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New Goal and Strategies for Education

After careful reflection, The McKnight Foundation is pleased to share a new program goal with updated strategies for the Education program.

Program Goal: To prepare Minnesota students to succeed in an increasingly global society by investing in educators, empowering families, and engaging youth. This goal promotes educational equity and encompasses both the business and the civic case for ensuring that students in Minnesota succeed. We want children to emerge from our school systems prepared to thrive in a competitive, globalized economy and to contribute meaningfully to the social fabric of our civic life.

Program Strategies: To achieve this goal, McKnight will:

  • Build pipelines of effective educators by supporting innovative efforts to prepare, recruit, and retain high-quality, diverse talent for Minnesota schools;
  • Empower families as the most credible constituency for education systems change by supporting families in advocating for improved school, district, and state policies and practices.

How We Developed These Strategies

McKnight arrived at this goal and these strategies via a deliberate process of self-reflection and partner engagement that began in November 2016. That was when the Foundation’s board of directors made the difficult decision to sunset the Pathway Schools Initiative, a multi-year partnership between McKnight, select schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, and the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.

The decision provided McKnight with the opportunity to revisit our overall Education goals and strategies. We asked ourselves: What have we learned from past experience that could inform our future work? How has Minnesota’s education landscape changed since we launched the Education  program in 2009? What new opportunities could McKnight leverage to promote educational equity in our state?

We spent six months combing through data and research, reflecting on our own experiences, and – most importantly – connecting with educators, parents, and advocates across Minnesota to understand what they see as the most important challenges and opportunities facing our state.

Educators and Families Ensure Student Success

Two critical lessons emerged from this research and these conversations:

  1. Supporting sustainable change requires supporting systems change; and
  2. There are two sets of adults who wield the most influence over student success: educators and families.

As Minnesota becomes increasingly diverse culturally and linguistically, it becomes increasingly imperative that we eliminate the state’s opportunity gaps. This can only occur if we transform the systems that have historically perpetuated disparities. McKnight’s new strategies take an inside-out approach to advancing equity-oriented systems change. By investing in educators, we can infuse high-quality talent into education systems – helping them improve from the inside. By empowering families, we can help catalyze disruptive pressure for change from outside those systems.

A wealth of research demonstrates that teachers and school leaders represent the first and second most important in-school influences on student achievement. Meaningfully improving the quality of the education children receive requires improving the quality of the educators who serve them. Moreover, children benefit when their teachers reflect the full diversity of our classrooms. To cite just one example, research from Johns Hopkins finds that low-income black boys who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are thirty-nine percent less likely to drop out of high school. Pipelines for recruiting and retaining high-quality, diverse educators are among the key levers to influence the quality of teachers and leaders in Minnesota.

In addition, we seek to elevate the voices of families and communities in conversations about education reform. Because students, schools, families, and communities are deeply intertwined, improvements in schools will be more sustainable if they are developed and implemented in close partnership with students’ families and communities. While family engagement efforts often begin by helping parents support their individual children, families can also be key influencers and powerful grassroots advocates at the school and systems level. If families can be meaningfully engaged and mobilized as the most credible constituents of education systems, they can wield their collective power to advance broader systems change.

As the revised Education program develops, we will remain committed to listening to and learning from partners from across Minnesota’s diverse communities, and we will continue to refine our approach in response to what we hear and learn.

Building on Earlier Gains

We also recognize that every decision has tradeoffs, and McKnight’s decision to pursue our new program strategies requires making some difficult ones. Within its refined Education program, McKnight will continue to promote youth engagement through our support for Youthprise, a funding intermediary McKnight established in 2010. We will, however, gradually shift away from our historic focus on early childhood education.

We recognize the critical importance of ensuring that every child accesses high quality early learning opportunities. The journey to achieve this vision in Minnesota is not over, but it has made good progress. In the last decade, our state has seen early childhood move to the top of the public agenda, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in expanding early childhood access and enhancing quality in early childhood programming. A strong cadre of early childhood advocates and funders are committed to ensuring that early childhood access and quality remain a priority in our state. And it is critical that we create the conditions in which early childhood gains are sustained and strengthened by high-quality K-12 experiences. Too often, in Minnesota, that has not been the case. McKnight’s new strategies will help position Minnesota’s schools to capitalize on the gains from expanded early education opportunities. As our focus shifts, we remain grateful for and humbled by the accomplishments of our early childhood partners, and we applaud their continued work.

Looking to the Future with Optimism

As we launch the newest evolution of McKnight’s Education program, we are optimistic about the impact these strategies can have on Minnesota children. McKnight looks forward to continuing to work with existing partners – and engaging new ones – to ensure that Minnesota children are fully prepared to succeed in school today and in society tomorrow.

Topic: Education

June 2017