Raised Hands, new report, reflects good news about Minnesota high schools, students

Joe Nathan – Guest Commentary
Dozens of raised hands, and a new report from Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius reflect good news. 

Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

Dozens of raised hands, and a new report from Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius reflect good news.  

More Minnesota high school students are taking and passing challenging college level classes. Cassellius wisely praised the progress, and stressed the significant work left to do.

The raised hands came when I asked about 50 emerging metro area leaders from non-profit and for profit companies, “How many of you took an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools or Post Secondary Options class while in high school?” These people were part of a leadership program developed by Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce.

My guess is that 50-60 percent raised their hands. Several talked with me about how beneficial these courses had been, both in helping them be more prepared for college, and in saving them money.

Since 1985, when the state adopted Post Secondary Options, Minnesota has been a national leader in allowing high school students to take more advanced courses while still in high school.  Advanced Placement is only one way—IB, College in the Schools, Post – Secondary Options, and Project Lead the Way are other important opportunities. These courses are offered in high schools, at colleges, at universities and increasingly, online. For more info, see http://www.centerforschoolchange.org

Last week Commissioner Cassellius announced that 15,354 Minnesota high school seniors who graduated last June took at least one Advanced Placement examination.  That’s an increase of 1 percent over the previous year.

Last September, the Minnesota Department of Education reported that almost 29,000 high school students (grades 10-12) had taken one or more Advanced Placement examinations.  MDE found that the number of Minnesota high school students taking Advanced Placement tests increased by more than 9,000 students from 2005-2010.

MDE also announced last week that 16.8 percent of the seniors who took AP tests scored at least “3”—which means they will earn credit at many colleges and universities for taking the class. That figure is slightly below the national passage rate, 16.9 percent. We want more students taking and passing AP tests.

In a press release, Cassellius commented:

“Minnesota’s workforce of the future is learning in a Minnesota classroom today. I would like to commend Minnesota schools and districts for focusing on AP course work, and especially for increasing access so that more students—including students of color and those in rural areas—can take rigorous classes that prepare them for college and a career.”

The vast majority of jobs require some education beyond high school—whether in a one-, two- or four-year program. Everyone does not need to attend a four-year college or university. But some education beyond high school is vital for most youngsters.

Many young people are ready for advanced courses by the time they are 16 or 17. These might be in aeronautics, biology, car repair, carpentry, chemistry, computer repair, economics, history, physics…whatever.

Thanks to the teachers and families who are encouraging youngsters to take these classes. Congratulations to the young people who see the value in taking challenging classes.  You’re right.

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of three public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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