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Big Questions: Why Haven't We Closed the Achievement Gap?

January 12, 2017

Minnesota high school students who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian are much less likely to graduate on time than their peers in almost every other state. According to data from 2014, nearly 86% of white high school students graduated in 4 years, compared to 82% for Asian-American students, 63% for Hispanic students, 60% for black students, and 51% for American Indian students. State and local governments, in addition to many for-profit and nonprofit organizations, are taking steps to close this gap in partnership with Minnesota’s various K-12 systems. Although there has been some improvement over time, the gap still remains. Why haven’t we closed the achievement gap?

On April 18, 2016, the College of Liberal Arts hosted a Big Questions event, moderated by Minnesota Public Radio News host Tom Weber, on the topic of Minnesota's achievement gap. Big Questions is a series presented by the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts and Minnesota Public Radio News. This series fosters thoughtful discussion through a liberal arts lens, bringing multiple and diverse perspectives to bear on today's pressing questions.


Dr. Catherine Squires, professor, Department of Communication Studies, Unversity of Minnesota
Catherine R. Squires is a professor of communication studies and director of the Race, Indigeneity, Gender & Sexuality Studies Initiative (RIGS) at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Squires' work investigates the interactions between social identities, media discourses, and publics. 

Dr. Squires is also a member of the UROC Generation NEXT Fellows, a team of faculty working on practical, locally-grounded ways to address educational inequity in Minnesota. She is also engaged in a long-term partnership with Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul to create publicly-oriented media that explores the history and future development of the Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods. 

Dr. Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education
Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius has endeavored to enact comprehensive education reform to benefit every Minnesota child. Since 1990, in her career as a classroom teacher, administrator, and superintendent in Minnesota and Tennessee, Dr. Cassellius led reform, redesign, and change efforts that put students first, focused on achievement, and resulted in better outcomes for all students. 

As superintendent of the East Metro Integration District, she led an achievement agenda with the 10 district superintendents. Previously, as an associate superintendent in the Minneapolis Public Schools, she led 19 middle and high schools and was responsible for the implementation of the Minneapolis Secondary Redesign. As the academic superintendent of middle schools in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Cassellius was responsible for middle school and district reforms that led to accelerated gains and the narrowing of achievement gaps among students in Memphis.

Dr. Mitch Pearlstein, founder and senior fellow, Center of the American Experiment
Mitch Pearlstein is founder and American experiment senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, a nonpartisan, tax-exempt, public policy and educational think tank.

Dr. Pearlstein served for two years in the U.S. Department of Education, during the Reagan and (first) Bush administrations, where he held three positions, including director of outreach for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
His most recent book is Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future (2014).  He’s also author of From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation (2011).

A former adjunct professor of public administration at Hamline University in St. Paul, he earned his PhD in educational administration, with an emphasis on higher education policy, at the University of Minnesota.