Minnesota Commissioner of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Dear Commissioner Cassellius:
Congratulations on the end of the shutdown. I don’t know what kind of joy juice is stocked in the department’s vending machines, but Twitter has been on fire with DOE people who are pretty pleased to be back at work. Really.
Say, I couldn’t help but notice that under the terms of the K-12 compromise you get to name half the members of the panel that will figure out the state’s bottom line on the new teacher-evaluation system.
That’s a hot potato — and even if it weren’t, no small task. Particularly given that right now, few districts actually conduct regular evaluations. On top of which you have to figure out how to base 35 percent of teacher evaluations on student assessments that don’t yet exist.
And, not that you won’t navigate this just fine, but you know anything you come up with is likely to draw the ire of virtually all of those bellicose camps ringing the Capitol building.
A modest proposal, if you’ll allow me to step outside the Fourth Estate’s usual boundaries: Why not appoint St. Paul Federation of Teachers President Mary Cathryn Ricker to head your working group?
Yes, she’s a union head, and we all know that means she eats puppies and keeps a trident under the cloaks she makes of their pelts. But her main concern upon hearing about the mandated evaluations had nothing to do with work rules; she didn’t want Minnesota to miss an opportunity to create a system that nurtured excellent teaching. Like some of the programs she’s created in her home district, and some of the ones her colleagues in places like St. Francis have implemented.
Plus, she’d dance a pretty circle right around the other half of the panel, who will be named by House and Senate GOP leaders. I mean, this is the woman who explained to the Chamber of Commerce last spring that its plan to legislate a two-year timeline for firing bad teachers would actually slow the process down.
You know what she said that killed that little policy salvo? “Why would you force any child to live with a bad teacher for two years?”
She enjoys such stature that last weekend she spoke for the entire American Federation of Teachers at the Save Our Schools march in Washington, D.C., and then came home to continue working on such not-at-all-small initiatives as helming one of a handful of sites where the Common Core Standards are being piloted and celebrating the success of Career Teacher, her union’s homegrown version of alternative certification, which is retraining midcareer minorities to teach in under-populated specialties.
I’m telling you, Ricker is the Pied Piper of opportunity. If there’s anyone who can take your political football and turn it into a win for teachers and taxpayers alike, it’s Ricker.
Sure, this portfolio means she’s busy-busy. But I bet if you strapped a sandwich board emblazoned with the word “potential” to a second-grader and walked him into her office, she’d be putty in your hands.
I realize you’re busy yourself, what with getting the department up and running, processing the backlog of teacher licenses and free-lunch reimbursements and dealing with the shifts necessitated by The Shift. So do give some thought to lightening your load by giving Ricker a call (or a Tweet), and try to enjoy what’s left of summer break!