Next step for Generation Next


Out-going Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak announced he will soon transition into a new role as executive director of Generation Next, a collaborative group that would like to bring more attention to what it calls an “urgent educational crisis” in the Twin Cities.

It’s good news for Rybak, but will it also be good news for education in Minnesota? Paging through Generation Next’s website, one can conclude for Generation Next, the “crisis” in education is all about data points: fewer children of color succeed on standardized tests or graduate from college than white students. The website provides lots of numbers to back this up, including MCA test scores.

The bigger, yet seemingly unanswered, questions for me concern two things: First, why are non-white students behind, and what assessments are we using to declare these children behind? Second, what, exactly, are organizations like Generation Next doing to help children succeed?

Generation Next seems to accept scores on standardized tests tell us everything we need to know about student achievement. A different view on this, however, comes from the ASCD, a 70-year old non-profit dedicated to training educators and others about teaching practices that educate the “whole child” and promote the “success of each learner.”

ASCD supports a wide range of research that states, standardized tests “do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness,” because, for one thing, children have different sets of skills, both inherent and learned; measuring their achievement according to one test is limited, at best.

Teachers and parents I’ve talked to in my various education roles have expressed this exact point: standardized tests do not accurately reflect what a child knows or what a teacher does in the classroom.

This is not to say that we do not need to measure what children are learning and what teachers are teaching, but, as the ASCD points out, “standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.”

Parent, student, and teacher voices seem absent from Generation Next’s approach. Parents are briefly mentioned on the organization’s site, which says, “It’s crucial that we have parental involvement if Generation Next is going to succeed.”

I could not agree more, but I am struck by the kind of involvement Generation Next seems to advocate. “Parents need to attend informational meetings in their communities to learn more about Generation Next,” they start out saying. “They need to talk to their kids and they need to talk to their kids’ teachers and school administrators to understand how they can help ensure improved academic achievement for their kids and all our schoolchildren.”

If R.T. Rybak and Generation Next are really going to help children succeed, I hope they reconsider both their heavy reliance on standardized tests scores and the tone they’ve taken with parents.

Telling parents what they “need” to do, and assuming they have not already tried just about everything to help their children, seems wrong to me.

Instead, reframing their mission around what parents, students, and educators have to say might be something Generation Next should do, if it is truly to succeed in improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all.