When Minnesotans think of a state agency in disarray, mismanaging millions in taxpayer funds, while touching the lives of nearly one million Minnesotans, they could be excused for thinking about the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
After all, the Department of Human Services has seen the resignation of three top officials in three months, reports of employee intimidation, and millions of dollars mismanaged and misspent. The scale of the dysfunction is so breathtaking, it would be understandable if most Minnesotans just started to tune it out – or simply not notice the other major state agency failing our state; the Minnesota Department of Education.
Shortly before Labor Day Weekend, while many parents were busy with the state fair and getting ready for school, the Minnesota Department of Education released “The State of Our Students” report, which coincided with the annual release of student performance on our state academic assessments.
The Commissioner of Education, Mary Cathryn Ricker, labeled the state of our students as “promising.” Yet, it is not very promising when only 55% of our third-graders can read at grade level, continuing a downward trend since at least 2015. Nor is it very promising when only 45 percent of our high school juniors are proficient in math, yet, we graduate 83 percent of our high school seniors.
Over the last several years and despite significant financial investment from hard-working taxpayers, the Minnesota Department of Education has presided over a constant decline in student achievement in both reading and math. Since 2015, the percentage of students rated proficient in math has dropped eight percent, and third-grade reading proficiency has dropped seven percent.
Commissioner Ricker pointed to rising graduation rates while ignoring downward trends in academic achievement. The commissioner pointed to rising rates of ACT participation while ignoring the large and dangerous disparities in performance between white students and students of color.
The commissioner says our students are more than test scores. On that, we agree, but they are also more than just a list of participation rates without any reference to achievement. Employers, parents and especially our students are trusting that our high school diplomas are meaningful certificates of achievements, not simply certificates of participation.
There is so much potential and promise in our students, but it is incumbent on all of us to help our students fulfill that promise. We need to make parents a partner in the process, respect local control on curriculum instead of politically motivated mandates and ensure that all of our students are exposed to our nation-leading, rigorous academic standards in reading, math and science.
Education provides students with a foundation for their future, and cherry-picked data to paint a rosy picture shortchanges not only our system of education, but the children it is intended to serve. The dysfunction and waste at the Department of Human Services is serious, but should not distract us from the dysfunction at the Department of Education.
Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, represents District 9B and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, represents District 15A.