Note: Minnesota Compass is powering a new data portal on Generation Next, a coalition that aims to close achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“The gap is there before kids walk into kindergarten. School neither increases nor reduces it.”

That’s what Nobel Prize winner James Heckman opined after reviewing the results of a study which tested the cognitive abilities of a group of several hundred children from age 3 until they reached age 18.

He spoke from just one study of a limited group of young people, to corroborate what we all know from other research of other children conducted over many years. Children’s environments strongly influence academic success. Those environments propel young people in certain directions. Nourishment and nurturing, from the earliest years, even prenatally, have lasting effects – for good and for bad.

Heckman might sound a bit too pessimistic about the ability of schools to make a difference for kids. But all of us do know that families, communities, and schools jointly influence our children’s environments. Consequently, all of these important institutions must play roles if we want to eliminate gaps in educational achievement and promote the greatest development of talents for all young people. No one of them can do it alone.

That’s why our Minnesota Compass team and all of us at Wilder Research value the opportunity to collaborate with Generation Next.

Generation Next takes a holistic approach. It pays attention to young people from cradle to career. It seeks to mobilize all who need to be involved in promoting academic success for all of our children. Generation Next seeks to identify the causes of both the bad and the good.

That is, by examining the indicators, doing research, and assembling networks of organizations who have expertise, Generation Next will first figure out what needs or issues exist that might be restricting the ability of young people to succeed. (R.T. Rybak likens that process to CSI.) However, this initiative doesn’t want to focus only on the empty part of the glass; Generation Next wants to understand the full part as well: What produces success, especially for kids whose environments have created many challenges. What about the kids who do well despite adversity? What about the schools who transform kids who begin their education several steps behind others?

Generation Next wants to build consensus around whatever we need to do to ensure we have the best educated young people that we possibly can.

We are happy to support this effort by assisting Generation Next to keep everyone informed about community trends and to equip everyone with knowledge that increases their effectiveness. It’s not just a select few who need to work on increasing academic success. As R.T. Rybak put it:

“This whole community will rise or fall on our ability to solve this problem that has stood for too long, so this whole community needs to help us find the right actions that can close our gaps.”