The Twin Cities area has one of the largest volunteer forces in the country, and many of our compassionate givers work with schoolchildren in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Still, the two cities are struggling with some of the state’s widest learning gaps.

After studying that challenge, the Generation Next education collaborative determined that one reason so many children read poorly is that they’ve had poorly prepared tutors. Effective tutoring involves more than simply reading a story to a child. Too often kids who need help have been paired with a well-intentioned, but undersupported, adults.

In response, Generation Next has announced a major campaign to recruit and train volunteer tutors. The organization hopes to add more than 1,000 volunteers willing to put in at least one hour a week helping elementary-age kids with literacy.

Statewide test scores released in July demonstrated why the help is needed. Just 41.9 percent of Minneapolis students in grades 3-8 and 10 were proficient in reading, while only 44.5 percent in grades 3-8 and 11 reached proficiency in math. In St. Paul, 37.4 percent were proficient in reading, and 37.2 percent reached that level in math.

A separate Department of Education assessment of student progress released this week showed that two-thirds of state schools made some progress toward narrowing learning disparities, but very few of those schools are in St. Paul or Minneapolis.

“There are a few high performers. … But when you have 17,000 kids who are not reading at grade level [between the two cities], you have a serious problem,’’ said R.T. Rybak, Generation Next’s executive director and former Minneapolis mayor. “We can and must do much better. We have to double down on literacy.’’

Generation Next is organized to try to meet five ambitious goals, which assure that kids are ready for kindergarten, 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.

The initiative is modeled after a similar effort that has been effective in Cincinnati. Known as the Strive Partnership, that coalition has been credited with improving public school high school graduation rates from 50 to 80 percent in the last decade. About half of Cincinnati’s 30,000 students are African-American.

The Generation Next coalition of schools, businesses and nonprofits certainly isn’t the first to identify reading as key to educational success or the first to recruit tutors. Still, it is one of the most resource-rich local groups working on the achievement gap. With the support of the community — and a focus on programs that have been effective here and elsewhere — it can make a difference.

 

To learn more or sign up to be a tutor, go to gennextmsp.org/getinvolved/tutor/.