Harvest Prep and Best Academy founder and principal Eric Mahmoud, left, watched as Best Academy 4th grade teacher Fatou Diahame, right, worked with students on math in Minneapolis.
David Joles, Star Tribune
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Ciresi, a Minneapolis lawyer, is president and chairman of the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children. More information at rkmcfoundationforchildren.org
It's time to close the achievement gap
- Article by: MICHAEL V. CIRESI
- April 8, 2012 - 3:48 PM
Any child, no matter what his or her background and abilities, can learn to read, experts will tell you.
But too often we have failed too many of our children. And they have not learned. It has cost them individually and we as a community dearly, limiting the futures of thousands of children and hampering the economic growth of our state.
The problem is often referred to as the achievement gap -- the measure of academic achievement between white students and students of color and between higher-income students and low-income students.
This month the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children launched a campaign to call attention to the achievement gap, suggest some possible solutions and engage the community in an effort to eliminate or reduce the gap.
Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps of any state in the country between students who are poor and those who are wealthy and between students of color and those who are white.
Our achievement gap for eighth-grade math ranks us 49th out of 50 states. Eighty-eight percent of our African-American fourth-graders read below grade level. Only 44 percent of African-American students, 45 percent of Latino students and 41 percent of Native American students graduate from high school in Minnesota.
Students who don't succeed in school will pay the price in terms of low-wage jobs, poverty and a host of related social problems for the rest of their lives. Our state also will pay the price because we won't have enough highly educated workers to serve as the backbone of our workforce. If we don't invest wisely and generously today to solve the achievement gap, we will not be able to compete effectively on the global stage tomorrow. We will have shortchanged not only our students' futures but ours as well.
It will take time, commitment and adequate financial resources to solve this problem.
But when we already know the right tools to get the job done, why would we give a child anything less? Education experts know what it takes to close the achievement gap. A handful of schools are doing it every day.
African-American boys at Harvest Preparatory Academy, a charter school in north Minneapolis, now achieve 85 percent proficiency in reading, and 80 percent in math, which beats the state average for white students. Across town at Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a charter school that serves low-income and predominantly Latino and African-American students, fourth graders score nearly 30 points higher than students at a neighboring Minneapolis district school.
What is their secret?
More classroom time, stronger instructional teams and closely monitoring what each student is learning so teachers can adjust their approach as needed until every child masters the material. Students learn in different ways, but every student can learn. Let's give our children and their teachers the tools they need to succeed.
Early learning crucial
It is estimated that 50 percent of our children fall behind before they even start school. By the time they are in third grade, it is very difficult to catch up. How do we expect to close the achievement gap and develop an educated work force able to compete internationally under these circumstances? There is an answer.
By investing in quality early childhood programs, we all win. Closing the achievement gap before children enter kindergarten is the most cost-effective way to prepare our students for a productive life. Studies by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve show that for every $1 invested in early childhood education and daycare, there is a $16 return on investment in terms of productivity. With ParentAware, the new nationally acclaimed quality rating system, parents can make smarter choices about their children's early years. Early childhood education demands our attention and our state's resources if we want to make a difference.
Educators, students and a host of studies will tell you that the most important influence on a student is the teacher at the head of the classroom. That's why we need highly trained, dedicated teachers and the flexibility to keep the best teachers working with the kids who face the biggest challenges. Our teachers need to be adequately compensated, to have opportunities for professional development and to be respected for the important job they do. And they also need to be held accountable for the success of their students.
The achievement gap didn't happen overnight. But it has to be closed sooner, not later. It will cost money. It will take commitment. It will take the work of many diverse groups from the state Legislature to community groups to teachers and their unions to school districts to families and individuals. We owe it to our children and to the future of the state to make the effort.
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