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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Enough with Wobegon: Racial gaps are huge

Every year, Minnesotans laud the excellent test scores for white students and ignore or excuse the dreadful scores for non-whites, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who’s “tired of all this Wobegon bullshit.”

The state’s top education official is Brenda Cassellius, said test scores were “frustrating,” but added, “there’s more to providing a student with a well-rounded education than can be seen in a test.”

Stewart scoffs.

Reading, writing, computing – not important. Look over there at the school with longer recess periods. Look at the joy on the faces of children who are on track for lifelong illiteracy.

In my day, admittedly an ancient one, kids who were good at school tended to be good at other things. On average, poor students were not happier or healthier than competent students.

“Five years ago Cassellius set a goal to cut Minnesota’s achievement gap in half,” writes Stewart.

Today the numbers are flat statewide, and gaps have actually widened in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Still, she’s offering us a new promise, a new plan, a new PowerPoint “We are proposing ambitious goals that address achievement gaps in our draft plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that extend beyond just looking at the individual test scores we’re looking at today,” she says. I’ll translate that for you: “since we have no idea how to raise proficiency for poor children of color we’re muddying the waters with feel-good measures that we’ll use to explain away our failure for years to come.”

Denise Specht, the state’s top teachers’ union boss, believes “grades, conferences with teachers and even talks with the children themselves” are better judges of how students are doing than test results, writes Stewart. That “terribly irresponsible response” is easier to say for someone who doesn’t “have Black children getting a raw deal in a kind, gentle, racist education system.”

Ed Graff, Minneapolis’ superintendent, sounds more concerned in a Star-Tribune interview. “For too long we have been caught up in MCA scores and haven’t focused enough on what leads up to those results,” he said. “Third grade is too late to have a test tell us where our kids are at.”

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