Former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela once wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In a time of seemingly intractable polarities, the tragic gap of where we are and where we need to build more equity in education is closer than we think. Ideas from all sides are needed to create a morally just and economically efficient public-education system.
In prekindergarten through fifth grade, less than 9% of our students receive immersion or dual-lingual education, even though 35% of our households speak more than one language. We now have two decades of data showing astounding effectiveness in key metrics of student success across socioeconomic status. Enrollment numbers have doubled — so also should our school districts double down on funding, teacher recruitment, and prioritization for immersion education for prekindergarten through fifth-grade students.
In the ninth through 12th grades, we’re making slow but incremental progress on overall graduation rates; however, only 43% of our students graduate from our public high schools with basic STEM proficiency. Largely, this can be attributed to a curriculum gap as very few of our schools offer basic computer science courses, particularly in communities of color.
Similar to over 25 states, Minnesota should require computer science in all public high school education. Just like mathematics, we should require that all high schools offer their students a computer science or digital design course to bolster pathways to STEM careers.
We’ve seen a 500% increase in the cost of college costs in the past 30 years — yet a decrease in university graduation rates (48% nationally) and an unconscionable 80% underemployment rate for recent graduates. To bend the cost curve and better connect education with professional opportunities, states are making the first year of community and technical colleges free: For example, Tennessee offers free tuition to all state residents to community colleges. In year one, the state’s higher education commission had anticipated just 8,000 adults would apply for the expanded program; 33,258 did.
Each of these ideas has a singular commonality: They came from a teacher. Each day our teachers work within, and through, some of the harshest injustices in our society. Each day, our teachers' voices can get muted during the back and forth between elected officials, school boards, and parents. Yet, each day, our teachers show up and do heroic work to support the growth of our students.
Education reform is challenging, but the starting place is simple: Listen to our teachers.
McLean Donnelly of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and is earning a doctorate of education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He wrote this for the News Tribune.