U of M experts talk education with Foundation donors

A meeting with education researchers is just one way the Foundation is convening donors to learn about community issues.

Last month, about 10 Minneapolis Foundation donors met with nearly a dozen University of Minnesota education experts to talk about how we can close racial disparities in education. This opportunity for our donors to learn from some of the country’s top experts in the field will become more common, and not just in education. It is part of The Minneapolis Foundation’s increased focus on being a “Giving Community” where the 1,700 people who contribute about $60 million a year through 1,200 funds can do more to learn about needs in the community and find ways to partner with others to drive change.

This University of Minnesota meeting is part of a yearlong agenda of large and small meetings – some hosted by The Minneapolis Foundation, some held by our partners in the community – on the topics of greatest interest to our donors. (Click here so you can save the dates for upcoming convenings on economic vitality, civic engagement, arts, health and wellness, the environment and, again, education.)

Below are some of the highlights from last month’s small-group meeting on education:

  • Social-emotional development and equity
    The meeting was convened by Dr. Michael Rodriguez, a deeply respected researcher in social-emotional development, who also leads the Educational Equity Resource Center. The center is an attempt by the university to align the many different experts on campus into a single connection point for schools, foundations and others to learn what works to improve education. Dr. Rodriguez’s work is sponsored, in part, by Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors Jim and Carmen Campbell. His research includes groundbreaking understanding of social and emotional learning, most notably a study of St. Paul school children that showed that some students of color scored above their white counterparts on measurements like “commitment to learning.”
  • Culturally relevant math and science curricula
    Researcher Julie Brown leads the university’s STEM Education Center, which is building culturally appropriate content into math and science curricula. These lessons, which relate content to the culturally-specific experiences of students, also improve the ability of families to help children with their homework. (Families who could be intimidated to help their kids with homework because they “aren’t math people” – I used this excuse as a parent – are more likely to dive in if the math problems are built into specific issues facing their own community.) This effort builds on GopherMath, an effort by Foundation-funded Generation Next that brought together several previously disconnected math strategies developed at the university into alignment at Andersen United Community School in Minneapolis. Brown and her team are expanding on that work by looking at how an integrated math-science curriculum that is culturally relevant could be used in middle and high schools. (An interesting Minneapolis Foundation-related side note: A key part of this effort is breaking down the barriers that keep some students from learning math and science by using video sharing technology developed at the university, from which Foundation donor Phil Soran is developing the start-up Flipgrid.)
  • Diversifying the teacher pipeline
    Jean Quam, dean of the university’s College of Education and Human Development, and Geoffrey Maruyama, chair of the college’s Educational Psychology department, talked about efforts to diversify the teacher pipeline, including the good news that their college is now the most diverse school on campus.
  • Diversifying the student pipeline
    The University of Minnesota’s efforts to build a pipeline of students of color was outlined by Dr. Shakeer Abdullah, the university’s Assistant Vice President for Equity and Diversity. The CORE initiative – which stands for Communication, Outreach, Relationship and Engagement – identifies promising high school students of color and employs some of the ongoing recruitment strategies that the university uses with promising athletes. This initiative includes “Watch Your 6,” which uses mentorship to reinforce in students the importance of their first six semesters in high school.
  • PRESS: Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites
    Lori Helman of the Minnesota Center for Reading Research at the university outlined the PRESS initiative, which stands for Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites. PRESS was implemented in six Minneapolis schools and six charter schools. While the work has shown results, it depended on a several-year grant that has expired, which sparked a sobering conversation about how promising efforts like this can survive after initial philanthropic investments run out.

After an hour and a half, my head was full of new ideas.  I was also struck by how much knowledge there is at the University of Minnesota about what can help our kids, and how important it is for The Minneapolis Foundation to continue to play a role in sharing this knowledge with policy makers, nonprofits, and donors like you.

It was also clear that the donors who attended came away with significantly more knowledge to inform their giving as well as some new partnerships with other donors. If you want more ways to learn like this, check out these opportunities to be part of upcoming convenings on issues that matter to you.