The Potluck

Fact-check: Minnesota students of color aren’t doing better than peers, as Walz said

By: and - October 19, 2022 3:18 pm

Gov. Tim Walz delivered his third State of the State address Sunday from his old classroom at Mankato West High School. Pool photo, courtesy, Star Tribune.

During the first and only televised debate between Gov. Tim Walz and Republican nominee Scott Jensen on Tuesday, the DFL governor praised Minnesota’s performance in education, especially among the state’s students of color.

The moderators asked the candidates about declining test scores and learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning. Walz used his education mantra — Minnesota should “fully fund” education — and said the state should support students who learn at different rates. He then acknowledged that there is a disparity between the state’s students of color and white students, but said they are still faring well.

“While Minnesota’s students of color do better than almost every other state, there’s still a gap between white students,” Walz said.

Jensen briefly questioned the accuracy of Walz’s statement.

“I heard a lot of words there, but I don’t quite know that they made a lot of sense,” the Chaska family physician said. “I think Governor Walz said that … students of color are doing better in Minnesota than they are in other states? I’m not certain.”

Asked to clarify Walz’s remarks, the governor’s campaign said Walz “transposed” the phrases “white students” and “students of color” during the debate.

He meant to say — as he has always said — that while Minnesota schools are some of the best in the country for white students, there is still a gap with students of color that must be addressed,” a campaign spokesperson told the Reformer. “He has spoken about this disparity extensively and continues to prioritize addressing it as governor.”

When it comes to testing, Minnesota’s white middle schoolers score well above the nationwide average on math, but are squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to reading. On the other hand, students of color, especially Black students, are not doing better than other states; they are actually testing lower than the majority.

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, Black students in Minnesota tend to fare poorly both relative to Black students in other states, as well as to in-state white pupils. 

In 2019, for instance, Minnesota posted the fourth-lowest reading test scores among the nation’s Black eighth graders. The state’s white eighth-graders, by contrast, were in the middle of the pack. Overall, the gap between the two was the fourth worst in the nation.

On math, Minnesota’s Black eighth-graders fared slightly better, coming in at 13th nationwide. But white students did even better, coming in at 3rd in the nation. All told, the math gap between the two was the second worst in the nation, behind only Wisconsin.

The picture for Minnesota’s fourth-graders is somewhat different. There, according to federal data, Black and white students rate close to average for both reading and math. But achievement gaps remain, with white students faring better.

Data for other grades wasn’t immediately available.

In general, the numbers mirror racial dynamics seen in other realms, like income and housing: Minnesota is a uniquely challenging place to be Black. The relative success and prosperity enjoyed by the state’s white residents often lies out of reach for Black Minnesotans. 

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.

Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.