Groups focus on achievement, graduation gaps

A five-point plan to close the high school graduation gap between white and and non-white high school students was unveiled Monday, Aug. 18, by Generation Next, a coalition of influential education, nonprofit, governmental and business leaders.

This plan, which includes a surprising screening of 3-year-olds for health and emotional issues in selected Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, could become a model for all school districts in Minnesota.

Don Heinzman
Don Heinzman

For the past two years, Generation Next has been gathering data of best practices to develop a plan to give every child a quality education.

In addition to early childhood screening, another unique goal is to enable every child to graduate from high school on time, ready for college and a career. To accomplish that goal, each high school student will have a postsecondary plan, working with a trained and caring adult.

R.T. Rybak, former Minneapolis mayor and executive director of Generation Next, said there is a strong connection with a caring adult in helping children succeed in college or a career.

Husna Ibrahim, 18, of Minneapolis drew a standing ovation from the overflow crowd when she explained how Project Success, which provides activities and trained adults for high school students, helped her graduate from Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis on time after being in the United States for four years.

“Project Success brought stability in my life and now I am a student at the University of Minnesota majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish,” she said proudly.

One of the goals of the Generation Next network is to gather data and identify best practices.

To that end, Laysha Ward, president of community relations at the Target Foundation, announced the foundation is giving $1.1 million to support the Bright Spots Initiative, working with the Greater Twin Cities United Way. Ward said the money will help fund 10 public and charter Bright Spot schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul for their best practices and innovative projects.

Eric Kaler, co-chair of Generation Next and president of the University of Minnesota, told the crowd that the university is funding and staffing programs to help accomplish the goals of the Generation Next network.

The first three goals of Generation Next are:

–Every child is ready for kindergarten. Screening all 3-year-olds in selected urban schools for health and developmental issues is one of the strategies, along with alerting families who may need resources for their children.

–Every child meets reading proficiency benchmarks in third grade. Realizing that students often are behind in reading, the Generation Next strategy is to provide more reading time with tutors trained in best practices to help students catch up.

–Every child graduates from high school on time, ready for college and a career. Starting early in high school, an individual plan for every student will be developed, guided by a caring adult trained in college and career readiness.

In addition, Generation Next has identified two other goals that will be developed later.

–Every student meets benchmarks in mathematics by eighth grade.

–Every student earns a postsecondary degree or certification.

Brenda Cassellius, state commissioner of education, assured the audience that progress in closing the achievement gap is being made. She said the achievement gap could be cut in half by 2017.

Over and over educational and business leaders stressed the need to unify educational organizations and funders.

The next step will be organizing action groups to carry out the first three goals.

In closing the rally, Kim Nelson, senior vice president of external relations at General Mills and Generation Next co-chair, said closing the high school graduation gap has to be addressed on multiple levels.

She thanked everyone for their “phenomenal work,” particularly galvanizing the plan in the last six months on behalf of every child.

Nelson urged the audience to stay engaged and “reach out to us.”

“Hold our feet to the fire,” she said. “Our children need us to be better.”


Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.