Rybak, colleagues unveil plan to attack achievement gap

Mayor Rybak
Former Mayor R.T. Rybak in his City Hall office, in a 2013 file photo.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News, file

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has laid out a plan to close the achievement gap that's leaving minority students academically unprepared.

His organization — a coalition of civic, education and business leaders called Generation Next — wants to help children in three key academic and health areas so they can succeed in school.

Rybak and coalition leaders told a University of Minnesota forum Monday that they want to make sure all Minneapolis and St. Paul students receive comprehensive health screening, tutoring in reading and more effective guidance counseling.

After the forum, Rybak said this is the first time Minnesota has had such a broad coalition focused on working together on the same things — and with a sense of urgency.

"Many actions — and no excuses," he said.

Minnesota has among the country's widest gaps in student performance between whites and minorities. Test scores for students of color fall as much as 30 points below those of white students.

Rybak told an audience of civic, education and business leaders today that the achievement gap is "the biggest issue we have." He called it "the shame of this community."

Rybak said members of the Generation Next coalition are working together to reach three goals:

Comprehensive health screening. Three-year-olds would be screened for health problems and disabilities — such as speech impediments — so they can get therapy and support.

Reading proficiency by third grade. Schools' reading tutors would receive training in promising techniques so they can more effectively help students learn to read.

Enhanced guidance counseling. Each child would receive closer attention from adults trained to help them draft and follow a plan to get them smoothly into college or a career.

Mai-Anh Kapanke, associate director of the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, told coalition members the goal is to "make sure that every single child [is] able to be connected to a caring, trained adult — and the key there is 'trained adult' — to help them with their post-secondary plan, and to just help them develop their passion for what they want to do with their future."

Charletta Mosley, an early-childhood screening coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools, told the audience she' thankful that specialists years ago diagnosed her daughter early on with an articulation disorder. She received two years of speech services, she said, and just a few months after entering kindergarten, she was performing well enough to drop the therapy altogether.

"Had I not received an early childhood screening...she definitely would have been at a deficit, because even when [she was] three years of age, I noticed she was starting to shut down."

The coalition will try out some of its ideas in pilot schools, then collect data to determine what works and what doesn't, according to a Generation Next list of goals.

Generation Next members say schools are doing some of these things now, but with uneven standards and access. What's necessary, they say, is better coordination and a focus on what works.

Rybak said the coalition has already started putting some of the ideas into practice. He said his organization will likely produce a report on the effort, but he suggested the work was open-ended. He did not give a timeline for assessment.

Rybak said those interested in monitoring the initiative's progress should check in at the Generation Next website.

When asked how much the changes would cost, he did not say.

"You don't hear us standing up here today saying, 'Someone should write a big, fat check and solve this problem,'" he said. "You hear us saying, 'We have to do things smarter and better and more aligned.' There will be investments that will be needed, but the main investment that we're talking about is an investment of people."

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