The Red River overflows with readers and Minnesota enters a different kind of "amazing race"
Andi Egbert, Twin Cities Compass
more than 9 out of 10 of kids in these counties were proficient in reading, the highest performance across the state. With these counties sprinkled mostly along the western edge of Minnesota, one wonders whether there is something in the Red River – or the Dakotas' influence.If a 4th grader from Lincoln, Jackson, Marshall, Rock, Pope, or Traverse county challenges you to a game of Scrabble, you may have met your match. Last year, while in 3rd grade,
On the whole, greater Minnesota has an edge on the Twin Cities region when it comes to helping kids meet the critical milestone of reading proficiency by 3rd grade. Our state's parents, early educators, school personnel and supportive communities do a laudable job of helping 78 percent of the state's 3rd graders develop a strong foundation for literacy, upon which so much subsequent learning is built.
While both of the following populations are struggling with 3rd grade reading skills, I was surprised to learn that as a group, Minnesota's students of color perform worse on the 3rd grade reading assessment than all the children enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program in our state. That ought to be evidence that we need to renew, redouble and rethink our efforts to close the achievement gap for the more than 205,000 students of color who make up 25 percent of the K-12 public school enrollment in Minnesota.
The big news is that Washington is providing money and momentum for education reform – to close the achievement gap and more. The Obama Administration's "Race To The Top" (RTTT) competitive grants opportunity, part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, seeks to spur system-wide school improvements in four areas:
During January, Minnesota was one of 40 states to submit an application to receive funding that will likely go to only 10-15 states. While elements of RTTT are not without controversy – such as mandatory participation in the state's Quality Compensation for Teachers (Q Comp) performance pay system – and the guidelines are numerous, it holds significant promise for reducing the achievement gap and helping more of Minnesota's young people access higher education.
A lot of money is at stake: The Recovery Act contained $4.35 billion in Race To The Top money, and President Obama has requested $1.35 billion more for the program in his FY 2011 budget. You can learn more about Minnesota's specific reform proposal by reading the narrative part of Minnesota's application or visiting the Minnesota Department of Education web site. Minnesota should know whether it is a finalist by March, and whether it will be funded in the first round by April. Outlining the criteria that will be used for selecting the winners, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "There's three things we're looking at – real courage, a commitment, and a capacity to get real results."
Courage and commitment are necessary ingredients in any recipe for community improvement. We hope you will add one more to your efforts: Compass. Please tell us how you are working with others to improve education in your community. Click on "Submit your idea" on the right-hand side of the page.
Or, do you have a theory about why the students in Lincoln, Jackson, Marshall, Rock, Pope and Traverse counties do so well at reading? Let us know!
Editor’s note: Subsequent to this writing, it was announced that Minnesota was not among the 15 states (plus the District of Columbia) who made the first cut of Race To The Top. To see more about who is still in the running, the criteria, and the process, see the Department of Education news release.