Many factors outside school influence chance of success

Preparing an individual for success in this country takes a whole lot more than just great schools. A group called the "Editorial Projects in Education Research Center," based in Bethesda, Md., identified 13 variables that can have a positive imp...

Preparing an individual for success in this country takes a whole lot more than just great schools. A group called the "Editorial Projects in Education Research Center," based in Bethesda, Md., identified 13 variables that can have a positive impact on an individual's chances of succeeding. These variables span the environment from preschool to post-college, and many of them are outside of the typical school system. They predict the probability of success. They do not guarantee success.

Call it the big picture.

When you examine which states have the most positive variables in the big picture, Minnesota ranks third. Other states in the top five are Virginia, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland. The five states ranked in the bottom five are Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico. New Jersey might seem a surprise top five, but if you look beyond Newark and the cheap shots about New Jersey from Jay Leno and others, the state actually is wealthy and well-run.

Parents want their children to succeed, and they will often go to great lengths to achieve that goal.

Family income is the first variable. Families whose incomes are at least 200 percent above the poverty level give their children an advantage in many ways, from adequate access to nutrition and health care to good housing.


Parents' education counts, too. If one parent has a post-secondary degree, that is, any completed program beyond high school, youngsters in the same house have a better opportunity for the good life.

If at least one parent in a family is working full time and year-round, children have an advantage, likely due to stable income and lifestyle.

Another variable that has been the source of debate and controversy is language. The research indicated that ifparents are fluent in English, their children have the probability of being advantaged.

Preschool participation and enrollment in kindergarten also count toward the likelihood of future success. Minnesota gets only average marks on both important variables, however. Louisiana gets higher marks than Minnesota on support for preschool programs.Wisconsin gets higher marks for support of kindergarten than does Minnesota. Support to improve both of theseprograms is before the Minnesota Legislature.

Minnesota gets high marks for the number of youngsters in school who test proficient in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade mathematics, both variables that bode well for future success. Duluth-area schools traditionally score higher than the state averages in reading and math. One school in Duluth in particular, Congdon Park Elementary, has been given national recognition for its high reading and mathematics test scores.

High school graduation also is a significant factor and a bragging point of surrounding states. Minnesota's graduation rate is 79 percent, a slip from a previously reported rate of 92 percent. Minnesota ranks behind Wisconsin, at 80.6 percent, and Iowa, at81.2 percent. The state with the highest reported high school graduation rate is New Jersey, at 84.5 percent. The states with the lowest graduation rate are South Carolina, at 52.5 percent, and Georgia, at 56.3 percent. The national average for high schoolgraduation is 69.6 percent.

Another variable that indicates an educationally healthy state is the percentage of young adults -- ages 18 to 24 -- who are in college or who have a college degree. Minnesota, with a score of 54.9 percent, ranks well above the national average.Minnesota's neighbor to the west, North Dakota, has an even higher score, at 57.7 percent. It, however, loses points on other variables in the big picture and comes in tied with Kansas for 12th place.

Two final indicators, annual income and steady employment, deal with adults ages 25 to 64. Minnesota's annual incomes are above the national average. On the down side, Minnesota's adult employment rates are about average. The modest employment rate is likely to be a concern for Minnesota legislators as they ponder incentives for businesses this legislative session.


This may seem a bewildering array of variables andstatistics, but the big picture is, the chance for success is based on much more than the performances of schools. That should come as no surprise for those who seriously study success factors.

The good news is thatMinnesota is a great place to raise youngsters from thecradle to the work force. We can thank our forbearers for wise decisions on childsupport, schools, employment opportunities, and higher education.

Let's hope the tradition continues.

Tom Boman is a professor of education at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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