Coalition led by Rybak offers plan to attack achievement gap in schools

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A coalition led by former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is taking aim at the achievement gap and released some of its first recommendations Monday.

Generation Next consists of leaders from education, business, government, and non-profits who hope to reduce the discrepancy between white students and their peers of other races when it comes to academic success.

At an event on the University of Minnesota campus Monday, Rybak and others rolled out a set of suggestions with the promise that more will follow.

As MPR News reports, the recommendations include:

  • Screening 3-year-olds for health problems or disabilities so those who need help can get it.
  • Training tutors in the most promising techniques to help students be proficient in reading by third grade.
  • Improved counseling to help students develop a post-graduation plan for college or a career.

U of M President Eric Kaler underlined the host institution's support for the endeavor. The Pioneer Press says Kaler called addressing the achievement gap a moral and economic imperative.

Scope of problem

Rybak and others say Minnesota has one of the country's widest academic disparities between students of color and their white classmates. MPR says test scores for students of color are up to 30 percent lower than their white peers.

The Star Tribune says that in 2013, 85 percent of the state's white students graduated on time. For Hispanic and African-American students, the rates were 58 percent and 56 percent, respectively.

KARE 11 reports that in his remarks Monday, Rybak interpreted the numbers this way:

"The statistics say in this community, if you want to determine if a child has a likelihood of success and the opportunity a child has - it can be predicated in part by looking at the color of their skin. And that is the shame of this community."

 "Not a losing battle"

A University of Minnesota sophomore and alum of Minneapolis' Patrick Henry High School delivered what may have been the most inspiring part of the presentation.

KARE says Husna Ibrahim (right) acknowledged the foreboding statistics, but drew the crowd of more than 500 to its feet when she testified to the positive impact of the mentors and programs that helped her, saying "I want to remind you, this is not a losing battle. Caring adults who take the time to make a difference actually make an impact."

WCCO reports Ibrahim came to the U.S. from Africa in the 10th grade and is now a biology major at the U of M with an eye on medical school. She tells the station in an interview: “I’m here. It’s real. The dream is real.”

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The Business Journal reports that in a separate announcement Monday Target said it's pledged $1.1 million in grant money toward a project called the Bright Spots Initiative. The United Way will administer the series of $100,000 grants to accelerate the spread of programs that show promise in improving the academic performance of low-income and minority students.

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