Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) got some big news the other day. Their superintendent, Dr. Joe Gothard, is one of four finalists in the National Superintendent of the Year competition.
“Nominees are evaluated on the following criteria: leadership for learning, communication, professionalism, and community involvement,” KSTP reported.
Being one of four finalists in a national competition is quite the honor. It seems Gothard must be heading up some impressive learning in order to place so high in the competition, so we decided to check out the most recent statistics for SPPS.
Let’s start with the best news in the district: the graduation rate. As the chart below from the Minnesota Department of Education shows, 75% of SPPS students graduated in 2022, a 1% drop from 2019. Gothard has been the superintendent since 2017, so he has a solid record of three-quarters of his students graduating every year.
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “Only three-quarters of SPPS students graduate?”
That’s correct. Unfortunately, that rate seems pretty high when you look at the high school proficiency rates for math, reading, and science. In 2023, 18.7% of SPPS 11th grade students were proficient in math:
That same year, 38.4% of SPPS 10th grade students were proficient in reading:
And only 26.2% of students were proficient in high school science:
Perhaps you’re wondering how three-quarters of high school students in SPPS can graduate when only 20-40% of them are proficient in these three key subjects. To be honest, we’re wondering the same thing.
If nothing else, these numbers seem to suggest that SPPS Superintendent Gothard is presiding over some serious grade inflation in order to let students don cap and gown and get their diploma.
Such an action doesn’t seem to fulfill the selection criteria used for the National Superintendent of the Year contest, in which “nominees are chosen based on the positive difference they make in the lives of students.” Imagine SPPS students getting to college, thinking they’re straight-A students, only to realize that their education at SPPS didn’t adequately prepare them for higher education. Positive difference? Not exactly….
But perhaps things are just bad at the high school level. Perhaps the elementary and middle schools in SPPS are where Gothard is really making a difference. So let’s look at overall proficiency in the district:
Overall 2023 proficiency rates in the district reach 34% at maximum, with 24% for a minimum. Stellar performance in Saint Paul Public Schools? Hardly.
But who knows? Perhaps SPPS has all this trouble academically because it doesn’t have enough money. After all, those who live in Saint Paul know that school referendums seem to pop up almost every election the city holds. Maybe Superintendent Gothard is doing yeoman’s work with the students in his district by educating them on a very small budget.
Guess how much SPPS spends per student according to its most recent financial report? A whopping $25,474, a number found by dividing the FY 2022 Actual Expenditures and Transfers Out by the Average Daily Membership (ADM) in the district.
Given these all-around numbers, do you think Saint Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard seems like a worthy candidate for National Superintendent of the Year? And if you have a child in the SPPS district, are you comfortable with the academic return on investment your tax dollars are going toward?