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Committee on the Achievement Gap expands to include St. Paul

Earlier this week, this blog carried a post about MinnCAN, a new education advocacy group with powerful backers and coffers relatively flush with foundation money to be spent influencing Minnesota policy.
Cue sounds of sabers rattling.
Today, meet

Earlier this week, this blog carried a post about MinnCAN, a new education advocacy group with powerful backers and coffers relatively flush with foundation money to be spent influencing Minnesota policy.

Cue sounds of sabers rattling.

Today, meet a group that has been influencing education policy for years with an annual budget of about $1,500, two volunteer co-conveners and the self-explanatory, un-focus-group-tested name Committee on the Achievement Gap.

Cue the crinkling of brown lunch bags. 

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For years, the group has been meeting one, sometimes two Fridays a month in a church in southeast Minneapolis to hear from a roster of speakers who are infallibly fascinating. Typically 50-60 people show up toting their own sandwiches; conveners provide water and coffee.

Participants are asked to RSVP by e-mail, and some actually do, the conveners report. The number who don’t and come anyway is usually offset by the number who do and fail to show.

If that sounds decidedly modest, know that one of the co-conveners is former Minneapolis Mayor and Minnesota Rep. Don Fraser, who maintains an e-mail list of about 1,000 people who care about closing the achievement gap — or who should.

A Who’s Who of state education policymaking
The brown-baggers are often a Who’s Who of Minnesota education policymaking — and politics. Former Gov. Al Quie may now serve on MinnCAN’s board, for instance, but he’s been a frequent committee attendee for a long time.

With all those tuned-in brains in one room on a regular basis, it shouldn’t surprise that somehow the committee reliably manages to invite speakers who are on the verge of becoming big news for one reason or another. Last week’s meeting, for instance, featured Duane Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, which recently launched a pilot program to publish quality ratings of preschools.

The initiative, Parent Aware, made a recent appearance in this space; creating a statewide rating system to encourage high quality in early childhood education is one of the three items on the legislative agenda of the aforementioned MinnCAN. You can expect to hear a lot about it in coming months, in other words.

Speakers often talk nuts and bolts about what’s working and what isn’t, and Fraser attempts to preserve the wisdom by having someone take notes. For a while, the scribe was former MinnPost contributor Scott Russell, who now hangs his shingle at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ Budget Project, and who will forever occupy a special place in my wonky little heart for tipping me to the group.

Past guests have included Keith Lester, schools superintendent in Brooklyn Center and the architect of a pioneering effort to combat the achievement gap by locating community services inside schools, Bloomington Super Les Fujitake on the creative steps he’s taken to help create financial stability in his district and AchieveMpls head Pam Costain on what achievement could look like if students’ needs drove policymaking.

Enter St. Paul Area Council of Churches
Alas, no great confab stays a loosely guarded insiders’ secret for long. The committee recently announced what amounts to a blockbuster expansion — into St. Paul. In keeping with its longstanding interest in closing the achievement gap, starting this month the St. Paul Area Council of Churches will now help host committee events and serve as its fiscal agent.

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The council has a longstanding interest in the achievement gap, and sponsors several programs for Native American and African American youth. Executive Director Grant Abbott has assumed the role of co-convener.

The merger serves two important purposes: It formally makes it crystal clear that what began in January of 2007 as a DFL initiative is now an independent, nonpartisan undertaking. Which makes sense given that right now, when education reform is the topic, one’s party doesn’t necessarily dictate one’s politics.

The group will continue to meet in Minneapolis, usually at noon on the second Friday of the month, at the Minneapolis’ University Lutheran Church of Hope, at the corner of 13th Avenue and 6th St. S.E. Parking’s on north side of the building.

A second monthly meeting will now take place at noon on the last Friday of the month in St. Paul, at House of Hope Presbyterian Church, 797 Summit Ave. Tomorrow, Jan. 28, St. Paul Public School Foundation Executive Director Mike Anderson will present.

The group has a website featuring archives of the aforementioned notes. But the most reliable way to be alerted to future meetings is to e-mail either of the co-conveners at  or