Minnesota tops the nation in high school achievement, but problems remainby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota tops the nation for the number of high school graduates in a survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 93 percent of the state's residents over age 25 have high school diplomas. Minnesota also scores in the top 10 for college degrees. But the survey is also a reminder of persistent racial disparities in the classroom.
St. Paul, Minn. — The nationwide survey of about 100,000 people put Minnesota just ahead of Utah, Montana and New Hampshire for the percentage of residents with at least a high school education. Minnesota is typically in the top ranks in this regard.
"We have had, and I hope we will always have, a strong work ethic and a commitment to education," said Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren. "People really feel strongly in Minnesota about educating their children."
The same survey puts Minnesota eighth compared to other states when it comes to residents with bachelors degrees. A little over one-third of those surveyed reached that level. Seagren warned that as baby boomers reach retirement age and fewer workers are born to replace them, Minnesota officials hope to instill some momentum for going on past a high school diploma.
" (We're) talking to students about the importance of going beyond high school even and taking at least two more years in the post-secondary arena so we can retain our competative advantage in these industries we have," she said.
While the graduation numbers are encouraging, the survey revealed a persistent trouble spot. African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American students consistently perform worse than whites. Census data released earlier this fall show progress for nearly all groups. But black high school graduates lagged behind whites by nearly 12 percent. For Hispanics the disparity was 33 percent.
Carlos Mariani-Rosa, director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and also a state DFL representative from St. Paul, is troubled that minorities as a group tend to do better in school only when their white peers also do better, maintaining a consistent achievement gap. He says teachers, supervisors, parents and friends will need to identify and address their expectations of underachievemnet before the gap narrows.
"I think that's where race really plays a powerful role in terms of sending a message that, 'Don't work hard, man, because this isn't about you, and if it is going to be about you, you're going to have to change who you are. Are you willing to do that?'"
There's plenty of economic incentive to reach higher educational levels. The census finds people with a college degree earn an average of $52,000 a year. Those with a high school education earn about $29,000. Adults without a high school diploma earn less than $20,000 a year.
- Morning Edition, 10/26/2006, 7:42 a.m.