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A smiling girl in a pink shirt, in a classroom, with several classmates seated behind her.

A new vision for Minnesota preK-12 education

U's Consortium for Postsecondary Academic Success aims to strengthen and broaden the pipeline to higher education

By Rick Moore

Brief, Oct. 11, 2006

A large and diverse group of educational and community leaders met on Friday, Oct. 6, at the University of Minnesota for a half-day conference focused on a new vision for preK-12 education in Minnesota.

The gathering of about 250 attendees included school superintendents and other educators from preK-12 and higher education institutions, foundation leaders, representatives from community organizations and businesspeople. The topics were wide-ranging, but centered on the need to better prepare all students in Minnesota to meet the challenges of the future and keep Minnesota thriving, both intellectually and economically.

As President Bob Bruininks pointed out, "The promise of Minnesota's future lies in having world-class schools for a world-class state."

Under the leadership of Bruininks, the University is taking a more prominent role in convening important discussions such as Friday's conference. This year, the University created the Consortium for Postsecondary Academic Success, whose goal is to strengthen and broaden the pipeline to higher education across the state. The consortium, led by executive director Kent Pekel, is working on collaborative University and preK-12 initiatives with school districts and educational organizations to improve the coherence, relevance and visibility of the U's preK-12 activities. It expands upon the efforts of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium, which also works on University partnerships with preK-12 education.

The focal point of the conference was a discussion of the report, "Minnesota's Promise: World-Class Schools, World-Class State." The report is the product of almost two years of work by the Superintendent Symposium--a group of some 25 school superintendents from around the state addressing a core challenge: preparing all students to succeed in the high-skill, hyper-competitive, global information age.

"We're here because the world is changing faster than it ever has before, and we need to make sure that the education we provide for our students moves forward with it," said Patricia Harvey, University of Minnesota Visiting Carmen Starkson Campbell Endowed Chair in Urban Education and former superintendent of the St. Paul public school district. "Our children must compete with their counterparts in every part of the world."

The report suggests that a world-class educational system can be characterized by eight basic traits or premises:

The conference was designed as a launching point for further discussion of the report, with the ultimate goal of implementing changes that raise student achievement, eliminate educational disparities and position students to be competitive in a global economy.

As Bruininks pointed out, Minnesota has a 150-years-plus heritage of stellar education on the line. "This is a world-class state," he said, "but it can become a second-class state overnight."

Attendees of the conference offered their feedback throughout the day, both in comments and through responses tracked by cordless devices to polling questions.

A number of people stressed the importance of closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. According to Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, vice president of community philanthropy for the Minneapolis Foundation, Minnesota must assure that "all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, cross the finish line in huge numbers."

"The vision has to be broad enough to encompass the diversity in the room and also in this state," added Pekel.

Kent Pekel
Kent Pekel

And though they were not specifically addressed in the report, good nutrition and parental involvement were stressed as being extremely important in students' educational success.

Urgency was another theme in the discussion. Ninety percent of attendees agreed that if Minnesota is going to prepare all students for the global information age, we need a new, coherent, statewide vision for public education and we need to work toward that vision over time, through changes in political power and school and district leadership.

As Bruininks pointed out, Minnesota has a 150-years-plus heritage of stellar education on the line. "This is a world-class state," he said, "but it can become a second-class state overnight."

The Consortium for Postsecondary Academic Success is also involved in an executive development program for school principals. That program--a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education and the elementary and secondary principals associations--will train 50 leaders over a year-and-a-half, "helping them to become the kind of school [leaders] that can help a school become high performing," Pekel said.

These efforts by the consortium, he added, are "about making the University a convener and a very clear center of gravity for efforts to improve K-12 schools."