‘Tis the season to make lists, check them twice and still find yourself running out for more eggs before the stores close.
Word at MinnPost HQ is that in coming days you’ll be treated to a number of number-packed, year-end wrap-ups. Given Learning Curve’s irritating need to be teacher’s pet, we’re getting started a little early.
And then, following a more substantive Friday story we know you’ll check back for, Your Humble Blogger will be taking some time off to hang with her two favorite students, who have been furloughed by Minneapolis Public Schools.
Without further ado:
The Top Seven Minnesota Education Stories of 2011
1. The 60-40 Shift: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty got away with using accounting tricks to balance the budget year after year in part because when you start throwing around terms like unallot and de-linking from the formula most people zone out. But 40 percent is perilously close to half, and seems to be the tipping point at which the citizenry understands, with crystal clarity, how a shift — the withholding of a portion of the state’s funding for schools — adds up to a cut in practice.
2. Bullies, the bullied and bystanders: Elsewhere a steady drumbeat of headlines about suicides among bullied kids finally makes itself heard over rhetorical white noise, albeit at horrific cost. A glaring exception is Minnesota’s largest system, Anoka-Hennepin School District, where the toll is high enough to qualify as a suicide contagion area.
3. Mark “Machiavelli” Dayton: I suspect we still don’t know the extent of the crafty concessions our mild-mannered governor built into the quid pro quo he demanded in exchange for the shift. While everyone else at the Capitol during the session’s waning days was cloistered in smoke-filled rooms, Dayton seems to have been actually reading the bills.
4. The GOP’s Overreach: All hail our GOP lawmakers who, on the verge of getting teacher contract reform, alternative licensure and a host of other items they’ve pushed for for years, overreach so spectacularly that two-thirds of voters end up blaming them for the shutdown.
6. Deadlocks and Executive End-Runs: Faced with lawmakers who refused to make law, both Dayton and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan fell back on existing law to issue executive orders that essentially let them get on with business. Here at home, that means the creation of a statewide quality ratings system for early ed programs. At the federal level, it means No Child Left Behind, which Congress just can’t figure out how to reform, may become irrelevant.
7. The Anti-Levy Lobby: Or overreach No. 2: In an unprecedented campaign to get voters to reject the school-district levy requests that will help keep the lights on despite the shift, statehouse GOP leaders insist schools got a windfall this year. Voters, who understand things like 40-kid classes and four-day school weeks, turn out in favor of the referenda in unprecedented ways.
My Personal Favorites of 2011
The Revolution Began in St. Francis: I spend days on painstaking research — and let me tell you, research on assessment and evaluation metrics is s-e-x-y stuff — and a small fortune on travel to exurbia to profile the educator-beloved, union-created, teacher-evaluation system in bucolic St. Francis, which is actually driving increased achievement, and Osama bin Laden turns up dead the morning the story runs.
This is reporter hell, people. If any of you love me even just a little, read this story for posterity.
You can so fire teachers — and darn fast and humanely: Another myth busted by a progressive union local that sees student welfare as job one and has figured out how to help the unhappy and underperforming find new gigs.
Shutdown Settlement Recap/Handicap: Because you know what’s more fun than reading 148 pages of legislation? Wait — OK, so pretty much anything is more fun than that. But what is fun, in a geeky kind of way, is reading 148 pages of legislation and imagining, down to the insane subdivision that actually lays out that elementary school teachers shall concern themselves with literacy, exactly who threw what into the sausage-maker.
The Top Six Education Stories I Anticipate Reporting in 2012
1. After years of stalemated contract negotiations, Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, currently engaged in “interests-based” [read: kinder, gentler] talks sing Kumbaya. Parents, policymakers and the MPS administrators who need contract reform fume.
2. Will No Child Left Behind ever be reformed? This time last year, Republican Rep. John Kline had a plan to control the long-awaited overhaul of the nation’s guiding education reform law, and the political capital to carry it out. Or so he thought until Doppelganger Duncan attacked one flank and the Tea Party the other.
3. Online education: Good or bad? Conservatives like it because they think it’s cheap, which, done well, it really isn’t. Wall Street likes it because the private variety can deliver eye-popping returns. Reformers want to experiment with it because of its possibility for tailoring instruction to individual students. Educators and learners? Meh.
4. The painful contraction of Minnesota’s charter sector begins. Schools that are likely doomed have been howling, but more than a year after the state passed the nation’s first, toughest charter quality reform act, the rubber is likely to meet the road for persistent underperformers. Expect louder howling.
At the same time, expect more news about the much smaller number of charters that deliver great outcomes and the rush of mainline school administrators who want to know how.
5. Teacher evaluations: The fine print. How do you measure the impact a teacher has on an individual learner in a way that’s meaningful and helpful to both? How do you do so in a way that’s geared both toward rewarding great teachers and learning from them? To — gasp! — making teaching a better profession?
Done right, this could be revolutionary. Done poorly, it could be NCLB redux. Either way, it will be done.
6. The lament of the overstuffed classroom. Once upon a time, it was just kids in the big, bad cities who sat in window wells and hallways and had no idea what a field trip was. Now, it’s lots of middle- and upper-class pupils and it’s hard to think their referenda-willing parents won’t revolt at some level.