Education forums seek commonality from diverse groups

Nathan-on-Education-newCan the Minnesota Business Partnership, which focuses on making the best possible use of existing funds, and Parents United, which urges that more money be spent on Minnesota’s public schools, find things they agree on? Can the African American Leadership Forum, which represents more than a thousand Minnesotans, many deeply concerned about public schools, agree with what the Minnesota Association of School Administrators is suggesting? A new effort is hoping the answer to these questions is “yes.”

I give former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser and former St. Paul Council of Churches Executive Director Grant Abbott considerable credit. Over the next few weeks, they are convening a variety of groups for public conversations that will be available for viewing online at

Their goal is to improve Minnesota’s public schools, with a focus on reducing the achievement gap. First, they want to find several things these groups agree on. Then they hope to work with the organizations to focus on agreements in ways that make a real difference for Minnesota students.

Fraser started the Achievement Gap Committee in 2007. He wanted to provide a forum for people to share their research, concerns, strategies and success in reducing the achievement gap. Over the years, teacher union presidents, professors, district and charter educators and a wide range of others, described what they were doing.

Despite their efforts, Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest gaps in high school graduation rates among students of different races. Abbott and Fraser wanted to do more.

So late last year, they began inviting a variety of groups to make brief, 15-minute presentations on a panel — with people they sometimes agreed with and sometimes disagreed with.

Full disclosure: They asked me to be part of a panel that included Mary Cecconi, executive director of Parents United for Public Schools; Maureen Ramirez, policy and research director with Growth and Justice; and Chris Stewart, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum. The meeting, the first of three, was held Jan. 21. Some of the talking points were:

• Cecconi presented graphs illustrating her view that Minnesota should spend more money on K-12 education. More information is available at www.parent

• Ramirez explained that Growth and Justice, online at, has prepared reports showing key areas of what it describes as “strategic investment,” such as more high-quality early childhood education programs.

• Stewart described what his organization believes are five key gaps, including the “preparation gap” and the “belief” gap. Read more about education gaps at

• I pointed to research about the value of strong early childhood programs for students from low-income families and of students taking dual-credit courses, the progress Minnesota has made and the need to do more.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]