Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Family > School success > Professionals > Partnering for school success > Education: Our best legacy > Why is this program important?

Print Icon Email Icon Share Icon

Education: Our best legacy

latino family

Why is this program important?

Education: Our best legacy is important because the achievement gap still exists in Minnesota and beyond. The achievement gap refers to the differences in academic performance between groups of students. Closing gaps in achievement and ensuring all students are performing at high levels are critical to the social and economic well-being of people in Minnesota and beyond.

The graduation gap in Minnesota

Despite overall high marks in academic achievement, Minnesota experiences one of the highest levels of educational disparities in the country.

One important part of academic achievement is the number of students who graduate from high school. While the graduation rates for Minnesota students of color have been increasing, they still lag behind their white peers. For example, the Minnesota Department of Education reports that nearly 59 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time (after four years) from high school in 2013, while slightly more than 85 percent of white students graduated on time that year (Minnesota Department of Education, n.d.).

The same is true for students in poverty and English Language Learners.

It’s important to note that the achievement gap results in large part from an opportunity gap, i.e., the relative lack of access by students of color to quality schools and resources needed for academic success (Schott Foundation, n.d.).

On the plus side, the graduation “gaps” between student groups have been getting smaller. Minnesota students of color, English Language Learners, and students in poverty have seen the greatest increases in graduation rates in recent years.

See the following tables (Minnesota Department of Education, 2015) that summarize the reduction in graduation gaps for students in poverty, students of color, and English Language Learner students. Please note that “graduation” is defined as finishing high school within four years of entering 9th grade.

Reduction in graduation gaps between students in poverty and more affluent students

Students 2011 Graduation Rate 2012 Graduation Rate 2013 Graduation Rate Graduation Gap Reduction (2011 to 2013)
Free and Reduced-Price Lunch 58.75 59.9 63.79 Gap reduced by 5.4%
Non-Free and Reduced-Price Lunch 85.84 86.32 85.45

Reduction in graduation gaps between students of color and white students

Students 2011 Graduation Rate 2012 Graduation Rate 2013 Graduation Rate Graduation Gap Reduction (2011 to 2013)
American Indian 42.48 45.46 49.01 White/American Indian gap reduced by 5.1%
72.88 74.38 78.22 White/Asian gap reduced by 3.9%
Black 49.93 51.68 57.76 White/Black gap reduced by 6.4%
Hispanic 51.14 53.86 58.98 White/Hispanic gap reduced by 6.4%
White 83.8 84.1 85.27  
All Students 77.21 77.87 79.84  

Reduction in graduation gaps between English learners and non-English learners

Students 2011 Graduation Rate 2012 Graduation Rate 2013 Graduation Rate Graduation Gap Reduction (2011 to 2013)
English Learners (EL) 52.51 52.09 59.32 Gap reduced by 6.4%
Non-English Learners 85.84 86.32 85.45

It is important to note that the statewide graduation rate for all students has also increased, but our historically lower-performing groups are improving at the fastest rates. This is great news, but there is still work to do.

The role of family, school, and community engagement in the achievement gap

Family, school and community engagement in education make up an essential strategy for closing the achievement gap. Family engagement is defined as the collaboration of families, schools and communities as active partners in the shared responsibilities of ensuring each student’s success in lifelong learning and development.

Research supports family engagement as having a direct relationship to student achievement, yet many families, schools and school districts in Minnesota struggle to integrate this strategy effectively (Minnesota Department of Education, 2016). Family engagement is often segmented within the educational system, creating a disconnect between instructional practice and improvement strategies. This disconnect adds to the confusion and frustration that families experience.

Engaging families as partners in education helps to ensure the success of students. According to research, family engagement positively impacts student achievement as well as college and career readiness. Education: Our best legacy helps families participate in their child’s education, both in and out of the classroom, in partnership with schools and community organizations.

Engaged family-school-community partnerships are committed to:

The role of immigrant families’ in school success

Ethnic and cultural diversity in Minnesota has been changing rapidly, and the immigrant population is a major factor in this change. Of the many immigrant populations in the state, the Latino, also called Hispanic, community is the largest and fastest growing, with an estimated growth of 330 percent from 1980 to 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). The Latino population grew another 74.5 percent from 2000 to 2010. Latinos make up about 4.7 percent of the population, up from 3 percent just a decade ago.

As new immigrants, families are confronted by multiple challenges as they seek to become part of the larger Minnesota community. While adapting to a new society, families cope with an anti-immigrant climate and work insecurity, and they struggle with how much to uphold traditional customs and values— including views on gender roles. Families also struggle to navigate the U.S. school system. This is all in addition to the natural changes a family undergoes when settling in a new country.

Notwithstanding such difficulties, nearly all immigrant parents interviewed in program focus groups understood the critical role of education in determining their children’s future. (See About the development of the program for more information.) A key role for professionals working with new immigrant parents is to understand the critical link between parental involvement and their children’s school success in the United States.

The role of education: Our best legacy in school success

As described in the “Introduction” section, Education: Our best legacy covers nine important content areas. This program is built upon the belief that increasing parents’ understanding of these nine content areas will help to improve both parent-child relationships and parent-school relationships. The Education: Our best legacy classes and program resources are the vehicle that lead these changes as illustrated below.

theory model graphic

The end result is that by participating in Education: Our best legacy, families will be more likely to achieve a higher quality of life and a living wage.


Minnesota Department of Education. (n.d.). Minnesota’s graduation rates: Rates by student group from 2010-2013.

Minnesota Department of Education. (2015). Are we closing graduation gaps? 

Minnesota Department of Education. (2016). Family, school and community engagement.

Schott Foundation for Public Education. (n.d.). Opportunity gap — talking points.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Summary File 1, Table P9, Hispanic or Latino, and not Hispanic or Latino by race

Related resources

Falling behind: Understanding the educational disparities faced by immigrant Latino students in the U.S. (PDF) — Explore this Children's Mental Health eReview from the Children, Youth & Families Consortium.

Research on the factors for school success — Get a summary of the six factors that emerged from a comprehensive literature review of the effect of family, school, and community influences on children's learning.

Hmong families and schools promoting student success — Learn how the Education: Our best legacy program is being adapted for use with Hmong families.

  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy