One Minnesota — or not


“The State of Minnesota is facing a crisis requiring the declaration of a ‘State of Emergency.’ Paraphrasing the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, the United States is ‘moving toward two societies, one black, and one white — separate and unequal.'”

This blunt warning is part of A Crisis in Our Community: Closing the Five Education Gaps, a report on the racial disparities in education in Minnesota.

The African American Leadership Forum report was issued on the same day as the Minneapolis Foundation’s OneMinneapolis report, which broadens the warning beyond education:

Our ability to compete as a 21st century city and an economic engine for the state depends on everyone fully participating in our workforce and benefiting from our shared quality of life. Yet Minneapolis faces costly racial disparities in education, jobs, housing, political representation, and other critical areas …

Graphic from OneMinneapolis dashboard shows population distribution in Minneapolis.

While both reports present similar statistics, shocking as much for their utter familiarity as for the devastating disparities they signal, both also offer hope and direction.

The OneMinneapolis report is rich in data (compiled by the Wilder Foundation) on education, but also on other topics, such as families living in poverty (26 percent of Minneapolis families with a child younger than 18), working age adults who are employed (73 percent), and other measures, ranging from crime to voter turnout. 

A Crisis in Our Community: Closing the Five Education Gaps focuses on education, first enumerating five gaps that contribute to overall disparities in educational achievement, and then making specific action recommendations. The five gaps and some (but not all) of the specific recommendations for narrowing these gaps are highlighted below, but the entire report is well worth reading.

 The Preparation Gap:
[C]lose to one-half of the achievement gap is present at the time children enter school. …
The most promising strategy for closing the school readiness achievement gap is to increase access to high-quality, center-based, ECE programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The Belief Gap:
[B]eliefs and expectations of students, parents, teachers and the community contribute to the achievement gap.
There must be a laser-like focus on student achievement.

The Time Gap:
Paraphrasing Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children Zone, “Simple physics tells us that if African American children enter kindergarten already behind, if they spend the same amount of time on task in school as everyone else, they’ll never catch up.”
In order to close the achievement gap, more effective use of time-on-task is needed with African American children by extending the school day and the school year, and by making available multiple other opportunities to make up the time gap.

The Teaching Gap:
Highly effective teachers are most critical for those furthest behind.
A comprehensive system of enhanced compensation and resources, including professional development, needs to be aggressively developed for teachers who agree to work in the toughest schools.

The Leadership Gap:
Leadership must focus on instructional excellence rather than administrative issues.
The One Table approach brings together leaders in each of these sectors and connects the entire educational continuum from “cradle to career.” It connects ECE to family support systems, to an extended school day and school year, to quality teaching and leadership, and establishes a system of agreed-upon metrics for evaluating success.

The Minneapolis Foundation reminds us that “what gets measured, gets done,” and both of these reports do an admirable job of laying out the challenges that face Minneapolis and the entire state. They are written in clear and easy-to-understand language. Every legislator and policymaker in the state should read them. They would also offer an excellent beginning for community conversations, and for high school and college classes. 

The report overview urges action: “The numbers shouldn’t paralyze us. It’s in our power to make better choices, smarter investments, and more conscious efforts to create an inclusive community.”