Repub guv nominee Tom Emmer wants to implement new tests that will measure both student performance and teacher effectiveness and use the results to pay the best teachers more and to get rid of the weak ones. (His actual term for what he would like to see happen to those ineffective teachers was: “counsel that teacher into a career change.”)
On the day after Emmer made big news by releasing the categorical spending limits in the no-new-taxes budget he will propose if he becomes governor, Emmer shifted to an outline of what he says will be one of his top two priorities: education reform. (The other is job creation.)
His education agenda will put him at odds with Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, on many points, and although there was little rhetorical red meat in his presentation today at the U of M’s Humphrey Institute, he did make clear that the union will have several fights on its hands if he wins the election.
During the Q-and-A session at the Humphrey, Emmer acknowledged that “the thousand-pound gorilla in the room” is the fact that the teachers’ union wields great political power — and its leaders are not kindly disposed to his ideas about making it easier to pay some teachers more, fire others and create pathways to the profession for some who have not gone through traditional teacher training.
Here are some of Emmer’s ideas for “redesigning” education:
• Set high standards and create tests to measure students’ mastery, especially in math, science and reading, which are the keys to job growth. Emmer embraces the saying “What gets measured will get done.”
• He wants to publicize results (not clear how this differs from the way current test results are publicized) and use them not only to keep kids on track but to identify underperforming schools and give parents more options to go elsewhere.
• Emmer strongly advocates performance-based pay for teachers, presumably based on the test results of the kids they teach. “The rewards should be real, tangible, and — yes – unequal,” he said.
• Rather than teachers gaining lifetime tenure through seniority, those whose students test poorly over a period of several years would get canned.
• He favors “alternative teacher licensure” making it easier for those with expertise in substantive areas (his example was a “chemist from 3M”) but who did not go through academic training in education to become K-12 classroom teachers. But he also favors tougher tests for teacher licensure.
• Emmer thinks the state imposes too many mandates on schools and teachers. He would like to create a special status for schools that are trying to teacher harder-to-educate students. He calls them “empowerment zones,” in which the administration would have special freedom to deviate from mandates imposed by the union contract and from PELRA, the state law that protects the rights of public employees, including teachers.
• Emmer called the state’s failure to reduce the performance gap between white and black students “unconscionable.” One idea to address it would be state scholarships to send some kids to state-sanctioned preschools.
Speaking to a U of M audience that included many students, Emmer didn’t shrink from acknowledging that his Tuesday budget plan included a $400 million cut – not a cut in the proposed growth, but an absolute cut from the previous biennial budget – for higher education.
Emmer said that “this new era of fiscal restraint must not mean being reconciled to what we have today.” I gather that was a general recommendation of doing more with less. He specified that the University of Minnesota “absolutely has challenges” to maintain excellence despite shrinking budgets.