Generation Next: Minneapolis-St. Paul not living up to potential

The nonprofit's annual report card on education gaps shows the Twin Cities are improving but have a long way to go

Generation Next announced $4 million in contributions toward its efforts to close the achievement gap Thursday during an annual progress report at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Generation Next’s report card for Minneapolis and St. Paul showed the cities “are making progress” but still “have a long way to go” in closing some of the biggest racial and socio-economic gaps in the country, R.T. Rybak, the former Minneapolis mayor who is now executive director of the non-profit organization, said.

“The soul of our community rests on this, not just the economic future of our community,” Rybak said.

The report card tracks key academic indicators across the Twin Cities, including kindergarten readiness, reading by 3rd grade, math proficiency in 8th grade, the social and emotional health of middle school students, high school graduation rates and post-secondary attainment. Minneapolis and St. Paul collectively improved on just one measure, the four-year graduation rate, which reached 61 percent of high school students in 2014, up from 56 percent in 2013.

Trending downward were measures of 8th-grade math proficiency and post-secondary attainment, which tracks how many high school graduates earn a certificate or degree within six years. It’s less clear what’s happening in kindergarten readiness because Minneapolis and St. Paul lack a common set of assessments.

Only 37 percent of students meet reading benchmarks by 3rd grade, a rate basically unchanged over the past three years. That’s roughly 17,000 children, and “the vast majority are way behind,” Rybak said.

“All of these data points are obviously related,” Eric Moore, the director of research, evaluation and assessment for Minneapolis Public Schools said. “… We have to do better.”

Reading at grade level by 3rd grade is widely considered a key indicator of future academic and career success. Generation Next is partnering with 11 literacy organizations to train more reading tutors through a program called Gen Next Reads.

Generation Next is just beginning now to assess the social and emotional learning of 8th graders, so there was no trend data in that category.

Greater Twin Cities United Way announced a $1-million contribution toward the “Screen @ 3” initiative. The plan to expand early childhood screenings to an additional 7,000 children by 2018 is supported by 3M Gives and The Pohlad Family Foundation and will focus on reaching American Indian children and children of color.

“There aren’t a lot of sure bets, but I feel like this is one of the surest you can make,” Allison Barmann, the foundation’s vice president of strategy and learning, said.

The screenings are used to assess the health and development of 3 year olds and get them the services they need to be prepared for kindergarten. Only one-third of children in Minneapolis and St. Paul get state-mandated screening, Generation Next reports.

The Bush Foundation also announced a $3-million, 3-year grant to increase the number of high-quality childcare providers in the region. Generation Next plans to work with Think Small, a St. Paul-based organization focused on improving early childhood experiences, to train more than 100 licensed childcare providers in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.

Along with improving the providers’ business and parent-outreach skills, the trainings will focus early literacy techniques they can use with children.

To read or download a copy of the 2015 Generation Next Annual Report, click here.