Report: Minnesota students struggling academically, more distance learning likely to make things worse

"Parents who can afford private schools are enrolling in droves to avoid another distance learning disaster."

Image credit: Pexels/Julia M. Cameron

Minnesota students are struggling to perform academically, a problem that may only get worse as large swaths of the state enter another semester of distance learning.

Minnesota students are achieving less in school, are less prepared for college, and demonstrate a widening racial achievement gap even as the state consistently increases education funding, a new report from the Center of the American Experiment shows.

The Center said these issues are likely to be exacerbated by a second semester of distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last semester was cut short after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered schools to cease in-person education.

The Center’s report also shows that minority students in Mississippi outperform those in Minnesota, despite the fact that Mississippi is home to one of the least-funded education systems and Minnesota dedicates 41 percent of its budget to public schools.

The author of the new report blames this on Minnesota’s approach to improving schools.

“Policymakers and state leaders take the easy route year after year by lobbying for higher spending without taking responsibility for educational outcomes. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s kids keep falling behind,” said Policy Fellow Catrin Wigfall in a recent press release announcing the report.

According to national test scores, spending has no correlation to better results, the report claims.

Although “test scores are not the only indicator of success,” Wigfall writes in the report, “they play a key role in evaluating learning because they are objective, standardized measures of student achievement on academic or proficiency standards.”

“Test score performance is also often used to argue in favor of increased spending,” she notes.

In light of this stark reality, Wigfall suggested that schools should be allowed to reopen in order to counteract lagging performance.

“Our students can’t afford to lose a year’s worth of academic progress,” she said in a statement. “Parents who can afford private schools are enrolling in droves to avoid another distance learning disaster. Parents who can’t afford private schools should be given the same opportunity to put their students’ state education dollars toward effective learning alternatives.”

The report was released shortly after Walz issued his “Safe Learning Plan” for the upcoming school year. Under the plan, schools are free to reopen come fall, but must have fewer than nine cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period in their respective counties.

As of July 30, many of the state’s most populous counties won’t be allowed to resume normal in-person education, MPR’s David Montgomery reported.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus-related deaths per day in Minnesota appears to be on a downward trend, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Image source: MN Health Department website