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Guest Post: Minneapolis Foundation Program Promotes K-12 Excellence

SandraVargas[This article was updated on May 29, 2013) Minnesota’s the worst. Honestly. No state has a lower high school graduation rate for Latino students. At just 51 percent, it’s roughly the equivalent of telling every other Latino ninth grader in our schools that they may as well pack up and go home – we simply can’t get them to the finish line. This is morally unacceptable. We’re condemning generations of young people, along with their future children and their communities, to a life without opportunity. And in Minnesota, as with many states, the Latino population is significantly younger than the white population (the average age of Latino residents is 26 vs. 36 for whites). Our regional economy and quality of life depend on our ability to educate Latino students at least at the same rates as their white peers. And we can. A handful of schools in Minnesota are delivering an outstanding education to all of their students. These include Hiawatha Academies, which serves predominantly low-income Latino students, many of whom do not speak English at home, and whose elementary school was named Best School in Minnesota last year. Another network of schools across town serving equally low-income African-American and African students also dramatically outperforms all other schools in the state. Both of these schools use a formula similar to that of other gap-closing district and charter schools around the country. So, why don’t all schools follow their example and do what’s working to educate all students? Our thoughts exactly. To that end, The Minneapolis Foundation recently launched a public awareness campaign promoting five strategies that, when used together, create K-12 schools where all students succeed. Called Let’s RESET Education in Minnesota, it draws on an acronym: R = Real-time use of data. Successful schools continually monitor student progress and use data to drive and differentiate instruction. E = Expectations, not excuses. Successful schools expect every child to excel and accept no less. S = Strong leadership. Successful schools empower school leaders to shape staffing, resources and culture and hold them accountable for student and teacher success. E = Effective teaching. Successful schools consider teaching to be effective when students master the material, not just receive it. T = Time on task. Successful schools have their students spend more time in the classroom and make every minute count. The campaign launched with a Public Service Announcement playing in area movie theaters. It directed traffic to a website with a longer video showcasing all five strategies. A combination of infographics and live classroom footage makes a straightforward case for the RESET approach. The videos include the two schools mentioned above, along with a district school that had one of the worst achievement gaps in the city within its own student body. By using a combination of these strategies, Kenny School saw its African American 5th-grade math proficiency rate jump from 28 to 49 percent in just one year – compared with 33 percent of Black students statewide. (The non-Latino white students also performed better using the RESET strategies, from 65 percent to 79 percent.) Those improvements demonstrate that the achievement gap is not about the children – it’s about the education they are being delivered. Of course we still need to close this gap completely and ensure that the student learning continues to improve at this accelerated pace. We also want to see this approach replicated in other school districts around the country. We’re also holding a series of events with speakers that include singer-songwriter John Legend and educator and author Dr. Steve Perry. We’ve also agreed to collaborate with 10 amazing nonprofit partners, all of whom believe and demonstrate that we do not have to solve poverty first, but can educate all of our children now, if we choose to do so. These include the Minneapolis district leadership which is courageously working to implement robust teacher evaluation systems, principal development programs, and district-charter school partnerships. Local corporations and foundations have generously sponsored the effort, as well. The response so far has been tremendous. We’ve focused and energized the conversation around education, highlighting the most critical unit – the school – and promoting a positive, data-driven approach to transforming it. The Minneapolis Foundation continues to invest significantly in education, increasingly by looking to replicate, scale and start up proven models for success. The awareness campaign complements those investments. Minnesota can choose to lead the nation in educating all children. Let’s RESET Education in Minnesota. _________________________________________________________________________ Sandra L. Vargas is the president and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation and serves as secretary on the Hispanics in Philanthropy Board of Directors. She can be reached at svargas@mplsfoundation.org.