A promising focus on achievement gap
Star Tribune Editorial, December 3, 2012 – For at least the past decade, there has been more than enough attention focused on Minnesota’s student achievement gap.
Dozens of conferences have been held, reams of research have been produced, and millions of dollars have and are being spent — and the gap remains a problem.
In fact, federal data released last week shows that Minnesota 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 the case even though an estimated 500 related educational initiatives spend about $90 million annually in the metro area, mostly on top of school district budgets.
To make more effective use of those resources, yet another effort was launched last week, led by those who have provided much of the business, community, foundation and other grant support over the years. This latest coalition, the Generation Next partnership, includes some of the most influential people, organizations and education funding sources in the metro area.
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. Also participating are major employers such as Target, General Mills, HealthPartners and 3M, which each have a stake in an educated workforce.
Leaders of the new effort say it’s not just another education initiative. They describe Generation Next as an unprecedented collaboration of major regional stakeholders who will focus their considerable resources only on things that work.
The effort is organized to carry out five worthwhile 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 post-secondary degree or certificate within six years of graduation.
Other groups have had similar goals, and many of the individual members of the coalition have or are currently working on their own initiatives. It will likely be a challenge to get some of them to shift gears as the project develops its own strategies. Another key will be directing all future grants at the partnership’s key goals.
To be sure that Generation Next isn’t remembered as yet another education effort that comes and goes without results, the group should:
• Work closely with school districts and classroom educators to be sure that the efforts are aligned.
• Form partnerships with the region’s high-performing “beat the odds” charter and traditional public schools and expand those best practices to serve more kids.
• Determine what the coalition must do differently to overcome whatever obstacles have prevented the expansion of effective schools in the past.
• And coordinate strategies to improve the quality of teaching and get the most effective teachers in front of students.
Generation Next is a promising effort with an important mission: to improve education for kids and narrow or close learning disparities.
Its leaders deserve the community’s support in their efforts to ensure that the partnership doesn’t become the region’s 501st achievement gap initiative with great intentions but few results.