Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our schools are leaving too many minority children behind

By Brian W. Grogan

Republicans and conservatives need to do a better job communicating to the voters that the Republican Party is really the education party. Let's face it: over the last forty years, the Democrat leadership has enacted and steered education policy that has produced a slow decline in academic standards and a steady rise in "social engineering" of behavior. This social engineering has lead to an increase in violence, disrespect and the breakdown of proper conduct within our schools. The Democrats' approach has failed our children! In Minnesota, the DFL opposes meaningful academic accountability standards within the teachers union contracts.

Minnesota has the highest achievement gap in the nation between whites and minorities. In Saint Paul and Minneapolis, 51% and 45% respectively of the African American children entering high school actually attain a high school diploma. The Dropout-Unknown rate for Saint Paul and Minneapolis black students is 41% and 61% respectively*. Who knows where these kids end up — drugs, prostitution and gangs? The graduation rates are worse for Hispanics (45% in Saint Paul and 32% in Minneapolis) and American Indians (42% Saint Paul, 30% Minneapolis) where a majority of the students do not attain a high school degree and over 40% disappear from our schools. Do we really wonder why high crime rates continue unabated in our state, especially within the Twin Cities?

Additionally, among high school graduates who pursue a post-secondary education, over 50% need remedial course work in either math or reading prior to enrolling in college-level courses. Why do voters believe the DFL party is committed to education when, under their leadership for the last forty years, we have this level of failure?

What role do teachers play in these results? Our teachers receive automatic pay increases within the "steps and lanes" system based on years of service (steps) and continuing education (lanes). Even during periods of high unemployment, major budget deficits and slumping economies, when private sector employees are not receiving pay increases or bonuses, what are teachers and their union negotiators demanding? Pay and benefit increases (in the Saint Paul school system in particular) that are over and above the step-and-lane pay increases and without any accountability for testing and graduation results. And the Democrats support this position! Why is this an acceptable use of taxpayer money? Why do we allow our children's academic results to be held captive to the wishes of our teachers and their unions, especially in light of the fact that Minnesota has the highest achievement gap between white and minorities in the nation?

What reform is needed most today? First and foremost, students should know whether they have attained a high school education prior to receiving their diploma. The GRAD legislation needs to be put into law, not deferred indefinitely. Secondly, we should build upon the Q Comp program and begin gradually tying increased pay to performance for all district teachers and administrators on the GRAD test district wide. We must be bold if we are going to turn around Minnesota's education system, which is leaving far too many African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans behind.

*Source: Minnesota Department of Education, 2008 Minnesota Graduation Rates by District.

Brian Grogan, Minnetonka, was the Republican-endorsed candidate in state House District 43B in 2008.

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