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Building a better education system

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opinion Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Building a better education system
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Is there a connection between a child's future and the rebuilding of our economy? If so, what can government do to re-tool and restructure itself to ensure the future of our children, particularly those from low-income, minority households?


As Americans, our cultural identity is wrapped around a shared ideal that all children should have an opportunity to grow and flourish, unconstrained by one's social circumstances. It's an important ideal to aspire too, but too often in America, and in our state, the places where our children are born and raised have everything to do with whether they will be successful in life.

Today's reality for poor students and students of color born in low-income communities throughout our state is one full of challenges that impede their ability to pursue and attain a higher education degree. The fact that the odds are stacked against them is evident in our state's "achievement gap" data that shows an increasing disparity in academic performance that is most often tied to income level and home environment.

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend the Harlem Children Zone conference and participate in the nation's first-ever training and exploration of the acclaimed HCZ model. I learned about how this innovative community-based approach has been used to advance closing achievement gaps by addressing the social, health and economic realities impacting poor students and students of color in Harlem.

HCZ has a well-earned reputation to do whatever it takes for students to successfully advance their education. This commitment is evident in the strong, collaborative partnerships between schools, social programs and communities has proven quite successful in meeting the academic, physical, emotional, and social development needs of their children. Integrating social programs and services in rough neighborhood schools is having a powerful payoff as record numbers of students continue to matriculate from the "zone" in Harlem into college.

The Obama administration is advocating an elementary and secondary education budget proposal to fund 20 "Promise Neighborhoods" planning grants around the nation to develop models like the HCZ that improves the education and life outcomes of children. Minnesota has several communities well positioned to pursue this opportunity by virtue of their integrated approach to community-based education.

This initiative isn't meant to produce a "nice" side activity to our education system. It is intended to be the start of a powerful national movement to nurture and develop a 21st century productive citizenry. The plan consists of delivering high-quality education to all Americans which then strengthens neighborhoods which in turn contribute to new cohesive regional economic activity that can compete in the new global marketplace. This approach seeks to build a new economy based on every day people and their skills.

This initiative also reflects a "re-tooling" of government. Just as the first step calls for breaking the "silos" within which we provide supports to families, the White House and Congress are calling for federal agencies to work outside of their own silos.

We are at a major turning point in our nation. Our continued failure to educate students of color and poor kids impedes our ability to build a strong society. Our generation's great responsibility is to put an end to this failure.

Making sure all students achieve at high academic standards is a high priority for Minnesota. Our state will simply not succeed economically unless our students succeed in school. This federal administration understands that a strong nation begins with strong people who possess high level educational skills. HCZ's work offers us a solid road map that we can use to build a better education system.

Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota House and executive director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership.

Pioneer staff reports