During his final State of the City address this year, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed regret that he was not more involved in education issues early in his tenure as mayor. He’ll be making up for that in his new job after he leaves office at the end of the year.
In January, Rybak will become executive director of Generation Next, a year-old collaborative that seeks to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color. The group’s board is a collection of the most influential Twin Cities leaders in education, business, philanthropy and government. The cochairs of the leadership council are Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, and Kim Nelson, a senior vice president at General Mills.
The mayor will take his 12 years of experience as the city’s elected CEO, his high popularity and his visibility and put them to work on one of the region’s most difficult problems. Federal data indicate that Minnesota has one of the largest education achievement disparities in the nation. Most recently the state ranked dead last in four-year graduation rates for Latino and American Indian students, second to last for African-American students, and near the bottom for low-income students overall.
That’s thousands of students Minnesota can ill-afford to leave behind if it expects to have a strong workforce in the future. And that poor performance is especially unacceptable in a state that does so well educationally with its white students — often ranking in the top five in America.
Calling the learning gaps a “crisis that must be addressed now,’’ Rybak said he has been convening the right people to solve tough problems as mayor and will put those same skills to work for kids in his new job. It’s a good fit. As mayor, he says he is most proud of his Step-Up program, which matched 18,000 teens with summer jobs over a decade.
Having a popular former mayor at the helm of Generation Next will bring more attention to the issue and, hopefully, lead to more focused goals for the many Twin Cities organizations currently working on education issues.
In a session with the Star Tribune Editorial Board this week, the mayor and two members of the Generation Next board emphasized that the group was not interested in starting yet another new program to address the achievement gap. The region already has a wealth of those. In fact, Generation Next initially found more than 500 initiatives operating in a dozen metro school districts. Nonprofits alone are expected to spend $90 million on those efforts over the next several years.
Generation Next will not be a major funding group, although the organization has awarded about $800,000 of a two-year, $2 million federal education grant to several local groups.
More importantly, Generation Next will work to coordinate educational efforts in St. Paul and Minneapolis to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to: enter kindergarten ready to succeed; achieve third-grade reading benchmarks; achieve eighth-grade math benchmarks; graduate on time from high school, and obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate within six years of graduation.
The collaborative grew out of work done during the past several years by the local African-American Leadership Forum. The model is based on the success of the national StriveTogether network, whose programs have produced results in more than 20 urban school districts including Boston, Cincinnati and San Francisco.
In Cincinnati, for example, during the first five years of Strive there was a 9 percent increase in kindergarten readiness, an 11 percent increase in high school graduation and a 10 percent increase in college enrollment.
In addition to his full-time position at Generation Next, Rybak will teach a “Mayor 101’’ course, which will be co-listed in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the College of Design.
We wish Rybak well in his new endeavors and hope he will have the same kind of success in education that he enjoyed in City Hall.