Metropolitan communities need to launch nothing less than a movement to reduce the educational achievement disparities that exist for minority and low-income students, and the good news is that comprehensive networks are coming together across the nation to get it done.
Those themes of urgency and possibility were emphasized by Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard professor in education and policy studies, who spoke in Minnesota recently at a meeting sponsored by the Minnesota P-20 Education Partnership and the Minnesota Minority Education partnership (MMEP).
Ferguson outlined for an audience of key Twin Cities education leaders a systematic all-community approach combining under "strong intermediary organizations" to narrow the opportunity and achievement gap, while simultaneously challenging our highest achieving students. As envisioned by Ferguson, the key partners in the intermediary organizations are:
As director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, Ferguson advances the principles of "excellence with equity." He observed that in addition to our nation's growing achievement gap, and along with recent demographic shifts, international data has suggested that even our brightest students lag behind fourteen other nations in math and reading scores. And he noted that the U.S. has dramatically narrowed racial learning gaps in the past. Acccording to the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP), between 1971-1988 62 percent of the reading score gap between black and white 17-year-olds disappeared.
Education advocates tend to pick one specific goal they perceive is the most important factor in a child’s education, and focus only on that. Instead, Ferguson argues that early childhood education advocates should work in much closer concert with those involved in transitions to career, and so on, all along the pathway. In this way, experts in one area can complement experts in another area, spanning the cradle-to-career continuum. Minnnesota already is beginning to pursue this approach, with efforts such as the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success. Twin Cities business and community leaders are studying a similarly aggressive strategic initiative, akin to the effort mounted in the Cincinnati area, called the Strive Partnership.
(Note: Colin O'Keefe is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, a resident of Rochester, and an intern researching education policy for Growth & Justice.)