Pressing for Opportunity – A new Report and a Book reflect what it takes

The following column originally appeared in the St Paul Pioneer Press, May 20, 2023.


Pressing for opportunity — a new report and a book reflect what it takes

by Joe Nathan and Khalique Rogers

Education administrators’ lawbreaking and stifling opportunity, along with Minnesota Department of Education acquiescence, are discussed in two recent publications. Both raise questions and offer solutions that we hope legislators and educators will consider adopting.

‘Information Gap’

The first is a report by a student-led group, People for PSEO. It shows that the vast majority of Minnesota’s public-school districts are not following Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) law. This law requires that school districts and charters provide specific information to students and families on their websites as well as via direct distribution. An “Information Gap” report issued last month reviewed and rated all 390 district/charter websites.

Katyanna Taylor and Zeke Jackson, co authors of the Information Gap Report

Photo courtesy of People for PSEO

Researchers found that 62% of district and 38% of charter public school websites did NOT provide all the information that the Minnesota Department of Education says state law requires. Critical information was missing from many websites, such as that schools must allow students to use their computers to take PSEO courses or that state funds can help students from low-income families with transportation costs.

One of us found, as thousands have, that taking PSEO courses gave him the challenge he needed. Although some staff thought the rigor of PSEO would be tough to handle, Rogers told himself “those fears were theirs, not mine.” Taking those courses gave him the push he needed to see a broader vision of possibilities as he climbed the ladder of education.

If these opportunities aren’t shared, it’s illegal and a disservice, especially to low-income and BIPOC youth. Researchers documented that taking dual-credit courses dramatically closes high school graduation gaps, saves taxpayers and families millions of dollars a year and offers valuable opportunities for students to explore academic and technical careers while in high school. This year’s Legislature perhaps inadvertently left out PSEO students when insuring students receive free lunch. We hope the 2024 Legislature fixes this.

Unfortunately, Minnesota Department of Education’s attitude has been, as MDE Deputy Commissioner Stephanie Graff told one of us, “to provide incentives for educators to follow the law.”

MDE has urged educators to obey the law. That’s appropriate. But reports by People for PSEO and CSC over the last seven years document continuing, widespread inaccurate, incomplete information sharing.  State law allows MDE to withhold funds if districts and charters continuously violate state law. Shouldn’t we insist that after repeated law-breaking, there are consequences, regardless of a person’s age and position?

‘Break Point’

A second publication is a terrific book, “Break Point: Two Minnesota Athletes and the Road to Title IX” (University of Minnesota Press), by journalist Sheri Brenden. It’s the true story of two Minnesota high school women who successfully challenged adults blocking their participation in competitive high school sports. One of those people is Brenden’s sister, Peggy, who lived in St Cloud. The second was Toni St. Pierre, from Hopkins.


Peggy & Sheri Brenden – photo by Joe Nathan

The story goes back to 1970, before a federal law required equal opportunity in sports. While some coaches supported the young women, the Minnesota State High School League, Minnesota Department of Education and some University of Minnesota faculty opposed their efforts to gain equal athletic opportunities.

However, Judge Miles Lord ruled, “Discrimination in high school sports constitutes discrimination in education.” Peggy, who lives in St. Paul, became a judge. She told one of us, “We don’t appreciate how small things can make a big difference. A regular high school kid can make positive changes in the world.”

“Break Point” skillfully combines sports stories, legal drama and “David versus Goliath.” It’s  nuanced, infuriating and inspirational.  Brenden notes that although athletic opportunities expanded for women, there’s still a huge disparity in the number of female coaches. Sheri and Peggy Brenden will discuss the book on Monday, May 22, 6 p.m., at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul.

Adult allies

These two publications show that youngsters can help improve the world.  But they need adult allies who insist that people, regardless of age, must follow the law. Students also need adults who’ll support their passion for opportunity and justice.

Khalique Rogers, a graduate of Gordon Parks High School and St Paul College, and Joe Nathan, PhD and formerly a Minnesota public school educator, are co-directors of Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, and