committed to making sure all students have the educational opportunity to reach their potential and become successful citizens.

An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board. Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune are part of ECM Publishers Inc.