Generation Next tackles the achievement gap

Some educators feel left out of the conversation

 

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

 

Solving current educational problems over the years, especially the achievement and opportunity gaps for Blacks and other students of color in the Twin Cities, has been attempted many times in some form or another with mixed results. However, leaders of “a powerful coalition” last week announced a multi-faceted plan that, if successful, could make a much-needed difference.

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak last Monday — exactly a week before the new school year begins in Minneapolis and two weeks before St. Paul schools open — stood behind the podium at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs and unveiled “an aggressive, comprehensive plan” by Generation Next, a local organization that he now heads. Target Corporation has consented to grant $1.1 million to Generation Next for this initiative.

 (l-r) St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva, Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Sylvia Bartley with African American Leadership Forum, State Rep. Carlos Marini, Hennepin County Peter McLaughlin, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak.       				       Photo by Charles Hallman
(l-r) St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva, Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Sylvia Bartley with African American Leadership Forum, State Rep. Carlos Marini, Hennepin County Peter McLaughlin, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak.
Photo by Charles Hallman

The group’s Action Network plan includes getting all three-year-olds “comprehensive health and developmental screening,” all students meeting reading benchmarks by third grade and math benchmarks by eighth grade, and ensuring graduates from high school are ready for college or a career and earn a post-secondary degree or certification.

Elected leaders, including Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, both Twin Cities public school superintendents, Bernadeia Johnson (Minneapolis) and Valeria Silva (St. Paul), State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and several corporate leaders all stood with Rybak and pledged support for this effort.

During the 90-minute event, Rybak briefly offered some specific actions planned:

• Creating three working groups with medical clinics and with at least one early education program to screen referrals for three-year-olds,

• Providing literacy tutor training for pilot schools,

• Recruiting adults to mentor students outside of current school counselors and staff.

These actions, he predicted, will improve on the alarming statistics that he described via PowerPoint, such as only 40 percent of Minneapolis and St. Paul third-graders in 2012-13 reading at grade level, and only 40 percent of Minneapolis high school students last year graduating in four years.

“Every child deserves an opportunity” to succeed in school, stated the former mayor.

“Why in America, and in the state of Minnesota and cities as strong as Minneapolis and St. Paul, [do] we still have this disparity?” asked Silva. “This is not about which agency shines the most, or which schools get the best results. It is about all of us.”

“Closing the odds” for students of color should be a top priority, said State Rep. Carlos Marini.

“There is not one single action; we will need many actions, and not a single excuse,” stated Rybak.

“It’s good to see Generation Next move to action,” added Cassellius.

However, some question whether the Generation Next plan, if put in action, will involve all members of the community who also want to see every child, especially Black children, succeed.

“I didn’t know [anything] about it,” said Vernon Rowe, a Minneapolis middle school assistant principal who was not at the event. He added that there are many community folk who can offer input and hopes that the group will include them as well.

“Certainly one element we noticed was missing was a faith voice,” said Bishop Richard Howell of Shiloh Temple Church in North Minneapolis. He did attend the event and spoke to the MSR afterwards. “I believe the faith [community] is just as important to collaborate with Generation Next and also with the other organizations [involved].

“We know there is definitely disturbing [statistics] among African American students… The statistics don’t lie. We’re sick of these statistics. We’re tired of these statistics,” said Howell.

Center for School Change Director Joe Nathan complained that teachers weren’t represented, nor anyone from the local charter schools. “The fact that they were not on the stage says something,” he noted.

“We weren’t asked,” added Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren. “We believe the union has a lot to bring to the table.”

Nonetheless, others expressed support for the Generation Next proposals.

Johnson afterwards told the MSR she’s “excited” about it, especially its specifics. “The work done earlier [by Generation Next] was about identifying the goals, and now what you’re hearing is what specifically is going to happen with those goals,” said the Minneapolis superintendent.

“We have to do it — there’s no choice right now,” added Silva.

“Each of the goals is closely aligned with [the] work that the Harvest Network [of Schools] is deeply engaged in,” said Eric Mahmoud, Seed Academy and Harvest Prep School President/CEO. “I’m pleased to have been a member of the Generation Next Leadership Council since its inception.

“Closing the achievement gap in our community must be our highest priority if our community is to thrive and our children are to have the futures they deserve,” said Mahmoud.

Howell said he was impressed with the passion expressed by Rybak and others during last week’s event. “This was not a political meeting,” he pointed out. “This was a true passion meeting about education.”

When asked how his church will get involved, Howell says a “back-to-school” rally is being planned. “All of us need to do something. I think everybody should get on board with Generation Next. Quit complaining about it and do something about it.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.