The achievement gap: Coming to a theater near you

In education circles, we’re hearing more about Minnesota’s inconvenient truth — that poor kids and students of color are not achieving in school at the levels they should be.

But the Minneapolis Foundation thinks if more Minnesotans knew that the state has some of the highest educational disparities in the country, they’d be shocked.

“Somehow the information about the achievement gap is not penetrating to the public,” Sandy Vargas, the foundation’s president and CEO, said in an interview Monday.

That’s why her group is launching a public-awareness campaign to make sure more people get the memo. A movie trailer that will run in theaters this month, voiced by Twin Cities vocalist and actor T Mychael Rambo, makes the economic argument for why Minnesota’s educational gaps across race and class are everyone’s problem.

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In a partnership with Minnesota Public Radio, the RESET Education campaign also will include three “Minnesota Meeting” events from April to June featuring national education experts at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

The disparities can seem like intractable problems, but the foundation is focusing on what it considers some proven strategies, as demonstrated by schools like Harvest Prep. The Minneapolis charter school is almost entirely black, and 92 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And yet they outperform the state averages for math and science, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

So, what exactly is the foundation advocating?

You can read about the strategies in detail here. Arguably the most controversial piece is a push for 15 days added to the school year.

Vargas concedes that efforts to mess with Minnesota’s school-time traditions — including a push to loosen a law that mandates a post-Labor Day start date — have ruffled feathers at the Capitol.

“But I think this is such a crisis in terms of having our kids on track for higher education,” Vargas said. “We have to come to terms that we are graduating … less than 50 percent, in many cases, of kids of color within four years of high school. And that does not bode well [for] Minnesota,” she said.

In fact, Minnesota has the nation’s lowest on-time graduation rates for Hispanic and American Indian students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The state’s rates for Asian and African-American students rank near the bottom.

These statistics are nothing to be proud of, but you might be hearing more about them if the foundation’s campaign is successful.