Learning disparities -- also famously known as achievement gaps -- between kids of color and white kids are among the most important issues in K-12 education today.

So it's not surprising that so many educational efforts are focused on closing those differences -- especially here in Minnesota, where the gap is among the largest in the nation. In fact, a University of Minnesota study identified at least 500 public and private initiatives in the seven-county metro area alone.

The number of programs speaks to the widespread community interest in the problem, but it tells us nothing about quality and effectiveness. In fact, with that many programs in place -- ranging from kindergarten readiness to tutoring in high school -- there should be more progress to report.

That's why a relatively new push to better coordinate all the programs is welcome. Beginning last summer, a group of 31 Twin Cities leaders in education, foundations, business and other areas have been meeting to learn what a well-coordinated strategy called Strive has done.

Used in Cincinnati since 2006, and now underway in 12 other cities, the strategy is showing improved academic outcomes for students.

Kent Pekel, a coordinator of the local working group and executive director of the university's College Readiness Consortium, said the plan envisions networks of education stakeholders that align goals, measures and outcomes for students from cradle to career.

The idea is to agree on a few key goals, such as kindergarten readiness and literacy by third grade.

"A Strive-like approach here would set widely accepted common goals and ways of measuring progress,'' said Pekel. "It's about the process -- bringing all the players to the table and getting everyone pointed in the same direction for students. Right now, we don't have that table.''

The initial impetus for a Strive-type mode in Minnesota came from the African-American Leadership Forum. After reviewing of data on black students, the group concluded that a systemic change that would be helpful for all students is needed in education.

An AALF representative is now part of the Strive group that is expected to soon offer a similar plan for the Twin Cities.

Among the many public and private initiatives that the U study identified as being focused on closing learning disparities, there are variations in priorities.

But even the initiatives that claim the same priorities and goals measure success differently. And there are few ways to identify and learn from success and failure from one program to the next.

Better cooperation and agreement about common goals would also help identify what isn't working. If the various players could reach that kind of consensus, ineffective programs that don't measure up would fall by the wayside.

Meanwhile nonprofit and business funders, who are actively involved in the Strive group, could encourage coordination by supporting only the initiatives that fit the model.


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