MARSHALL - Minnesota used to tout itself as "the education state" but not anymore, an education advocacy group says. In fact, the members say that in some areas, Minnesota falls below Alabama.
"For the Latino group in the eighth grade, schools in the deep south are doing better," said Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN, The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, an independent education reform advocacy nonprofit. "For blacks and Latinos, every single state exceeds Minnesota."
The MinnCAN "Road to Success" tour made a stop in Marshall as it recognizes Minnesota's top schools and connects with community leaders throughout the state. MinnCAN staffers gave presentations Tuesday to local business, civic and education leaders to discuss ideas on how to improve education in Minnesota.
"Education is a crucial issue for the future of Minnesota," Sellers said. "We're failing far too many kids."
MinnCAN is touring 12 cities in Minnesota during September and October. Sellers said he included Marshall on the list because Marshall Public Schools is excelling in certain areas.
The Marshall area landed a number of schools in the Top 10 on the 2013 Report Cards issued by MinnCAN. The report card is based on data from the Minnesota Department of Education, including student proficiency, learning gains and graduation rates.
"With more than 1,960 schools in the state, earning a top 10 ranking is a tremendous accomplishment," Sellers said.
The specific rankings for Marshall area schools were:
Lynd Public School, No. 4 in middle school performance gains
Marshall Middle School, No. 10 in English language learner student performance
Marshall High School, No. 9 in Latino student performance
Nicholas Banovetz, the deputy director of MinnCAN, said that one reason for Marshall's success is in its hiring practices.
"Part of it comes down to people, positioning people of color to reach out to the minority community," he said. "You don't see that in every district."
Klint Willert, Marshall superintendent, said 30 percent of students in Marshall Public Schools are minorities.
"They speak 28 different languages," he said.
Willert said in addition to having a minority advocate, Marshall is taking steps to involve minority students more in their schools because having school pride gives a "sense of identity and continuity."
"How can we engage those students in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities?" he said. "One out of four students in school are in marching band, but we don't see a reflection of minorities in marching band."
Sellers and Banovetz also talked about how Minnesota students aren't prepared for many of the jobs that employers offer.
"I talked to the vice president of 3M, and he said 'we would love to hire more people from this state,'" Banovetz said. Students need to have graduated with better STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, he said.
Sellers said MinnCAN has played a role in advocating for education policy changes that have been adopted in Minnesota. Among them:
Passage of pre-K scholarships, a program to expand access to quality preschool
Launching well-rounded teacher and principal evaluations
Reforming standardized tests to improve student learning
Minnesota has made other important changes to public education policy in recent years - including state funding increases, participation in the federal Race to the Top program and securing a waiver from No Child Left Behind provisions.
Sellers said the Road to Success tour "will let us take viewpoints from greater Minnesota back to the state Capitol to inform policymakers who are shaping the education of next-generation Minnesotans."
For more information, visit www.minncan.org.