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5 education issues to watch in 2020

school lockers
During the upcoming legislative session, expect to hear a lot of familiar pitches about the need to address chronic school funding shortfalls.
In the fall of 2020, the majority of public school districts across the state of Minnesota will ask voters to choose among newcomers and incumbents seeking a seat on their local school boards.

That list includes the state’s third largest school district — Minneapolis Public Schools — where three district seats and one at-large seat will be on the ballot.

These are the types of ballot questions that often get overshadowed by city, county, state and national races — especially during a presidential election year. At the same time, school boards shape education policy, practice and outcomes that’ll impact students across the state. 

Given Minnesota’s stagnant education disparities by race, income level and special education status — in everything from exclusionary discipline practices and standardized test scores to access to advanced courses and graduation rates — school board members hold a great deal of power and responsibility. 

Before the news cycle gets inundated with campaign coverage, here’s a brief rundown of five education issues worth tuning in to as you consider candidates’ education platforms — whether they’re running for school board, the Legislature or any other public office. 

1. School funding shortfalls 

It doesn’t matter if you live in the Twin Cities, the suburbs or Greater Minnesota — schools districts have come to rely on voter-approved referendums to help cover everything from building upgrades to general operating costs. And residents in property-poor districts get hit harder than those in property-rich districts — meaning they often pay more in taxes to support a school funding ask of equal or lesser amount than one in a district with a high-value property tax base. 

Over the years, the Minnesota Legislature has increased education spending, a bucket that already accounts for a large segment of the state budget. But those increases have fallen far short of the special education costs and inflationary expenses that districts are on the hook to cover. That often means cuts to programming and staff and increased class sizes. It also means schools are strapped when it comes to adding more school counselors, mental health workers and other student support staff. 

During the upcoming legislative session, expect to hear a lot of familiar pitches about the need to address chronic school funding shortfalls. Then there’s this bit of foreshadowing, from Denise Specht, president of the state’s teachers union: “Education Minnesota plans to be walk-out ready by March 1, 2021. No matter what the outcome of Election 2020, we WILL be demanding full funding for public education.”

2. Keeping students safe

From active shooter drills to hiring more school resource officers to fortifying school entrances — by adding secure entry vestibules and shatter-proof glass and the like — schools across the state are taking added measures to keep students safe from school shootings. 

On the preventive end, they are also working to build out mental health supports for students. But demand continues to far outpaces supply in Minnesota, home to one of the worst school-counselor-to-student ratios in the nation. Watch for more efforts to bring these resources into schools, where they’re able to reach students who might otherwise struggle to access mental health services on their own. 

These student support teams are proving critical when it comes to tackling another emerging health crisis in schools: vaping. The state of Minnesota recently announced that it’s suing Juul for targeting youth in its marketing of e-cigarette products. Meanwhile, schools are scrambling to curb the rising vaping epidemic that’s impacting their students. 

3. Persistent discipline disparities 

Across the state, 41 school districts and charter schools have entered into agreements with the Minnesota Department of Human Right to address exclusionary discipline disparities in subjective categories, like bullying and disruptive conduct. 

As district leaders meet to share best practices — things like restorative practices and professional development opportunities to help teachers become more culturally and linguistically responsive — and dig into their discipline data, two districts flagged by the department have refused to enter into any such agreement: Walker-Hackensack-Akeley and the state’s largest district, Anoka-Hennepin. Tune in for updates on how this effort progresses in 2020.

Then, on the heels of news reports out of Chicago illustrating how seclusion rooms — empty, locked time-out rooms — are being abused, expect to hear a lot more pushback from advocates and parents who say they’ve had similar experiences with these rooms in Minnesota schools, often to the detriment of children with some of the most significant emotional and behavioral disorders. 

4. School choice debate 

Minnesota has long been a leader on a number of choice-related education initiatives, including chartering, open-enrollment and the adoption of PSEO programs. As the Twin Cities become increasingly saturated with charter schools, however, both the Minnepolis and St. Paul districts continue to see their student enrollments decline, along with the state and federal dollars that follow each student. 

This financial pinch has left some leaders in St. Paul calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, along with the expansion of any existing ones. Charter advocates are pushing back, defending charters that are successfully serving minority students through a culturally affirming learning environment.

These culturally affirming enclaves are also under scrutiny by critics who allege they have contributed to the resegregation of urban schools. In these matters, school leaders and lawmakers alike would be wise to focus on the experiences of students and families who are seeking out these alternative public school options as they tackle ongoing integration efforts.

5. Reimagining high schools

Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has spent quite a bit of time on the road, visiting with educators and students across the state. One of her top take-aways? It’s time to reimagine the high school experience. 

This shift has already been taking place in districts across the state, in various ways and on different scales. One of the most obvious transformations is the adoption of the academies model, a restructuring of course offerings that encourages students to develop a specialty and even some career experience or credentials as they move through secondary school. 

Schools are also developing more hands-on partnerships with local businesses that can offer expertise and mentorship experiences for students in the trades and other hard-to-staff area. 

Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/27/2019 - 12:50 pm.

    Is “hope and change” a part of the redundant and increasingly more expensive trickle down education model?

    I hope we could have real “hope and change” by funding kids first!

    • Submitted by karim tan on 12/28/2019 - 04:56 am.

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    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/28/2019 - 06:24 am.

      “I hope we could have real “hope and change” by funding kids first!”

      If by that you mean ensuring the money favors what’s best for kids before considering the demands of the public school employee unions, I agree 100% sir.

      • Submitted by scott gibson on 12/30/2019 - 10:13 am.

        What exactly do you think a school is, if not its employees? Schools are a people business. It’s not the brick and mortar structure, it is the people.
        They have the students’ best interest at heart, regardless of what you cynically think. They don’t make widgets. Also, by your previous comments, I doubt you have kids of your own, anyway. In small towns, public schools are the vibrant center of community life. I work with faculty who home-school their own kids for part of their learning lives, but still enthusiastically teach in and support public schools. It certainly isn’t a money grab and it certainly isn’t an either-or situation.

        • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/01/2020 - 03:17 pm.

          Scott, I hope you are talking about an ideal school that actually does exist in this time. As a student in the 1960’s, I witnessed the principal of Emmett D. Williams Elementary School, of Shoreview, MN, both goose-step kicking one of the Thelen boys down the auditorium where our lunch was served; and I later witnessed this deranged employee bashing one of the Thelen boys’ heads against the ceramic brick wall in several attempts to “correct” whatever behavior my friend was alleged to have committed. I knew the boy as a considerate person.

          At at earlier time, at Lauderdale Elementary School in Lauderdale, MN (the school is now a church), the “lunch lady” told me that I could not have my watch, a gift from my dad, because other students did not have a watch. I believe this Yayhoo-woman was a product of socialist idealism and possibly had read Mao-Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book. She stole the watch from me, as young and shy boy who acquiesced to whomever appeared to have “authority” in an environment.

          Time does not always advance ideal behavior in so-called educational leaders. While my friend, Dr. John B. Davis, Jr., was Minneapolis Public School’s superintendent in the 1970’s, now long deceased, his spouse, Joy, asked me to carry on his legacy.

          I am now disabled and not working, but my hope is that we can develop school systems that advance the curiosity and intelligence of those children who crave education and teach, at least, good manners in those children who lack family role models who can advance these young citizens to a productive and happy status as they age.

          I make the following observations and suggestions:

          As a college student, I found that the primary and secondary school systems failed a number of students and police officers who either beat me silly over a two year period; or, who said they “…would neither investigate nor arrest anyone on my behalf because {I am} mentally ill [depression and anxiety] and bring on my own problems [which I did not: the students harassed and assailed me while I was engaged in reading in a dormitory lobby or walking alone and in a civilized manner through University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus].”

          My grades, due to both the problems with anxiety and low energy [depression], and both the beatings and the problems I had with irresponsible campus employees to the mid-management level, have left me at a financial low-point, despite growing up in favorable conditions, being a white male from an upper-middle class environment and having also attended boarding and cultural schools in Europe [Norway] and Central America [Costa Rica, in an embassy neighborhood] where I was not beaten or ignored and had a high grade point average.

          Teaching mental health awareness should be mandated by the state, as should be teaching pleasant personal boundaries.

          Due to the weakness of education on civilized behavior and civics, I have left society, for the most part, as I no longer know who I can trust. I do not have problems with “paranoia,” which is a delusional belief of persecution. I have experienced persecution that can be identified in clear and accurate histories. I am otherwise a considerate and enthusiastic man in my late fifties, and I teach Chinese medical professionals how to speak English with proficiency and a reduction of their accents. I border living in poverty to lower-middle class.

          We need to prepare our students for all that they will be responsible for knowing as they age and enter independent living. This includes math, English, second and third languages (as desired), social studies/civics as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts advises, science and creative writing, physical education and artistic expression [the last two having been left out of curricula in many school districts for many years as our society becomes evermore obese].

          We must advance each child’s curiosity by rewarding them when they show an interest in a subject — even if they are not showing extensive proficiency at their age level, as many students have learning disabilities.

          The money we pay in taxes for public education is seen around us in lower crime rates when the education has been successful. It is seen in high adult productivity upon leaving formal education either at high school, college or graduate school levels.

          We must understand that we must offer salaries that draw in the best teachers not only in the the highest income neighborhoods, but throughout the state.

          One of my students grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in China. Her family’s wealth was taken from her and they were sent to a poor village to live and work. She grew up in the worst of conditions, but took an interest in science, and today has a Master’s degree, a PhD, and an MD.

          This is to say that even in a Communistic environment, teachers led the way for my student, who was often teased for her Mongolian accent, as she was born in Mongolia and later moved to China, and managed to focus on her studies, having received her first medical training in China; her Master’s level training in Tokyo, Japan; her PhD training at Albert Einstein Medical College in New York, NY; and her MD training at St. James Medical College in Chicago.

          Providing our school districts with adequate funding, through both property taxation and state income tax and sales tax revenues is imperative; and with federal funds, as may be available under Betsy DeVos’ U.S. Department of Education.

          This is not “Socialism” as a dirty word, this what is necessary to make certain that our society continues to develop in a manner that is enjoyable for all — both rich and poor.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 12/27/2019 - 02:38 pm.

    Any shot at 2 big changes? Same rules for every student in every class, do not disturb the learning environment. Second, actually teach children the basics of reading, writing, math and learning how to learn. Please do not shuffle students thru the money machine of public schools. Try to teach children the basic learning skills they will need to be a productive, working citizen.

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/28/2019 - 06:29 am.

      Many parents that agree with you sir, have taken to home schooling their kids. Home schooling is a growing movement, and the record of academic achievement of home schooled students speaks to its success.

      Watching politically connected adults enrich themselves at the expense has simply become too much to bear for many of us. Forcing positive change through shunning has a long, rich tradition in American society.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/28/2019 - 09:50 pm.

        Ah yes, listening to the paragons of “freedom” expound on the virtues of indoctrinating their children in isolation from their peers is a hoot to be sure. The better to ensure good little conservative drones, I’m sure.

        • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/30/2019 - 05:26 am.

          I can think of no greater expression of freedom than parents raising their children as they wish, sir. That you frame it with scare quotes astonishes me. That you call children raised in freedom “drones” saddens me.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/30/2019 - 09:03 am.

            Raising children to be clones of their parents is the peak of narcissism, the children maintain no “freedom”. You should be saddened that conservatism has so little appeal to the future that you must trap and confine your children to pass it on.

            • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/01/2020 - 07:25 pm.

              This is a note on how children are “raised to be clones” of narcissistic parents.

              I was just enjoying a pizza with a 79-year old friend of mine, a Nichiren Buddhist who practices with the facilitation of leaders from both http://www.sgi.org and http://www.sgi-usa.org, and who taught junior high school students for many years.

              Concerned that I write too much in my entries on MinnPost, I had him read my earlier comments from this article on education in Minnesota. We began to talk about how his daughter is considering having her kids home-schooled.

              We talked about how precocious most kids are — even when they don’t do well in school. I offered that most kids can see through the bullshit that their parents provide, when it is apparent. My friend agreed, noting that kids have their own minds, and do not always become “clones” of their parents…even though they may look up to parents whose B.S. is nonetheless ripe and annoying.

              So, I wouldn’t agree with anyone who says that all kids are going to grow up to have attitudes just like their parents. Many do, and many never learn critical thinking skills, for which there should be mandatory instruction in both home-schooling and schooling in public, private, or magnate schools. Certainly, those of us who attended college, if we got at least average grades, learned how to think in a critical fashion and taught to make decisions on what we read and hear or observe.

              Mary Cathryn Ricker, Commissioner of Education in Minnesota, and state legislators, please take note.

            • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/02/2020 - 05:30 am.

              That which appeals to children is very often harmful to them; any parent knows this.

              Shielding kids from the moral rot of popular culture in America, while inculcating them with the joy and satisfaction of higher thinking is the work of a dedicated parent, sir.

              Some will say there is as much a place in the world for the twerking entertainer as the symphony orchestra. Many of us believe that is only true because of the destruction of civility. Shielding our future generation is part and parcel of repairing it.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/02/2020 - 09:42 am.

                Good to know conservatives are prone to the same mistakes as the rest of us. Hint, you don’t change a society by withdrawing from it, you simply isolate yourself. But hey, as that’s in the better interest of everyone, have at it. Your children will rebel against your cloistering in any event, and when they do, they’ll be less likely to fall back into old habits when you make the alternative so appealing.

              • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/02/2020 - 11:21 am.

                Popular culture is available in the privacy of one’s home. Popular culture may also include statements and behaviors of so-called Christian parent who preach the word, but who do not follow it. It is also found in homes where extreme political views are held.

                • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/03/2020 - 09:19 am.

                  “Popular culture is available in the privacy of one’s home.”

                  Speak for yourself, sir. I know many parents who “pulled the plug” on cable television, and who never allowed their children anywhere near the open cesspool we call the internet.

                  Books and carefully chosen, age appropriate recorded movies are the “pop-culture” choice of parents who wish their kids to become, stable, well adjusted adults. I know this because, I was one of them.

      • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/01/2020 - 04:03 pm.

        Connor, noting that some politically connected people get ahead at the expense of others in a non-starter for me. My family has been politically connected since before we moved to the Lowry Hill Neighborhood in Minneapolis.

        Despite this, I was beaten, sexually molested three times, raped once, and police at University of Minnesota ignored my pleas for help when I went to them with stories of being chronically beaten, as a pacifist, on campus property in Minneapolis.

        There are politically connected people who are wealthier than most, but not the wealthiest — and then Mike Bloomberg, who offers millions of dollars to philanthropy (as do most highly wealthy people), who make recommendations and offer their time to society at no fee.

        Your focus on the “connected” and ruthless avatar of connected people is, for me, a concern which indicates that you have not branched out to meet people outside of your current circle. I may be wrong, but I hope you will examine this element of your thinking and relating to others. For me, it has become offensive.

        • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/02/2020 - 05:36 am.

          I’m very sorry to hear of your harrowing experience at college, sir. Isn’t it sad your story has become such a common one in the current year?

          I think you agree we can trace the roots of it to the rise of lefty radicals in academia in the 1960’s.

          • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/02/2020 - 04:03 pm.

            Connor, I appreciate your sympathy. I will note that like all things, with support of family and friends, which I did not have, and with a great therapist, which I continue to have, trauma is reduced to bad memories that can be ignored.

            The two people who harassed me were first generation Americans from Vietnam. I was a close friend to the main character’s brother, a top medical student.

            The family was not in the United States in the 1960’s. The young man who was primarily involved in harassing and beating me came into a restaurant where I was seated, after an order for restraint was issued to him. He was with his beautiful girlfriend and intent on having a pleasant time with her.

            As he was seated next to me, I at one point got down on one knee, put my hand on his left shoulder, and told him in a kind voice that I would not embarrass him in front of his girlfriend, but that he was in violation of the Order.

            I told him that his actions had led to a great distraction during both the time of his unsavory behavior, and as the days, weeks, and months wore on. I mentioned that he had ruined my grade point average, but that I would survive.

            I told him, in all sincerity, that I understood the difficulty he had growing into a peaceful young man, as living with three generations of family — some of whom understood the “American culture” and others who held to their native language and culture, was very difficult. I told him, very quietly, that I forgave him. He never bothered me again.

            My education led me to read many things from many different thought and cultural leaders. My forgiveness was modeled after the late Pope John II, a hero of mine despite my not being Catholic.

            The pope forgave a Muslim man for trying to assassinate him and putting several bullets into his body. Years later that man converted from Islam to Catholicism. I don’t see the point in vindicating people — only calling them on their behavior in a kind manner, as characters in history and novels that I’ve read have done. This is the point of a strong literary education and leading to a strong liberal arts education at the college level.

            The book that I credit for first teaching me to empathize with people and think about where they are coming from in their obnoxious and hurtful behavior was read in tenth grade. The book is called “The Catcher in the Rye,” about a black man who was accused of a crime he did not commit.

            The “N-word” is used several times in the book, which has it banned in many school districts — which I find appalling. I do not care to use that language, but the story was written in a sympathetic manner to tell the story of this man and his trials and tribulations. It speaks out against racism, and is a well-developed story which should be told in schools, as Black people still often get the but-end of extremists’ judgmental behavior.

            Some educators and politicians, and some families, want to ban words even if they have a productive and enlightening affect on young readers. This, I believe, is a shame, and should be corrected.

            For those of you who are interested in become school board members, legislators, and school administrators, I hope you will read into my comment and recognize how some well-meannig people are blind to the greatness of stories which tell of racism, and which teach us how to care for the under-dogs in society who are adversely affected by racism.

            • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/02/2020 - 04:10 pm.

              Note, if the story of my having been beaten, and then forgiving the main character is published, I must say that I meant “I don’t see the point of VILLIFYING” people. I used the word “VINDICATE” which means to clear someone of something, which I hope I did with the main character after the scene in the restaurant.

  3. Submitted by mark nupen on 01/01/2020 - 11:21 am.

    Most Minnesotans are not aware of how common ‘illiteracy’ is among students and if often multigenerational. Early reading was not taught at these homes. Also in these homes is frequently a ‘feeling of failure’ or ‘worthlessness’. We forget or not aware of that. For some of these kids, getting ‘kicked out of school’ is a coping mechanism. 60% of prison inmates and 80% of kids in juvenile detention have very poor reading skills. There is a connection here!
    Need to approach these kids differently than only ‘work ethic’ approach. The latter does not work and makes everything worse for everyone, especially increased costs to society!!
    Teachers cannot alone deal with this and need to include a variety of support people for these students. I advocate recruiting ‘people of same culture as the troubled student’ to work and counsel the basics and help give these kids confidence that they can succeed in school and ‘life’. They often cannot get this at home because their parents often are experiencing the same history and problems.
    We Citizen Voters need to make smart, not the IGNORANT CHOICES: eg.
    “One Size Fits All” and “Obey” and “If you just work harder”, etc. It may cost a little more in school but will SAVE enormously the future!

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 01/01/2020 - 04:08 pm.

      Mark, your perspective is well taken by, at least, myself. It hits on one of the concerns I have but did not state in my earlier comment (above, if the moderator allowed the lengthy comment).

      Thank you for your very accurate and prescient evaluation of reality.

  4. Submitted by Jim Mork on 01/01/2020 - 01:40 pm.

    I’m waiting for journalists and educators to address a very sensitive but crucial issue: Homes. The homes of America have been in steady decline compared to the 1950’s when I was being educated. There has been a campaign against intelligence, in a way Thomas Jefferson would have feared. Democracy and ignorance are incompatible. What is the home experience for children today? Video games? Khardashians? And yet we expect children to arrive at school eager to become intelligent? When a whole society endorses ignorance, taxes for education are mostly wasted. And NO one seems willing to address this, including school board members I’ve challenged. I guess it is not “political” to speak truth about voters. But surely Minnpost isn’t courting voters, what is the excuse of Minnpost to just pretend this elephant isn’t in the room?

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/01/2020 - 08:46 pm.

      “Political” no. Offensive, arrogant, and intellectually lazy, yes. Accusing others of being less intelligent, motivated, or in any way “lesser” than oneself is social commentary as old as time, that its ignored is not really a surprise, as there is no real way to meet the expectations of one who seeks the world to conform to their own singular vision. Though the kids did create a rather funny retort to it, you may have heard, it starts with OK?

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