In Focus: Equity in Education

Minnesota has some of the largest racial disparities in education in the U.S., and efforts to solve the decades-long problem have so far been unsuccessful.

“In terms of the white-Black gap, we are the 50th in the nation, or the 49th, depending on which year you look at,” said Anusha Nath, research economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and co-author of a 2019 report on the gaps.

Nath and several other experts spoke Wednesday at a virtual MPR News event, In Focus: Equity in Education.

“Many states struggle with achievement gaps as well, but Minnesota has been struggling for a very long time, and we're at the bottom persistently,” Nath said.

Gaps in graduation rates and test scores have long been used to measure these disparities. But, in recent years, there’s been more focus on inequalities in access to resources that can influence how well kids do in school.

And then, there’s racism — biased teachers and staff, and systems within schools that put up barriers for Black and Indigenous students and students of color.

“We don't talk or celebrate Black and brown and Indigenous people, even in our very basic curriculum,” said Ramona Kitto Stately, project director for We Are Still Here Minnesota. “We choose a month and those histories are told during that month, but that is really our failure” to explain the importance of diversity to children.

During the virtual event, MPR News host Angela Davis led a discussion built around community participation, and talked with people who have been working to level the playing field for all students. They discussed what’s getting in the way of progress on equity in education in Minnesota and which solutions are showing promise.

Guests:

Jess Davis is a racial equity coach for St. Louis Park Public Schools and worked as a math teacher in the Twin Cities metro area from 2006 to 2020. She was the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Samantha N. Diaz is the legislative and policy director for education issues at the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, a state agency that advises and informs the governor and legislators on matters of importance to Latinos in Minnesota. She previously served as the associate charter liaison at the Pillsbury United Communities Office of Public Charter Schools.

Anusha Nath is a research economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. She co-authored the 2019 report "A Statewide Crisis: Minnesota’s Education Achievement Gaps," and continues to research the reasons behind the state's educational disparities. She has previously taught at Boston University, Delhi University and the University of Minnesota.

Ramona Kitto Stately is an enrolled member of the Santee Sioux Dakota Nation and project director for We Are Still Here Minnesota, which aims to change the narrative around Native people in the state. She also chairs the Minnesota Indian Education Association and has worked in Indian education in Minnesota for more than 15 years.

Michael Walker is the director of Black Student Achievement for the Minneapolis Public Schools. Before that, he worked in several capacities at Roosevelt High School, including as assistant principal. He was a 2017 Bush Fellow and previously served as community outreach, program and youth development director at the YMCA in the Twin Cities.

In Focus is a series of convenings MPR is committed to leading over the next year to bring awareness, dialogue and potential solutions to Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities — in education, health, economic opportunities and many other areas.

Through conversations with community leaders that are shaped by our curious, engaged audience, MPR hopes to encourage new connections and relationships that will help Minnesota communities make progress toward equity and inclusion.

If you have thoughts or questions about the event or the topic of education equity, check out the MPR News Ground Level project page for different ways to share your experience. Come back to this page for updates on the event’s lineup and other details.

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