Across Minnesota, entire grades are failing state proficiency tests, and some are trying to leverage the situation to attack charter schools that serve students left behind by traditional public schools.

The Minnesota Reformer on Tuesday pointed to 78 Minnesota public schools where not a single student in at least one grade level tested proficient in reading or math on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

The news site gleaned the data from the Department of Education, excluding alternative and distance learning programs, to compare results among traditional and charter schools and build a narrative that one is better than the other.

“Most of the schools with extremely high failure rates – 59 of the 78 – are public charter schools,” the Reformer reports. “At more than half of those charters, fewer than 10% of the students are white, and at more than one-quarter there are no white students at all.”

The Reformer notes that some underperforming charter schools have closed their doors, but neglects to mention that traditional public schools that have failed students for years continue, often with an influx of taxpayer dollars.

The news site points to research from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity that claims racial segregation in charter schools is the problem, due to a “heavy concentration of nonwhite and low-income students.”

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

Josh Crosson, executive director of EdAllies, a Minnesota education nonprofit, explained why that is, and what it means for charter schools working to provide alternative options to traditional public schools.

“Our system has historically failed students of color and students with disabilities due to insufficient resources and a lack of urgency in implementing student centered changes,” he said. “Blaming their educational outcomes on a family’s decision to enroll their children in culturally affirming schools deliberately overlooks our state’s long history of failing to offer adequate opportunities for historically underserved students.”

School leaders at St. Paul’s Face to Face Academy and the High School for Recording Arts said they serve a high percentage of students at risk of dropping out, including up to half who do not have a permanent residence.

“These are students who have a long history of being truant, failing classes, and are on the verge (or have already) dropped out of school,” said Darius Husain, executive director at Face to Face Academy, adding that it takes time to help students correct course.

Last year, more than half of Minnesota students in general failed to meet grade-level standards either math, reading or science, according to a WCCO review of 2023 Statewide Assessment and Accountability data.

The data released in August shows nearly 61% of students tested were not proficient in basic science, just over half failed to meet reading standards, and 54.5% could not perform grade-level math – figures that were relatively unchanged from the year prior.

“These statewide assessment results reinforce what we and other states around the country already know—our students, families, school communities, and educators are continuing to recover from the pandemic and need our support,” Commissioner Willie Jett said at the time. “This data is important as one part of a broader set of measures that tell us how our students and families are doing and what we need to do in partnership with our school communities to provide support for students to not only recover, but also excel.”

The dismal student performance prompted lawmakers to increase the education budget, the state’s largest line item, by $2.3 billion in the last legislative session. The state also received $1.3 billion in federal COVID relief for learning recovery.

The focus on charters distracts from thousands of students who remain in traditional public schools that have also produced zero proficiency on state tests, such as Brooklyn Center Middle School, where all 107 six-graders failed the math assessment last year.

In rural Cass County’s Northland Community School District, not a single high school student met state standards for math, according to the Reformer.

There was also zero proficiency in fifth grade math at Crossroads Montessori in Ramsey County, in fourth grade reading at Crest View Elementary in Hennepin County, in eighth grade reading at Butterfield Secondary in Watonwan County, in sixth grade math at Brooklyn Center Middle School in Hennepin County, and in eighth grade math at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School in Sterns County.

Several of those schools have predominantly white student bodies.

“There are inequities in our society and some are really deep and complex,” Tony Simmons, executive director of the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul, told the Reformer. “Charters are ready to take on some of the most difficult challenges around re-engaging young people.”

“Our kids, no matter their backgrounds, have incredible potential and with the right supports, they can succeed,” Crosson told the news site.