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Let’s work together on improving Minnesota education

What might a DFL governor and Republican Legislature bring us in 2011? One priority issue they should work together on is education.

Minnesota’s reading scores have remained flat for nearly 20 years on the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) and on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCAs), and the achievement gap continues to persist. Nineteen states have higher Grade 4 NAEP reading scores, and five states have the same score. That means that 24 states perform better or the same as Minnesota on reading scores, making Minnesota on par with the national average.

While Minnesota’s performance has not dropped over the course of 20 years, other states have made improvements during this time and have surpassed our performance. For Minnesota to remain competitive, we must reform our education system. We need a stronger focus on students and student learning, and accountability for results.

Remember the campaign — you could not have forgotten already, even if you would like to. Mark Dayton said a good education is the cornerstone to grow jobs, keep the middle class strong and keep Minnesota ready to compete in the global community. Tom Emmer was right there, too, in saying, “Next to new jobs our highest priority as a state must be educating our kids well.” Tom Horner echoed the message, saying “Few investments are more important than education.”

Our benchmark should be proficiency
Businesses and Education Minnesota agree that funding public education and student achievement need to be high on the state’s agenda. We are all concerned about the achievement gap. Only half of Minnesota’s non-white students are reading at grade level. However, our benchmark for education excellence should not be white student achievement; our benchmark should be proficiency. While the achievement gap is unacceptable, it is monumentally important to ensure that all students are proficient. Right now, almost one in three students in Minnesota cannot read at grade level, and most of them, 60 percent , are white students.

No one needs to take a poll to know that Minnesota citizens are expecting the new governor and Legislature to get some things done and to work a lot harder to find common ground. People understand that there are different perspectives and approaches to policy, but aren’t there also some core values around education that could lead to change and progress?

A glimmer of hope may be seen in legislators, representatives from the Minnesota Business Partnership and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce attending the National Summit on Education Reform convened by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in a few weeks in Washington, D.C. Isn’t it hard to disagree with what they present as cornerstones of reform — high expectations, measurement and reporting, rewarding and funding success and parental choice?

We know some approaches that work
Geoffrey Canada‘s approach to education in Harlem has captured the interest of President Obama, mayors and superintendents, and business leaders. We also know that mentoring and programs like Teach for America can make a difference in the lives of students. People at our Capitol should be able to find ways to support our teachers and increase mentoring opportunities.

Youth, themselves, may also be helpful in finding solutions and common ground. Those under 18 did not vote on Nov. 2, but engaging youth with the administration and Legislature would help guide them in a good direction. We have also seen that youth who are involved in their community and who experience service learning not only make the community better, but do better in school.

We can hope that this election will bring out the best in Minnesota. We have done it before, and why not demonstrate that civic spirit with work on education?

Jim Scheibel is Executive in Residence at the School of Business at Hamline University. Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Fellow with the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/18/2010 - 07:00 am.

    The main criticism I read about TFA is that most of the people are short-term resume builders who don’t stay in teaching. I have always thought of teaching as a serious profession, one where competent talented people can build careers in.

    I understand that more than 46,000 people applied to Teach For America including 12% of Ivy League seniors. A large part of that is the lousy job market. The take-home point is that without reforms that make teaching a more attractive profession, we’re not going to see continued interest in the field from highly educated individuals.

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/18/2010 - 07:03 am.

    Pablum to Power?

    Only food consumers at your local Chamber of Commerce luncheon or See-Dick-Run’s mother could find such feel-good generalities; programmed scenario, full of hope for change…to quote another, “Where’s the beef?”

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/18/2010 - 09:18 am.

    Educating the general public is not the same as building products on an assembly line. Each student comes with his/her own innate personality (of which there are at least 16 different types). Each has his or her own innately-determined ways by which they most easily learn (of which there are at least 4).

    Most students come with a unique set of personality dysfunctions (some minor, some very major) programmed into them by the homes, communities and churches in which they’ve been raised (as do their teachers).

    Each student has innate intelligence (or lack thereof) which may vary tremendously depending on the subject at hand. Finding what works for each and every individual student is an art as demanding of teamwork and exemplary skills as those required to build a very expensive luxury car. Using a “one size fits all” approach leads to very poor results, because you are NEVER working with uniform raw materials (so to speak).

    That being said, the switch to “proficiency” would be massively helpful, I think, since it would put schools around the state on a more equal footing.

    The “achievement gap,” that perennially favorite red herring our conservative friends love to use to try to strip money out of the Minneapolis and St. Paul school systems (which they seem to resent, because of their irrational terror at the prospect of being accidentally trapped at night in the inner city), school systems which are and will continue to be more expensive than the state average for a wide variety of very logical reasons, has never been a useful measure because it ignores the reality that there are students across the state (not just in the inner city) who are not proficient in a wide variety of subject areas.

    (Of course the “achievement gap” makes a perfect red herring because it SOUNDS so important and will never be corrected unless and until all the other serious social problems of inner city families are resolved and the average inner city household, as well as the neighborhood in which it’s located is as peaceful, functional and intact as is the average in rural and outer ring suburban communities.)

    It’s time to stop beating up on the schools and the teachers (when all you REALLY want is for them to cost far less than they EVER can if they’re going to be successful).

    It’s long past time to start focusing on how to go about getting as many people as possible up to speed rather than just using draconian measures to punish those deemed to not be making it (including both teachers and students), and realize that, just as with every other system filled with humans, you will NEVER be 100% successful (look at America’s current class of massively over paid, massively underperforming business and banking executives – at least in terms of providing long-term, stable overall benefit to American society – for instance).

    The normal curve exists for a reason: it reflects the reality that, for every person functioning far better than average, there’s another person functioning far worse with most people somewhere in the middle. This is true for teachers and students (and other workplaces, as well).

    The only way to move that entire curve higher among teaching staff is to pay enough to attract society’s most intelligent, capable, compassionate, and gifted individuals into the teaching profession (because in the culture of today, high pay is the ONLY way we attract people to any particular job), to offer mentoring, counseling, and further training to those teachers who are willing to improve their performance, and to assist those who are never going to be adequate (or who refuse to try to improve) in finding a profession to which they’re better suited.

    This would, of course, require administrators gifted with the skills and time to properly evaluate the performance of each and every one of the their teachers.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/18/2010 - 09:18 am.

    Not surprisingly, better results (at least on paper) have been achieved when separate schools have been set up by motivated teachers to attract motivated students and/or students with more motivated parents, which is really all that “school choice,” private schools and charter schools have ever accomplished – the grouping together of motivated teachers, students and parents (no matter their socioeconomic status) into their own, separate schools.

    It’s only regular public schools that are required to take all who are required to attend and do as much as possible to educate them while paying salaries that mean America’s “best and brightest” are generally not interested in working in them except for the types of people who are motivated by something other than money.

    And of course, if we watch carefully, we’ll soon realize that the only solution our newly-elected Republican legislature is willing to offer is to “improve” the schools and “hold them more accountable” by reducing funding even below today’s severely inadequate levels.

    To understand how that would work, consider how you would fare if the customers of your business were able to demand exactly the same (or even better) performance from your company than ever before, even while they reduce what they’ll pay you for your product or service. If you don’t meet their expectations, they’ll pay you EVEN LESS (which is something “free trade agreements” have caused to happen to many businesses).

    But the difference, here, is you CAN’T go out of business. You must keep going, keep producing your product or providing your service, even if your buildings and equipment are falling apart.

    Perhaps you’ll want to organize a bake sale.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/18/2010 - 01:53 pm.

    Ok, I see a lot of really bizarre opinions on MinnPost comment threads, but for some reason (full moon tonight?) this one has really gone over the top.

    This statement really tops the cake, though:

    “Of course the “achievement gap” makes a perfect red herring because it SOUNDS so important..”
    The “achievement gap” is the documented difference between Caucasian and minority (mostly black) students that pass basic skills tests and graduate.

    According to the Minnesota School Boards Association (http://tinyurl.com/36hegar
    ); “black students’ scores were 43rd in the nation. Minnesota has the fourth largest gap between whites and African Americans.”

    That’s 43 out of total 50 states, despite what President Obama might believe.

    The MSBA continues; “In Basic Skills, African American students passed the math test at a rate 45 points below that of white students. The gap in reading is 38 points below.”

    In Saint Paul, over 40% of students fail to graduate high school; the overwhelming majority being black kids.

    Now, I realize that many people will recognize the statement I’ve called out as the ignorant twaddle it is, but behind such inane commentaries are tens of thousands of kids who are destined to become the next generation of prison inmates, drug addicts, burglars and welfare recipients.

    One might say they are hard-wired for failure…

    It *is* important, therefore, to call out and shame those who choose to ignore the education crisis, or worse, use it as a political talking point.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/18/2010 - 06:19 pm.

    Many discussions indicate the under performing schools are mainly those in poor and minority areas. Is there really an epidemic of poor performance in America’s public schools, or only in an important but small percentage of them? Is a shotgun approach the right way to go about reform?

    I would expect that by evaluation we might get smarter about which approaches will work where and with whom, but I’d also guess there will always be ideas in opposition to one another in education, which look stupid if you’re using them and brilliant if you’re not.

  7. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 11/19/2010 - 06:29 am.

    Having recently moved from Florida to MN I can assure you that The Foundation’s nostrums are not a program I think you would want to replicate here. To paraphrase, the presentation is not the territory. Mr. Bush’s figures belie the terrible state of education in FL, and the course of action he and the Foundation espouse is dogmatic, unrealistic and and afront to aware and careing parents. In short this remedy is more political that educational.

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