Five big steps across the achievement gap

With 10 small, experimental ‘bright spots’ along the way

Earlier this year, Generation Next held a kick-off event at the University of Minnesota to unveil what they believe are the five core initiatives to closing the achievement gap here in the Twin Cities. Curious as to how they intend to attack

The Generation Next Team includes (l-r) Jonathan May, Victor Cedeño, R.T. Rybak, Janna Hottinger (director of operations), Christy Coaty (project manager), and Jeremiah Ellis (director of outreach and partnerships) Photo courtesy of Generation Next
The Generation Next Team includes (l-r) Jonathan May, Victor Cedeño, R.T. Rybak, Janna Hottinger (director of operations), Christy Coaty (project manager), and Jeremiah Ellis (director of outreach and partnerships)
Photo courtesy of Generation Next

these five areas, I took a trip over to headquarters to speak with Executive Director R.T. Rybak and the staff to find out who they are and what they are about.

“At the broadest level, Generation Next is a powerful table of people who are coming together saying, ‘We want to be responsible for this. We want to do whatever it takes,’” said Victor Cedeño, director of networks and education policy for Gen Next.

Rybak says this initiative began back in 2012, during his final term as Minneapolis mayor, when the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) approached him and others about speeding up the process to close the achievement gap. They also approached St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, both Minneapolis and St. Paul school district superintendents, and local philanthropists who currently advise Generation Next as their leadership council. Lynn Nordgen, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president, is a part of this leadership council and according to Generation Next has been involved since day one.

“The best way to put it is that we both go big and then go small in experimental ways,” explained Cedeño. Going “big” means identifying five key areas that correlate to the achievement gap:

1. Kindergarten readiness

2. Third-grade reading benchmarks

3. Eighth-grade math benchmarks

4. High school graduations

5. Post-secondary credential

Generation Next used data that supports the five goals; the information is available on their website. Cedeño and his colleague Jonathan Mary, director of data and research, stressed their intent to keep this data public.

However, it’s the small, experimental initiatives that are their next focus. Cedeño said they will be using information from experts to create those initiatives, such as they did when they decided to focus on getting children screened for signs of disabilities by age four. How will Generation Next use the data they collect to accomplish the five goals that they have established?

To assist answering this question, Generation Next will work through the United Way using a $1.1 million grant from Target. “To clarify, that was not a grant to Generation Next. That grant was in alignment with our work,” said Cedeño. “What they did is they wanted to make a significant investment within their home community [and] they wanted to make sure that that investment was in alignment with the work that we’re already doing collaboratively.”

Cedeño goes on to explain how Target is a regular funder of the organization and how ultimately the grant will be managed by the United Way through Generation Next. The plan is to find “bright spots,” a term they use to define a program that targets one of the small goals that ultimately affects one of the bigger five goals. Generation Next would like to find 10 of these bright spots and grant them $100,000 each in order to reach the five key goals.

As of now, they are nowhere close to releasing those dollars. Generation Next now needs to speak with its leadership council and once again turn to the experts in order to establish some guidelines and measurement criteria. Cedeño alluded to aiming for small victories for now in an effort to get more community involvement.

Khymyle Mims welcomes reader response to khymyle writes@gmail.com.