EDUCATIONAL TRAILBLAZER

Minnesota has a long history of “firsts” when it comes to educating its residents and non-residents alike

Image courtesy of Breck

By Tammy Galvin

It’s hard to believe but the current, controversial U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was just 32 years old when Minnesota became the first state in the country to adopt an open enrollment policy allowing parents to send their children to public schools outside of their home district.

Under the program, which still exists today, state aid that would have gone to a student’s home district “follows” the student, or goes instead to the district where the student chooses to attend school. It seems our great state has always been a true trailblazer when it comes to not only ensuring the basic human right to education, but equally to advancing it.

Fortunately for Minnesota residents and families or young professionals who are eyeing the state as their next home, these practices still hold true today, when “school choice,” “vouchers” and the decades-old “public/private” debate have all come full circle.

Minnesota's school choice policy actually involves two different programs—postsecondary options and open enrollment. The postsecondary options in many ways helps to offset future student loan debt allowing high school juniors and seniors to attend Minnesota colleges, earning credits not only that apply for graduation, but simultaneously apply toward a degree.

Our open enrollment enables parents to send their children to public schools anywhere in the state. And as mentioned earlier, in both cases, state aid follows the student.

Prior to officially adopting the open enrollment policy in 1990, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, like districts in many other major cities, allowed parents to choose among magnet schools within a district. But the aim of many initial magnet schools was historically to enlist voluntary desegregation from parents, not to stimulate competition and market forces among the schools the way many do today, working alongside open enrollment.

With such strong educational roots and a seemingly innate tendency to question “the system,” it’s little wonder why Minnesota ranks No. 10 on the list of states with the best school systems, according to WalletHub.

This is in part due to the Minnesota Governors Education Council drawing up a set of “indicators of success” to help ensure students are not only prepared, but that they excel in their post-secondary plans. Minnesota was the first state to develop these indicators (core proficiency, college readiness and rigorous course taking, graduation rates, and college success indicators), and one of only 10 states to receive a grant to develop statewide goals and benchmarks to measure the success of its students.

A teacher and student at Minnehaha Academy

Image courtesy of Minnehaha Academy

Minnesota is often recognized as one of the smartest, most well-educated states in the nation. From preK to college, our schools boast hundreds of accolades and educational opportunities abound for learners of all ages, creating one of the richest learning environments in the country.

Public and private grade schools set the foundation for a successful academic career, resulting in a high school graduation rate of 82 percent. Minnesota ranks second in the nation for the number of adults ages 25 to 64 who have earned at least an associate degree, and about a quarter of the adult population have earned their bachelor’s degree. And thanks in large part to advanced education, Minnesota households are also wealthier—the median income is $58,476. That’s about 12 percent higher than the national average.

Throughout the state—and in particular Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs that benefit from the massive amount of postsecondary options found here—students can customize their educational experience to match their own strengths and interests through a variety of advanced and alternative courses.

Nearly 50 percent of Minnesota public high schools offer advanced placement courses. What’s more is participation in these courses is at an all-time high, and 66 percent of test takers scored a three or higher on advanced placement exams, which are graded on a five-point scale, in 2016, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. These exams often transfer as college credit, depending on the score and the institution’s academic policies.

In addition, many juniors and seniors in high school elect to enroll full- or part-time in college classes, earning credits that can be applied simultaneously toward high school and college completion. Alternatively, South Saint Paul school district is home to Minnesota’s first International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a cross-disciplinary curriculum spanning elementary to high school that aims to provide a global education and cultivate lifelong learners. Many other Twin Cities schools now offer the IB Diploma Program, including several in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, along with suburban schools such as Minnetonka High School and Brooklyn Center Senior High.

Clearly, our region is a world-class leader in raising the bar when it comes to academic standards and outcomes. And the Twin Cities’ educational choices provide a wide variety of options to foster that intellectual growth.

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