The first step towards solving any problem is to understand the facts

In the many conversations I have had about what our community should do to improve education outcomes for young people of color, one phrase keeps coming up: “Everyone knows what works. We just have to have the guts to do it.”

Often the phrase is met with knowing glances and a general recognition that, yes, in fact, everyone does know “what works.”

After a few months in my job leading Generation Next, and after some pretty aggressive follow up with the people who have been saying this, it’s clear the truth is actually slightly different: “Everyone knows what works BUT everyone doesn’t AGREE on what that is.”

The Minneapolis-St. Paul community is filled with strong opinions about how to close what we call the Achievement Gap.  The challenge is, if there is a consensus on the two or three steps to take, I sure have not found it yet.

That should not surprise us. If there was a simple, clear couple of actions we could take, let’s hope our deeply compassionate community would have taken them by now.

We also must know we need to build that consensus. And we need to do it fast.  We can’t wait while this crisis threatens all of our quality of lives by leaving too many of our young people behind.

To help build that consensus, Generation Next knows we have to hear all those opinions but, even more important, we have to use facts.  We have more than enough data telling us we have a problem, including:

  • In Minneapolis, there was a 57 percentage point gap between white students and Hispanic students in 3rd grade reading proficiency in 2013.
  • In St. Paul, only 16 percent of American Indian students were proficient in 8th grade math in 2013.
  • Only 26 percent of charter school students in Minneapolis graduated high school in 4 years in 2013.

Our challenge is to sort through the complex, and sometimes contradictory facts about what works to fix the problem.  We work hard on that every day at Generation Next, but we also need the entire community engaged in this work.

To help reach a consensus on what works, Generation Next, Wilder Research and Minnesota Compass are launching today a portal that brings together multiple data points about education in Minneapolis-St. Paul:  http://www.tcgennext.org/about-the-data/

Our hope is that the entire community can go to a single source to help dissect this problem and work together to find solutions. Generation Next’s mission is to close racial gaps in achievement and opportunity, so the portal will allow you to sort data by race, and dissect it by location and school type.

This is not an annual report updated once a year. When we learn something new we will add it as soon as possible. We also will work hard to combine this data with other information that may shine more light on solutions.

For example, we are very interested in adding more on mobility:  What happens to school performance when children switch schools, and what can we do to help them?  This has led us to very good talks with both Hennepin and Ramsey Country, which are both looking at the same issue. Our hope, over time, is that we can get the right data to see what part of the achievement gap is about kids changing schools and housing, and, most important, what schools and programs are successfully attacking this challenge.

This portal, and our ongoing work on data, helps us understand there is not one issue with all children of color, and there can’t be a single intervention. Each time we find these differences we get another clue about what works.

For example:

  • 78% of students who speak Somali at home were proficient on the Minneapolis kindergarten assessment in 2012. This is higher than the district average and almost as high as students who speak English at home. Understanding what is happening here can help improve achievement for other Somali children and hopefully teach us something about what can be done for other children as well.
  • The graduation rate for Hispanics in St. Paul has increased 11 percentage points in four years.

Now we need to understand why these positive outcomes are happening and how related efforts can be replicated.

Each piece of information we uncover opens a new window into how we attack the problem.  In some ways it’s like a TV detective show: It starts with a crime and throughout the hour one piece of evidence builds on another–big clue, small clue–until they all come together to solve the mystery.  Call it “CSI MSP.”

It’s no mystery that kids of different races have different futures in Minneapolis-St. Paul and that’s a lot more serious than a T.V. show. So we need your help: Use the portal to understand the complexity of the problem, give us your take, and help us find other data that can shed more light on what works.  Point us toward interesting new studies that give us new insight on the problem and the solutions.  (Get them to our data manager, jonathan.may@tcgennext.org)

Many experts will help build our base of information, but this can’t be left up to just them.  This whole community will rise or fall on our ability to solve this problem that has stood for too long, so this whole community needs to help us find the right actions that can close our gaps.

R.T. Rybak, Executive Director, Generation Next

SIF 2015