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Satisfied — but not too satisfied — with schools

When it comes to their public schools, people are a lot better off being satisfied than dissatisfied. So, all things considered, North Dakotans and Minnesotans should be proud of their schools’ popularity in a recent Gallup poll.

Especially compared with states in the South and West, where huge numbers of people say they’re very unhappy with their local schools.

But as any coach will agree, satisfaction can be a curse as well as a blessing, because too much of it can erode an athlete’s drive.

We humans aren’t at our best when we’re contented, it seems. We need a few regrets, a little envy, a pinch of frustration to push us to excel.

And that’s what North Dakota and Minnesota should remember when considering their views about local schools.

“Eighty-seven percent of North Dakotans rated the quality of the state’s public schools in kindergarten through 12th grade as good or excellent in a Gallup poll released Wednesday,” Forum News Service reported.

“That’s the highest satisfaction rating in the nation, the poll found.” Minnesota’s “satisfaction index” of 81 percent also was high, especially in comparison with the numbers in New Mexico (41 percent), Nevada (42 percent) and California (50 percent).

But Minnesota has one of the biggest achievement gaps in the country between white students and students of color. This gap has persisted for years, and it won’t be reduced until Minnesotans in all corners of the state lose any complacency and demand that lawmakers, teachers and parents intervene.

As for North Dakota, residents should remember that in 2012, some 27 percent of freshmen in the North Dakota University System had to take remedial courses to master what they should have learned in high school. (A welcome reform would be to determine each high school’s contribution to those numbers and then publish the results, as Indiana does with its Indiana College Readiness Report).

Then there are findings such as these, from “The Nation’s Report Card” — the National Assessment of Educational Progress — on North Dakota fourth-graders’ reading scores in 2013:

“The average score for students in North Dakota in 2013 (224) was lower than their average score in 2011 (226) and was not significantly different from their average score in 1992 (226). ... The percentage of students who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was not significantly different from that in 1992. ... The percentage of students who performed at or above the NAEP Basic level was not significantly different from that in 1992.”

In other words, there has been little if any improvement on fourth-graders’ reading scores in 22 years. And while those scores used to lead the nation, other states now have passed North Dakota by.

Satisfaction is good. But determination is better, when excellence is the goal. North Dakotans and Minnesotans alike should pause briefly to bask in the satisfaction of the Gallup poll — and then get back to work.