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Research addresses the achievement gap between minority, white students

Emmanuel Dolo, research director for the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, presents a report on his recent research into achievement gaps and the situation of minority students in Minnesota. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf

WILLMAR -- Poverty and a lack of role models are contributing factors to a stubbornly persistent achievement gap between white and minority students.

The Minnesota Minority Education Partnership has spent the last 22 years looking at the situation of minority students in Minnesota. Last week Emmanuel Dolo, the partnership's research director, spoke at the Willmar Education and Arts Center about his most recent research.

The state's education system, designed for a largely homogenous population, sometimes fails to address the state's growing diversity, he said.

The research indicates significant disparities between white and minority students in graduation rates, dropout rates and test scores in math and reading.

Poverty is a big obstacle for many young people, he said.

Statistics presented by Dolo indicate that Willmar has more residents living below the poverty line than the state as a whole -- 16 percent below the poverty line in Willmar and 9.5 percent in Minnesota in 2007.

In addition, the residents of Willmar are poorer then the people of the state as a whole, with 7.2 percent of Willmar residents living below 50 percent of the poverty line, compared to 4 percent statewide.

Socio-economic status presents barriers including a lack of health care, frequent moving and school transfers and low parental involvement in education.

Low-income parents often can't always afford to leave work to participate in school activities, said Margie Aranda, an intern with the Willmar Multicultural Market who attended the forum.

It isn't that they aren't interested, but because they need to put food on the table for the family, "work is first," she said.

The partnership's research indicates that minority students want to graduate and go on to college.

"It's not that these guys don't have aspirations; it's not that they don't want to do well," Dolo said. "If they have these high aspirations, what's the barrier?"

Students need a support system, and the school staff can provide it, Dolo said. "The bus drivers are just as critical as the teachers," he added. "They are part of the climate of support."

Research indicates that minority students do show academic growth during a school year, but the achievement gap remains, said Danith Clausen, curriculum director for Willmar Public Schools.

Dolo referred to the recent swine flu outbreak as he talked about the need to get more people interested in the education of minority students. He mused about what might be done about student achievement if the government responded the way it responded to the flu outbreak.

The education of every young person is important to the future of a community, because they will be the workforce of the future, he said.

"This is a communal problem we have," he said. "This is our swine flu."