Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak describes the significant learning disparities between white and minority students in Minnesota a “solvable’’ problem.
In search of answers, the broad coalition of Twin Cities partners that Rybak leads, called Generation Next, announced an ambitious plan this week. The aim is to aggressively focus resources in a few critical areas that are known to improve student achievement.
The coalition of business, foundation, community and education groups is certainly not the first to try to tackle achievement gaps. But it is one of the most broadly based, resource-rich groups to agree on a strategy — making Rybak’s optimism more credible.
After nearly two years of discussion and study, Generation Next is organized to try to meet five ambitious goals assuring that all kids have the opportunity to enter kindergarten ready to succeed, read well by third grade, achieve eighth-grade-math benchmarks, graduate from high school on time, and obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate within six years of graduation.
While doing the research, Generation Next’s leaders learned that only 18 to 24 percent of 3-year-olds in the two core cities have been screened for school-readiness. So the coalition will focus early education efforts to ensure that all 3-year-olds receive a comprehensive health and development screening and are connected to appropriate preschool opportunities.
To meet the goal for third-grade reading, the partnership has agreed on a best practices strategy that includes adopting common practices for literacy tutors who will work across the Twin Cities. Generation Next also aims to make sure that students in the most challenged schools will develop a high school and postsecondary plan with an adult who is trained to help.
Clearly, the action items will require lots of labor and intensive, one-on-one work with struggling students. In addition to teachers and other paid staff, the effort will require hundreds, perhaps thousands, of volunteers.
The Generation Next effort is modeled after an initiative that has shown impressive results in Cincinnati during the past decade. Called the Strive Partnership, the coalition of school, foundation and business groups attributes its success to making sure that basic student needs are met both inside and outside of the classroom — including tutoring, mentoring, food and health care. Several major businesses and other benefactors channeled millions of dollars into the schools and regularly answered calls for funding and volunteers.
During the past decade, public school high school graduation rates in Cincinnati have jumped from 50 to 80 percent. And in the past five years, reading and math proficiency among elementary school students have also increased in many schools. African-American students, who make up about half of the city’s 30,000 public school kids, have made particularly impressive gains.
Despite numerous smaller efforts in the past decades, Minnesota continues to have some of the largest academic disparities in the nation, although some modest improvements have been made in the last few years. In Minneapolis, about 43 percent of African-American teens and 41 percent of Hispanic students graduate on time, compared with about 72 percent of whites.
There is reason to believe Generation Next can make a difference. The coalition includes most of the area’s largest nonprofit funders, including United Way and most major foundations. The St. Paul and Minneapolis mayors, city school superintendents, college and foundation presidents or their representatives, and directors of community groups are among those on the board of directors. Because of the importance of an educated workforce, major employers such as Target, General Mills, HealthPartners and 3M are also committing resources — but only on practices that work.
“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 Monday.
This page couldn’t agree more, and we hope that Generation Next — with all of its clout and resources — can lead the way.