To close reading gap, train the tutors

ST. PAUL -- A coalition of community groups, business leaders and educators say better-trained volunteer literacy tutors will help close Minnesota's achievement gap.

ST. PAUL -- A coalition of community groups, business leaders and educators say better-trained volunteer literacy tutors will help close Minnesota’s achievement gap.

Former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, who leads the Generation Next collaborative, said Wednesday that there already are many dedicated volunteers reading to children across the Twin Cities. But too often, those volunteers don’t have the training they need to have a big impact on students’ literacy skills.

“It’s not because people aren’t helping,” Rybak said. “It’s because we are not doing enough to support those who are helping our kids.”

“Gen Next Reads” is being launched to pair volunteers with area literacy groups that have been working to improve the training given to reading tutors. The dozen groups, which include the Minnesota Reading Corps, the East Side Learning Center and St. Paul Public Library, are also now using a new assessment tool developed at the University of Minnesota to track students’ progress.

At a news conference Wednesday, Rybak highlighted the work of Jaleesa Morris, a University of Minnesota student who has tutored young students at Simpson Housing Services, a Minneapolis nonprofit that helps the homeless.


Morris said she was able to connect with her students because she faced similar challenges growing up. Tutors and role models played a big role in her academic success.

“I think it is important for these students all to have role models outside their immediate family, such as myself and you,” Morris said. “This is work that I plan to continue.”

Minnesota has one of the nation’s worst achievement gaps between poor and minority students and their classmates. Recent state tests results show low-income students and students of color score as proficient in reading and math at rates far below their white and more affluent peers.

School accountability measures released Tuesday show many Minnesota schools are making progress to close that achievement gap, but Minneapolis and St. Paul schools continue to struggle.

Rybak called those results “sobering.”

“We are not where this community needs to be in literacy. We are not close,” he said.

The call for more trained literacy tutors was joined by an announcement that partner General Mills would donate 20,000 new books to the Generation Next Reading Network. Kim Nelson, senior vice president of external relations for General Mills, said those donated books will ensure that literacy groups have diverse and interesting materials to work with students.

“For me, reading opened up the world,” Nelson said. “Every kid should have that opportunity.”


The “Gen Next Reads” coalition will be working over the coming months to find and train literacy tutors across the metro. Rybak said those volunteers are essential to help Minnesota tackle its academic disparities.

“We need trained volunteers with phenomenally high-performing organizations looking in the eyes of a child saying: ‘I believe in you,’ ” he said.

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