Kaler: U helping with achievement gap
WILLMAR -- The University of Minnesota's standing among research universities continues to grow while it also focuses its efforts on improving the education of children in the state's K-12 school system. University president Eric Kaler spoke with...
WILLMAR - The University of Minnesota’s standing among research universities continues to grow while it also focuses its efforts on improving the education of children in the state’s K-12 school system. University president Eric Kaler spoke with a group of about 35 people, mostly alumni, Friday at The Oaks at Eagle Creek. He provided an update on the university’s activities and answered questions.
Kaler began by talking about a recent gathering of Generation Next, a partnership working to close the academic achievement gap between white children and children of color.
Generation Next focuses on Minneapolis and St. Paul. Kaler said a similar effort is needed across the state.
“You may know that Minnesota has the largest achievement gap of any state in the country,” He said. “That’s really almost unbelievable, but it’s true, and we can’t continue that.”
The state will need a well educated workforce in the coming years, he said.
“We have to educate all Minnesotans,” he added. “We have to have a workforce ready for the future that looks like Minnesota, and we do not.”
After his talk, Kaler talked about the university’s efforts to assist public schools in closing the gap. Teacher training takes place at other universities in the state more than at the U of M, but the university is involved in research on the achievement gap.
“We have a terrific educational psychology program,” he said.
Other research is trying to identify what kids need to succeed. Screening of three year-olds for hearing or eyesight problems or developmental delays is an important early childhood need Children who start out behind because of undiagnosed problems find it difficult to catch up, he added.
The university’s research and programs also dovetail with the state’s World’s Best Workforce law. The law lists goals for the state’s students: All children ready for kindergarten, third-graders reading at grade level, racial and economic gaps closed, all students graduate from high school and all students are ready for career and postsecondary education.
Willmar Senior High School uses a U of M program, Ramp-Up to Readiness. The weekly one-hour course in grades 9-12 prepares students for life after high school and helps them stay on a path toward graduation.
Kaler said the achievement gap can be “persistent generationally,” but “I believe we can make progress.”
Kaler mentioned a number of other issues, saying, “we touch a lot of different things.”
The university’s impact on the Willmar area includes 2,103 alumni living in the area who have earned 2,606 degrees. Forty-four U of M staff members live in the district, earning nearly $1.9 million a year.
Currently, 334 students from the area attend the University of Minnesota. Numerous doctors, dentists, veterinarians and pharmacists who attended the university work in the community.
The Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory and the Rice Regional Dental Clinic, both affiliated with the university, are located in Willmar.
The university was recently ranked among the top 25 research universities in the nation. Only nine of the schools on the list were public research universities, he said.
The Center for Measuring University Performance at Arizona State University measures universities on nine categories, like incoming student test scores, philanthropy, how much research and federal research is done.
For the first time, the university was listed among the top 25 in every category, Kaler said.
The ranking and other academic achievements should help the university continue its ability to improve education and research.
The university is the eighth- or ninth-largest public research university in the country, Kaler said, and it receives about $800 million a year in research grants from external sponsors.