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Minnesota’s ever-evolving P-12 school system is no dinosaur

There has been perpetual innovation, invention and change in public education since its outset.

school lockers
Will the Legislature permit local boards to change schooling? This question was a recent headline on an opinion piece in MinnPost’s Community Voices.  Here’s an answer to that question.

The gaps in achievement are indeed real and are absolutely being addressed on a daily basis across the state in multiple ways, far beyond what is referred to as tinkering.

In Minnesota our P-12 education system serves most students exceedingly well, while unfortunately missing some. The system is not perfect, but it is not even remotely a dinosaur. The model worked exceptionally well in the 20th century; some would contend it was and continues to be a vital foundation block of our democracy that led the U.S. to world leadership in science, industry, and commerce.

Achievement gaps by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status of course exist in the most increasingly diverse nation on the planet. But far be it that we continue to use the same model as it was originally established and implemented. Inherent in its complexity is the continuous evolution of its existence and effectiveness by research-based innovation and programmatic transformation.

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The 20th-century system included seat time, periods, days per year, credits, grades, common standards, and assessment models that, again, proved effective in preparing a workforce that became the international standard for success. People continue to immigrate to America for a reason. They seek success. Our education model was unquestionably a beacon to which many have been beckoned.

Perpetual innovation

Our academic standards have long since evolved from small bites of rote memorization to those of critical thinking, analysis and inquiry. Students today still must master basic building blocks of general knowledge, but are far from being held back to flash cards and chalk dust as a means to provide that foundation. There has been perpetual innovation, invention and change in public education since its outset. Students in fact are more prepared today than they’ve ever been to pursue their postsecondary or workforce plans. Gaps in achievement spur innovation and efforts to close those gaps and are a daily challenge and pursuit of educators in every school across the state. To imply otherwise is simply just not true.

The pandemic has hopefully brought to full cognizance the pressing necessity and importance of face-to-face human connections in public education. The public education system, despite its ongoing challenges to successfully address individual developmental academic success, definitively provides opportunities for personalized relationships, mental health supports, and social-emotional connections that undeniably cannot be made and strengthened via screen time. There is no substitute for in-person educational interactions nuanced through eye contact, facial expressions, body language and returning a smile for a job well done.

Truth is:

Students are engaged throughout our P-12 public education system to address systemic racism, climate change and every challenge humans face in the future. Students do have a significant role in learning how to improve their community. Great teachers make certain of it.

Personalized profiles of a graduate are already being developed reflecting a more holistic definition of success. Individualizing educational outcomes is ongoing and inherent in the system. Great teachers make certain of it. The economy has certainly been positively impacted by a diverse set of successful people who failed within the public education system – but far more so by multitudes who succeeded.

Outcomes are evaluated

Counting credits and giving grades actually does evaluate outcomes. Students regularly demonstrate their learning in multiple ways however, allowing them to pursue their passions and purpose. Great teachers make certain of it.

Gary Friedlieb
Gary Friedlieb
There are no barriers to local educational innovation as school boards in fact have autonomy and flexibility to enact policy that best serves its student population. A recent consolidation of three northeastern Minnesota school districts has led to a $180 million (+) referendum that will result in the building of a brand new academy-based high school empowering the communities to pursue agreed-on student outcomes geared to the economic base poised to hire graduates who will have been educated, trained and interned in specific trades and skills necessitated by the industries.

It is simply not true that the P-12 public education system in Minnesota is a dinosaur. It is anything but an extinct life form. The P-12 public education system is a foundation block that is a cornerstone of our democracy and continues to make our country the envy of the world economically, culturally, militarily, politically, and technologically. Our perpetually changing, innovating, evolving P-12 public education system is dedicated to the pursuit that the needs, aspirations, and aptitudes of each and every student are fulfilled. Great teachers make certain of it.

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Not a bureaucratic entity

Never lose sight of the fact that our P-12 public education system is made up of people. It is not some beastly bureaucratic entity that has remained the same and is now somehow obsolete and antiquated. On the contrary, teachers entering the field are better trained than they’ve ever been. Research into best practices and pedagogy are ongoing and impacting. Technological advances are being integrated readily and students are better prepared for their futures now than they’ve ever been. And it’s not because of some “system.” It is because of people: dedicated professional educators who go to work each day because they believe in the system, but mostly because they believe in the promise of their students. They believe in those kids and they make every effort to ensure that each and every one of them is acknowledged, valued, and loved. Great teachers make certain of it.

Don’t continue to believe a word about how Minnesota’s P-12 public education system is in dire straits and radical change is imminent. Minnesota’s P-12 public education system leads the nation in many respects. No, it is not perfect, nor will it ever be. Some students will inevitably continue to fall through the cracks, but I assure you every effort will continue to be made to narrow those cracks so fewer and fewer will fit through. Great teachers will make certain of it.

Gary Friedlieb is a retired K-12 administrator in the St. Louis County Schools, Virginia, Minnesota.

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