A sweeping plan to tackle the achievement gap between white and minority students calls for expanding early childhood screenings to cover all 3-year-olds, developing common practices and protocols for literacy tutors to boost third-grade reading proficiency, and perhaps a loftier goal: helping students develop plans to make sure they are college or career ready.
On Monday, Generation Next, the Twin Cities group led by former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, unveiled those ambitious steps as a way to boost achievement for St. Paul and Minneapolis public school students. The plan has earned support from a coalition of heavy hitters in both the local business and education scenes.
"We cannot enter one more school year without specific, immediate steps to shake up a status quo that leaves Minneapolis-St. Paul with some of the largest achievement and opportunity gaps in the country," Rybak said to a packed audience at Cowles Auditorium, inside the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
The group, along with partners like the United Way, the University of Minnesota and the African-American Leadership Forum, has been working on the plan for more than two years to address an intractable achievement gap that has stymied educators for years. In coming months, Generation Next plans to release how it intends to achieve two other major goals: making sure students hit their academic benchmarks for eighth-grade math and that they earn a college degree or certification.
They have their work cut out for them.
In few places is the achievement gap more persistent than Minnesota, which has seen marginal gains for students of color despite spending millions of dollars in the past decade. In 2013, about 85 percent of white students graduated on time, compared to 58 percent of Hispanic students and 56 percent of black students.
The state has pledged to the U.S. Department of Education that it will cut the achievement gap in half by 2017.
And while there are multiple efforts dedicated to closing the achievement gap — a U study in 2012 identified more than 500 such efforts in the Twin Cities — there is little coordination between the groups.
But that's where Generation Next can help, Rybak said. Using data to measure the outcome of a few, easily definable goals, the group has assembled such influential local companies as Target, 3M, General Mills, along with several policy-shaping minority groups, and leaders of the St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts as well as some metro-area charter schools.
Target and the Greater Twin Cities United Way on Monday demonstrated their commitment to Generation Next, announcing a $1.1 million initiative to identify "bright spots" among local schools. Ten schools will be awarded $100,000 grants in 2015 as part of the accountability-focused endeavor.
"We expect results on behalf of the kids," said Laysha Ward, Target's president of community relations.
A road map to success?
One of Generation Next's five primary goals includes making sure every child is prepared for kindergarten.
To do that, the group is pledging to make sure every three-year old in the Twin Cities receives a comprehensive health and development screening to identify potential problems like hearing or vision deficits, learning disabilities, speech disorders, or emotional or behavioral disorders.
In Minneapolis, 24 percent of 3-year-olds were screened during the 2013-2014 school year, while 18 percent of 3-year-olds in St. Paul received screenings.
To expand screenings, Generation Next will create three working groups involving medical clinics, early care, and education and home-visiting programs.
Charletta Mosley's daughter received a screening at age 3 that determined the little girl had a speech-articulation disorder. With therapy, she was ready for kindergarten a few years later.
"Had she not received that early childhood screening, it would have been a different story," she said.
Generation Next is also proposing to make sure every child in the Twin Cities meets third-grade reading proficiency goals by developing common practices and protocols for literacy tutors deployed across the metro-area.
The group has agreements in place with both St. Paul and the Minneapolis school districts and will begin working with literacy tutors in a couple of metro-area pilot schools that have yet to be publicly identified.
Similarly, Generation Next will work through pilot schools to achieve its goal of making sure every student graduates on time, ready for either a college or career.
That calls for deploying specially trained adults in the schools to help students there develop plans to guide them after they leave high school.
"Too many of our college students are taking high school classes in college and we can't have that," Rybak said.
Schools lend support
As Rybak pointed out, there have been a multitude of plans dedicated to erasing the achievement gap in Minnesota.
But Generation Next's plan might have garnered the broadest support in recent years. The framework for the plan — which was created by the Cincinnati-based Strive Partnership — has been adopted in other cities with encouraging results. In Cincinnati, for example, the graduation rate of black students surpassed that of white students in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
In Minnesota, the most recent graduation data show minority students making recent gains year to year.
The graduation rate for black students rose almost six percentage points from 2012 to 2013. That increase is five times the progress made by white students.
Both St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva and Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said they were pleased to have Generation Next supporting their efforts to close the achievement gap, but conceded more work needs to be done.
"Why in America, why in a state like Minnesota, why in cities as strong as Minneapolis and St. Paul, do we have this disparity?" Silva asked.