Obama’s school proposals challenge the education establishment; what will Northfield do?

nea-obamaI wonder how Northfield’s public education leaders will react to President Obama’s $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund competition. So far, the NEA is not happy. Among other reasons, they really don’t like charter schools, a fact noted by the Sunday Washington Post editorial titled Charter Success: Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased (reprinted in the Strib today with the watered-down title More proof that charter schools work). More background: (continued)

Last week, Washington Post Staff Writer Nick Anderson wrote: Unions Criticize Obama’s School Proposals as ‘Bush III’

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration’s first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag.

Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools — all are integral to President Obama’s $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser.

The administration’s proposed rules for the grants challenge the education establishment on several fronts:

  • To create systems to track individual student achievement over time and link growth in scores to individual teachers and principals;
  • To use those data in part to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals;
  • To lift limits on independently operated but publicly funded charter schools, which usually are not unionized; and
  • To shake up perennially struggling schools identified through No Child Left Behind.

Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus titled her column last week: Obama’s Quiet Success on Schools. It also ran in the Strib here.

47 thoughts on “Obama’s school proposals challenge the education establishment; what will Northfield do?”

  1. This will be an interesting year in education.

    On top of, or in conjunction with, the apparent support of the President of the U.S. (yes, I know, a Democrat who not just says he supports charter schools, they all do that, but one who actually put teeth to it) with his appointment of Arne Duncan as the Secretary of Education and the emphasis placed on resources to charter schools, we are faced with the irony of having a Republican Governor, who has always indicated his support of charter schools, having deferred 27% of general education funds to all public schools. And whether it is an unintended consequence or not, the deferral of aid has created a cash flow gap for charter schools which, without levying authority, have little to no opportunity to address. That’s not to say they won’t figure it out, but it has created an interesting set of challenges at the state level that seems contrary to the support from the federal level.

    Obviously, my response is tangential to the original post, but suffice to say, I will be watching closely the actions of education leaders in Northfield and Minnesota.

  2. Good to have you watching this and related issues, Leisa.

    I notice that you didn’t include a URL for yourself in your comment. Can you tell us what you’re up to these days? I assume you’re still championing charter schools somehow.

  3. Hi Griff, Yes, I am still out here supporting education choice for students and families. I own two companies that provide products and services to schools, primarily ALCs and Charters, although not exclusively ALCs and Charters. The larger of the two businesses is a CFO/Business Management services company. And hence, I spend the majority of my days helping schools manage their finances at the administration level; working with Principals, Directors, Boards, etc.

    This past June I organized a series of meetings with charter school leaders around financial management issues resulting from the 27% deferral of aid. Those meetings resulted in the formation of a new nonprofit, the Coalition for Charter School Management (a bit like MASBO, Mn Association of School Business Officials, but for charter schools). The website is under development.

    I feel very fortunate to live in a town where education is a valued part of the fiber of our community. And I sincerely appreciate that Locally Grown keeps us informed of the changes and issues facing Northfield’s education systems. Even when I wasn’t posting, I was reading. 🙂

  4. NY Times: Democrats and Schools, by Nicholas Kristof.

    Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

    President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that — and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.

    It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers.

  5. I’ll go out on a limb here, since I don’t expect I’ll ever be in a position of asking for the local teachers’ union endorsement again, and say that I pretty much agree with Kristof.

    At the moment, I’m the chair of the board of the Cannon River STEM School. As a charter school, it is nonunion. It is, however, a close-knit, supportive community in which everyone is dedicated to the growth and education of children in a supportive, engaging, and challenging environment. I’m a Democrat, but I find myself on the “wrong” side when it comes to charter schools, which Democrats generally dislike because they’re outside the union system and represent “school choice.” But I don’t consider myself on the wrong side. I’m on the side of educational excellence and innovation. Ironically, Cannon River STEM is in the tradition of “progressive” education: hands-on, child-centered, focused on educating children in real-world contexts. But “progressives” apparently back unions more strongly than they back progressive choices in education.

    I’ve also spent quite a bit of time working with homeschoolers, and it’s been a revelation to me to see extremely liberal-progressive homeschool families collaborating with evangelical homeschool families to assert their right to educate their own children. Tolerance and diversity in action. Education shouldn’t be about taking political sides. It should be about being on the side of our kids, and helping them to live in a complex world.

    We need strong public schools. I don’t think abolishing the union is the answer, but I know that the answer isn’t to shut off all sources of innovation or choice or change. The answer certainly isn’t to place the job security of drunk, abusive teachers above the welfare and education of children. I hope those cases are rare. It can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of a teacher as a teacher, which makes the whole issue of performance pay complex and contentious. It shouldn’t be hard to spot someone who’s a mean drunk in the classroom, or someone who has completely shut down and become dead wood. Yes, those people should be out.

  6. Great comment, Rob. I heartily agree.

    We’ve been fortunate here in Northfield that the school board has sponsored 3 charter schools (currently two).

    I would like to see more. I’ve often thought that a charter school that focused heavily on the trades would be successful here in Northfield. For example, this one has just been approved in Calif:

    http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/may/31/charter-school-would-focus-on-trades/

    http://www.acecharterhigh.org/

  7. I’d like to congratulate you, Rob, on ID’ing some of the positions that are often claimed to be ‘monolithic’ among Democrats, but in fact are not.
    Unions, homeschooling are issues that people tend to put in an ideological rigid box; IMO they have no place there.

    Our society is far too complex to say issues are rigidly owned by one political group or another. That way lies conflict and condemnation; not understanding.

    No matter what political or social group a person identifies with, I think most would say the consideration of their children’s best opportunities in education must be outside those simplistically identified boundaries.

  8. Rob: I love your post, and I heartily agree with every idea you raise. I particularly want to second the idea that one can care about kids and education and not support every fad or every idea or every teacher in the public schools. Too often, I feel, there’s this belief that if you criticize, you are anti-education or anti-union or anti-Democrat—and I think that sentiment is false.

  9. David Brooks in today’s NY Times: The Quiet Revolution.

    The news is good. In fact, it’s very good. Over the past few days I’ve spoken to people ranging from Bill Gates to Jeb Bush and various education reformers. They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.

    Over the summer, the Department of Education indicated that most states would not qualify for Race to the Top money. Now states across the country are changing their laws: California, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee, among others.

    It’s not only the promise of money that is motivating change. There seems to be some sort of status contest as states compete to prove they, too, can meet the criteria. Governors who have been bragging about how great their schools are don’t want to be left off the list.

    These changes mean that states are raising their caps on the number of charter schools. When charters got going, there was a “let a thousand flowers bloom” mentality that sometimes led to bad schools. Now reformers know more about how to build charters and the research is showing solid results.

  10. Griff (6) and Rob (5)

    I agree.

    I am glad we are getting serious about educating children.
    A good education is one the foundation for a well functioning society.

    The latest numbers from the NEA don’t look good when we compare our scores against the rest of the world.

    …and it’s not because due to lack of money.

  11. Well, when schools “create systems to track individual student achievement over time,” they certainly won’t be bringing attention to any particularly good student achievements:

    A Northfield High School teacher who posted the names and grades of students with the best test scores thought it was a good way to praise his high fliers and motivate the rest.

    Turns out it was against the law, according to state officials.

    http://www.startribune.com/local/south/70160782.html

     

    When I was in fifth(?) grade, the teacher put up a race track on the back wall of the room, and we each drew our own race cars, and tracked our progress in multiplication by moving our cars along the race track.   I suppose that kind of thing is right out under these rules.

    (I was never anywhere near first in that race, but I’m pretty sure that I was the first person in that cohort to finish Calculus 1.  I also had, IMHO, the coolest car on that track.  I mention this simply because I still remember that race, and the challenge that it presented.)

  12. Thanks for the alert on the test score posting story, Patrick. I’ve been following it for a few months via communications with a parent and hope to be able post more info about it later today.

  13. I was talking with a (Lakeville) teacher a couple weeks ago about this, and they commented on how much they have had to adjust their teaching methods to accommodate these guidelines.

    It sounds to me like good intentions taken too far.

    I suppose one solution would be  to post the best work, with the names rubbed out.  Could a teacher get a parent’s (and student’s) permission to post a good assignment anonymously?  Would even that be disallowed, since it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who wrote what?

    It’s all a bit curious.

  14. We now know where the teachers’ union stands on this:

    MPR: Minn. bid for part of education stimulus hits snag

    The state’s teachers union complained today that the Pawlenty administration is trying to use federal stimulus dollars to force schools to adopt the governor’s merit pay plan.

    Oddly, the Strib has an AP story with the exact same headline: Minn. bid for part of education stimulus hits snag

    Education MN has a press release: Education Minnesota proposes Race to the Top alternative that supports students, teachers

    Northfield teachers have opposed Q-Comp in the past so I’m assuming they’re standing behind the state union on this. Their web page has no info.

  15. I think we have about a third of our schools in Q-Comp. It would be great to hear from some of them about how it is working. We’ve had suditor reports, etc. but those deal with the nuts and bolts of the programs. I’d like to hear from some teachers, staff, students and administrators about how they think Q-Comp is working.

    If these schools are doing OK with the program then I don’t understand the teacher’s union fighting it…..other than that is the position they always seem to take on new reforms. How about some comments folks?

  16. The teachers and legislators that I have talked to are keeping an open mind on “Race to the Top.” I think it would be essential for Education Minnesota to be on board with the state’s application going forward, and I believe that can happen without endorsing Q-Comp as it is currently implemented. With another budget shortfall looming, the state would be foolish not to seek additional federal funding if available. MN has an excellent start on some of the reforms and innovation that “Race to the Top” is seeking. By the way, Rob, I am a strong supporter of Charter Schools and we have some of the best in the state here in District 25…I would love to visit the Cannon River STEM School sometime soon.

  17. I have always been a supporter of school reform, and by ‘reform’ I mean less control by distant overseers and more decision making by teachers who are closer to the needs of students. I am very interested in work done in Finland, where the status of teaching is much higher than here; and in the Edmonton school district where the central administration sees itself as an entity that provides services to the various schools in the district. In Edmonton, the schools are in charge of governance and how to spend their money. Administration must be lean and efficient and contracts with the schools to provide various services. Upper administration that tends to centralize decision making tends to grow itself and makes decisions that are standardized and don’t reflect the on the ground needs of diverse programs.

    In Finland, they have undergone a transformation to put teachers more and more in charge of curricula and decision making. This along with assisting with teachers getting Master’s Degrees increases their stature and respect.

    Reform that in the pursuit of accountability makes teaching more difficult and less connected to the day to day practices cannot succeed in improving schools. Accountability is important but I believe it is more useful to develop accountability systems that inform not only the public but teachers as well on how to address various needs. These systems need to be developed locally not by legislators.

    I have yet to see evidence that supports performance based accountability systems work. I have read much research that indicates it is counter productive.

    I would take issue with Mr. Kristoff’s comment that Griff quotes at the beginning of this stream. Yes, education is important to our fighting poverty, and yes we should not send students in poor communities to third rate schools; but I would caution those who believe that education is the sole answer to social change. Those who believe that it is simply a matter of linking pay to test scores don’t understand the complexity of educating students with greater needs. In order to improve those schools or to address economic inequity in our communities we need to address housing, nutrition and public health. This is why some inner city schools spend money on breakfast and outreach to homes. Until we see the needs and struggles of the poor as something we need to share in changing there will continue to be underinvestment in their communities and their children in light of the limited resources we continually run up against.

    In this state we need to address legislation passed in 1999 and 2000 that changed the way we fund schools. About a billion dollars was shifted to those schools who did not get state aid in the past because of their excellent tax base. Although, Gov. Ventura proposed a way to pay for it he could not get agreement from Sen. Majority leader, Roger Moe or House Majority leader, Tim Pawlenty, who both had their eyes on running for governor. Since then there has been a hole in our budget that until it’s filled will continually through us out of balance.

    It astounds me that we are constantly being told the richest nation in the world can’t afford to educate its children until you read in Business week that 50% of the wealth is controlled by 10% of the population, and 1% controls 27% of the wealth. (In Ecuador, I believe 47% of the wealth is controlled by 10% of the population.) Until we once again tax the wealthiest at a rate that is fair we will only further decline.

    But as to ‘Race to the Top,’ there could be good things in it. My impression of the Pawlenty administration’s proposal it is that is intent on using the funds to make permanent the so called Pawlenty reforms like Q-Comp. We talk about Q comp as though it were one cookie cutter program that is easily implemented in the schools that have adopted it. It is not. I think through the process of looking at what Q-Comp could offer many of the ideas of teacher improvement were implemented by the district without the funding. The reform of the pay structure proved too expensive even with the funds that would have come from the state as the board had decided not to levy for the local money. Opposition to the plan came mostly from teachers who saw the downside of the system being that it took them away from what they loved most about teaching – working with students. The extra money was not worth it in that sense. I heard very little discussion about merit pay.

    Much of the premises behind Pawlenty’s reforms support the idea that our education system should cost less and we need to squeeze teachers to give us more with less and use tests that are structured to prove that all Minnesota schools are failing. I think we should be sensitive to cost but not ignore that it is something we must invest in. We must also recognize that with our changing demographics there will be greater competition for the scarce dollars that come to state government. In recent years most departments in government are seeing declines in spending to meet the growing demands of health and human services, which is mostly meeting the growing needs of the elderly and disabled. Concerns we also cannot ignore.

    To come back to Finland for a moment, there efforts have given them the reputation of having the best schools in the world. I encourage you to check out what they are doing and it might help us see a different path in the ‘race to the top.’

  18. Senator Dahle and Representative Bly, thanks for chiming in here.

    Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) spoke at a recent Minnesota Meeting. Robyn Schein of the Minneapolis Foundation blogged about it: What We Learned from Mr. Canada (video here). She also blogged about HCZ a month earlier when NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the program.  Evidently the Northside Achievement Zone in North Minneapolis is modeled after HCZ.

    Schein wrote that Mr. Canada “laid out six critical principles that he has adopted and believes are applicable to educational reform in Minnesota.”

    David, the HCZ approach would seem to counter some of your assertions regarding teacher accountability, teacher pay, and student testing… as well as your larger point about the need to work on economic inequality.   School-based reforms such as this one evidently can lead to big changes.

    The HCZ charter school, Promise Academy, got rid of half its teachers after one year and another third the year after that. How does that square with your assertion that “systems need to be developed locally, not by legislators”?

    1. Griff,

      I quickly read through ‘What we learned from Mr. Canada’ and did not find any contradiction to what I was saying. Perhaps you could enlighten me about the contradictions. I don’t doubt that a school with a mission like this has to find the right mix of teachers dedicated to the mission they choose. Did the state legislature design the Harlem Children’s zone? Did they get rid of teachers and not replace them? Must be a small staff now. Or did they use state designed tests to eliminate teachers? Perhaps you could point me in the direction of how these decisions were made. Were the firings you describe related to test scores of students?
      What is meant by, ‘rigorous no excuses standards.’ There is a difference between identifying the problems you face and making adjustments to create better environments for success vs blaming the students for the problem or writing them off.

      It appears to me that these schools are doing what I suggested, making decisions based on the local needs and committing themselves to being successful. That is holding themselves accountable to a big task not being held accountable by some distant body that does not know the issues they face and does not inspire them to strive to reach the goal.

  19. It astounds me that we are constantly being told the richest nation in the world can’t afford to educate its children until you read in Business week that 50% of the wealth is controlled by 10% of the population, and 1% controls 27% of the wealth. (In Ecuador, I believe 47% of the wealth is controlled by 10% of the population.) Until we once again tax the wealthiest at a rate that is fair we will only further decline.

    You had me on your side until this paragraph. I can’t believe that you seriously think that more money equals better education??
    Or does the rich are at fault for the lack of opportunity for the poor??

    You can’t be serious.
    I have NEVER lived in a country where there is more opportunity then in the US and I have lived in Germany, Holland, Nigeria, Canada and the USA.

    I came here with less then a high school degree and two suit cases. All I had his hard work and a desire to suceed and I did this witout government help or the redistribution of wealth.

    If you want to suceed in this country you can do this in more than any other plce in the world. The great thing about America is, that nobody looks at your degree, your religion or your social status..people are willing to give you a chance based on you as a person and the things you can do.
    NEVER would have I been able toachieve in Germany what I was able to achieve in the USA.

    The American dream is not a myth it is there for you to grasp if you work HARD.

    You academics just kill me with your distorted view of the world.

  20. Wonderful comments Peter…thank you for sharing them. America, despite what many in it are saying today, is the finest country in the world for allowing an individual to achieve and soar to the highest level possible. The real issue is as you note “hard work and a desire to suceed” It does not work to create a society where hard work and a desire to succeed is replaced by ‘I want what you have, so I’ll take it.’The result is more and more takings and eventually we are facing anarchy or rebellion.

    Many are promoting the fix for everything—-health care, education, environmental issues—-is simply to ‘tax the rich’. That of course cannot be a real solution to anything as we will clearly run out of ‘rich’ people in short order. We saw this during the 2008 election when Joe Biden kept ratching down the ‘rich people’ level from $250,000 to $200,000 then finally $150,000. The real work has to be done in examining delivery systems, costs and needs. Or, if larger, more expensive and expansive government seems to be the answer for so many people, perhaps we should all just work for the government.

  21. Peter Millin”: I agree with you 100%. I could never have done in Britain what I have done here yet it is still a battle, endless and always uphill. Ray, you too are on the button, as always.

    Question: we have federal, state, county, city government. At vast savings, which would you get rid of and to which other level (up or down) would you move the services? Because, when all is said and done, it is government with which we are so overwhelmed – and at great expense.

    1. Norman,
      You are right it is a battle everyday, but at the end of the day you get to keep most of what you worked for.
      Instead of seeing it being squandered in a failed social European experiment.

      My mom is currently visiting me from Hungary and she is a constant reminder of what is wrong with the European style socialism.

      I wish she could speak english to remind some lefties here and the rest of the US population that dreams of Europe.

      You know that most elderly can’t afford to heat their homes all day, because of the high energy cost?
      Hungary has 12 million people of which only three million work regulary, the rest are children or people that live on some type of government payments.

  22. Norman- I guess that if I had the position and authority to enact laws that provided me job security, I would probably take advantage of the position also.

  23. Peter, Norman…

    You both say that you could never have accomplished what you have here, if you had stayed at home…that being Germany or England. But people are starting small businesses every day in those countries and many are succeeding. Why is it that they can succeed but you could not?

    1. William,
      Without a doubt are there people in Germany that succeed in business large and small. Those are by far a minority and struggling to make it due to high tax burdens.

      My comment was more related to my professional career. In Germany without the right pedigree and right schooling you pretty much sunk.
      Nobody will even give you the time of day just based on your drive, work ethic and skill.

      I have found that Americans in general look at a person first and then look at your education. It seems that work ethic, hard work, determination can get you much further here then in Germany.

      Besides that the material things that come along with that are out of reach for most people in Germany.
      Take for example homeownership. In Germany, unless you have a ton of money, or have inherited a property, owning a house is just a dream.

      The standard of living in the US is much higher for the average person then it is in Germany.

      Mainly because you get to keep most of what you earn.

      My mom was a waitress before she retired a little over 10 years ago. Her last overall deduction from her gross income was at 51%.

      Ok, that included healthcare and a pension, but that still doesn’t leave you a lot disposable income. Especially when you have a VAT that ads 25% to all your purchases.

      She is currently getting 850 Euros in pension money. Her heating bill is 100 Euros a month. She is lucky that she owns her own small house, that she inherited, otherwise the average rent for a small one bedroom apartment is around 300 Euros a month.

      It is not hard to see why I have such strong feelings about the US. There is no other country in the world where your rewards so closely connected to your earnings and where an average guy like me (without a college degree) can have such a great life.

      Maybe you understand why I scratch my head that some Americans believe that we should strive to be like Europe.

      Most of those who suggest it, are usually well off and would still be well off in an European style America. However the way up for a little guy would be much more difficult.

      America is not perfect, but I challenge those who think that their own country is..to throw the first stone.

      Don’t you find it telling that more people are fighting to get in to the USA then in to any other country?
      Why do you think that is? It is quiet simple, it is OPPORTUNITY.
      There is no other country in the world that affords you the same possibilities then the USA…period!!!

      Ok, she got

  24. Unfortunately for the underpriveleged in America, their chances of ending up murdered by the time they are twenty is better than their chance of business success.

    Peter and Norm, both of you came with skills, experience and hope that you could succeed–these attributes are drained out of the disadvantaged population whose only example of successful businesses are drug dealers.

    Public education in the USA can level that field–but it now must also serve as the public-health, social services, nutirtional center and child-care of our families where both parents must work full-time or more in order to support their family.

    I am as left-leaning as you can get and I support charter schools and other choice initiatives–but we must fund them. David Bly describes a funding shift that occurred in Minnesota that took a billion dollars away from our schools and we have not brought that back–and we should not be claiming that the wealthiest citizens should have their income protected when they are paying the lowest taxes of the last 30 years–it is time that the wealthies pay the same rate as the middle class. We are failing to fund our schools, our health care system, our social services (so old white people can have decent care in retirement homes)and the rest of our responsibilities.

    I would like to see a discussion of merit pay and peer-review, rather than the screwball governor’s Q comp, which he is pushing just so he can claim it on his run-for-president resume.

    1. Unfortunately for the underpriveleged in America, their chances of ending up murdered by the time they are twenty is better than their chance of business success.

      Peter and Norm, both of you came with skills, experience and hope that you could succeed–these attributes are drained out of the disadvantaged population whose only example of successful businesses are drug dealers.
      ————————————————–

      None of these issues above you mention have anything to do with opportunity here in the USA.

      These are all about personal choice and not a lack of opportunity.
      If I have learned one thing about the US society it is the fact that there is a great willingness to help those that are in need.

      Americans are very generous and care for each other. Not because they have to..no, because they want to.

      Government affords a lot of help especially for people of color. Quotas and other programs (as controversial as they are) do give people of color help and support.

      Don’t believe for a moment that there are no poor or underprivileged people in Europe.
      They are just less visible and mostly are kept on the edge of existence.

      So called poor and underprivileged people in the US are for the most part better off then those in other countries.

      I have spend two month in Nigeria working in a hotel, if you want see real poor people I suggest you spend some time there.

  25. Peter…Americans overwhelmingly agree with you about the opportunity that exists here. The American Dream is alive and well. But the reality is not so clear:

    http://www.economicmobility.org/assets/pdfs/EMP_InternationalComparisons_ChapterIII.pdf

    And interestingly many of the countries that have the highest levels of mobility also have the highest rates of taxation!

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/tax_tot_tax_as_of_gdp-taxation-total-as-of-gdp

    As to home ownership…it may or may not be a good choice depending on personal circumstances and the economic traditions of one’s country. Italy, Ireland and the UK all have higher rates of home ownership than the US…I don’t think that you would argue that this proves their citizens have more opportunity than we do here.

    As to your Mother’s situation, I’d wager that the majority of senior citizens living on Social Security in the US would be happy to be in her circumstances, even if they didn’t own their own home.

    I’m glad you are doing well in the US. Your personal experience should be a source of pride. I’ve had a pretty good experience myself and I know plenty of people who have done much better. But personal experience is just that…we also need to look at measurements that look at the whole of society and at ways to insure that the American Dream can become reality for more of our citizens.

    1. William,

      What hinders anybody in the US today to realize the American dram ?

      Your last line in your comments makes it sound like that the dream is closed to some Americans??

      Could you elaborate on that?

    2. William,

      The German tax figure is a bit misleading, since it ignores the mandatory payment for health care. These payments are part of taxation in the other countries.
      Since people in Germany technically don’t pay the government for their health care, but more the equivalent of a GSE.

  26. Rob Hardy has a great summary blog post on Northfield.org titled A Forum on Education Funding:

    About 75 people gathered in the big room at ARTech charter school on Tuesday, January 5, for an evening of conversation with State Senator Kevin Dahle and State Representative David Bly.  The main topic of the evening was education funding, and the impact on Minnesota public schools, and charter schools in particular, of the state budget crisis and the 27.5% holdback of state general education funds.

  27. It is good to have a forum, but it didn’t appear that there were any real answers given to the issue….although there was a touch on one.

    One of our biggest issues in education funding was indeed the shift Gov. Ventura was behind where the state pays 100 percent of basic school funding. I believe that is a flawed model and one that should never have been adopted. Our schools are controlled by local school boards. We should have local taxpayers have some ‘skin in the game’ and support a portion of the basic education costs. I personally think an 83%/17% split between state and local support is about right. We should pay a portion of our property taxes to support school operating costs. We need to stay invoved in our schools, what they do, what they teach and how they are performing. What better way to do that than to have some local dollars involved in the basic school funding. I object to 100% state funding. The higher up the taxing ‘food chain’ things are the less impact individuals have on the end product.

  28. Strib editorial criticizes teachers union: Status quo is loser in Race to the Top

    Still, the poor showing can be the kick in the teeth Minnesota needs to jump-start educational reforms, and it should serve as a wake-up call for a teachers union that has wielded too much power in preserving the status quo. Minnesota lost points in the competition for poor plans to produce better educators and close the achievement gap, and for not having more support from its teachers unions.

    The criticism from federal reviewers makes it clear that if Minnesota is serious about education reform and wants a legitimate shot at getting up to $150 million in Round 2 Race to the Top funds, two things must happen: The Legislature must get off the dime and approve several proposals that would improve teaching and learning and give the state more authority to intervene in the lowest-performing schools, and leaders of Education Minnesota, the state’s leading teachers union, must no longer stand in the way of reforms that will strengthen teaching and improve achievement.


    Clearly the union is out of touch with current budget and political realities, and it now finds itself at odds with a conservative governor, a liberal president and desperate members of Twin Cities minority groups who are demanding progress on closing the achievement gap. Additional funding is a nice idea, but it’s a pipe dream at a time when state and local units of government are struggling to meet even more-basic needs.

  29. PiPress: Minnesota teachers union is being hit from all sides; Even DFL allies grumbling about policy positions

    Republicans love to bash Education Minnesota, claiming the statewide teachers union and its powerful lobbying force essentially control the Democratic Party. But this legislative session, the union is alienating even some of its DFL allies. Observers say relationships are strained because of the union’s resistance to proposed reforms — particularly bringing in new teachers and stabilizing the statewide pension for educators.

    “I’m just absolutely frustrated with some of the stances they’re taking on the issues,” said DFL Rep. Marsha Swails, who is an English teacher at Woodbury High School. “Maybe all those folks in the Education Minnesota building are a little too far removed from the classroom.”

  30. Sadly, I agree that Education Minnesota is doing more harm than good with some of the positions they are taking. I see, on the one hand, that they are doing a good job with their primary mission: protecting the working conditions for their members (teachers). On the other hand, given their level of political activity and influence, I believe they are hurting our state. We do need alternative licensure–and if Education Minnesota wants to be sure that “teaching standards” are not watered down, they should push for a high bar with that alternative licensure.

    It’s an incredible shame that MN lost out on Race to the Top. Even our liberal democratic president is seeing that a big part of education reform HAS TO BE policing teachers, getting rid of the ones who are burned out or incompetent, and figuring out ways of better renumerating the ones who do give their heart and soul.

    When I last looked at the list of officers in the Northfield teacher union, (it was on their website a few years ago–but I can’t seem to find a recent version), it was made up of BOTH groups of teachers–the dedicated, and the ones who parents complain about. The teachers’ unions across the state need to start realizing that protecting everyone is going to engender some political backlash.

  31. Kathie, very good comments. People really need to understand that Education Minnesota is just another labor union….period. It does a disservice to constantly trot out the ‘but its for the children’ defense to resist needed changes to our educational system. The recent Race to the Top discussion highlights many of the problems.

    One of the major issues that needs resolution is merit pay, performance pay or whatever you want to call it. It won’t work to base teacher pay completely on student performance unless you somehow let them all select the students they will teach. But there has to be a way to work together and accomplish goals that parents, students, teachers, taxpayers and administrators all want to accomplish.

    Another area, as Kathie notes, is alternative licensure. Again, it won’t work to fight alternative licensure when the reason is that if you take in a 50 year old computer engineer as a first time teacher, they will probably only pay union dues for 10-15 years as opposed to a 22 year old fresh out of college paying union dues for 35-40 years. There are very important reasons to consider the 50 year old…and the 22 year old…but both should have an opportunity to teach if they are competent.

    America will not survive another 100 years, or if we do we will look far, far different that we do today, if we don’t enact some major overhauls in our education system. We cannot ‘strive’ to protect the status quo.
    .-= (Ray Cox is a blogger. See a recent post titled Home Show) =-.

  32. Senator Dahle has blogged about alternative teacher licensure and his opposition to it. I disagree with his opposition to alternative licensure, but I do agree with him when he asks, “How can an individual, who has not adequately demonstrated proven success in an actual classroom setting experience, do a better job in closing the achievement gap?” I think the issue any alternative licensure system has to address is not subject-area proficiency, but classroom management.

    I briefly considered pursuing elementary licensure through a master’s of education program at St. Kate’s. It was absurd to me that, despite having a B.A. with highest honors from one of the top 25 colleges in the country as well as a Ph.D., I was still required to take standardized tests (the Preprofessional Skills Test, or PPST, and the PRAXIS tests) to become a 5th grade teacher. I was driven away from elementary school teaching by the standardization of it.

    But my experience of trying to teach Latin (the subject in which I hold a doctorate) to middle schoolers in Edina (shudder!) convinced me that I was ill-equipped for the job because I lacked the training in classroom management and child psychology, and because I was not given adequate support or mentorship by the school.

    It seems to me that a reasonable alternative licensure system could be crafted that dispenses with standardized skills tests for people who have otherwise proved their intelligence and mastery of subject matter, but that provides training in real classroom situations through student teaching and mentoring.
    .-= (Rob Hardy is a blogger. See a recent post titled Bands in the Family) =-.

  33. Rob, I agree with you totally.

    Ray, I agree with you as well! I was very disappointed a few years ago when the NEA buried the Q Comp proposal–one that was worked on very carefully by David Bly, Ray Coudret, and others. These are both extremely dedicated teachers, and, if I had a criticism of their proposal, it was that it might have gone too easy on the underperforming teachers our district shelters. But, at least it would have been a step toward accountability.

    Now, any specific plan can have aspects of it that teachers object to, that is, reasonable reasons to vote it down. But, it is telling to me that our teachers never tried to take up the cause and come up with a better accountability plan. What statement does that make about the NEA’s view toward improving teaching?

  34. Strib: Teachers union, DFLers feud over pensions, licenses

    The political family feud between some DFL legislators and the state teachers union has been simmering for years and now appears to be boiling over. The flashpoint has been the Obama administration’s recent rejection of Minnesota’s bid for $250 million in federal Race to the Top funds, based on what it said was the state’s inability to deal with low-performing teachers.

    “I think I just kissed my endorsement goodbye,” remarked Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, who was supported by the union, Education Minnesota, in two previous elections but recently knocked heads with it. Swails, who teaches high school and is a member of Education Minnesota, said she caught flak from the union for supporting special teaching licenses for mid-career professionals willing to become teachers.

    She and other DFLers say the union is tone-deaf on resisting higher pension contributions from teachers even though taxpayers face declines in their retirement savings.

  35. Rob, great comments. I appreciate your insight about what it was like to teach, and also your brief explanation about what was required to be certified to teach.

    One of the things that alternative licensure can bring to the classroom is teachers who are not burned out on their jobs. Someone coming into the class at age 45 or 50 brings a far different attitude than someone who has been teaching since age 22 and now views it as a chore.

    Alternative licensure can also brings people into the classroom with entirely different life view points. By this I mean people that have been out in the non-public employee world….people with sales backgrounds, manufacturing backgrounds, legal backgrounds, etc. I think this is one of the most important elements of alternative licensure programs. When you are surrounded your entire working life by people that entered teaching at age 22 and either are still teaching, or are administrators, you end up with a homogeneous section of people that does not exist outside the school walls.

    As I said in an earlier posting, alternative licensure and other changes to our education system will continue to be met with resistance by most in the established education system. Unions do not like to give up control of who is allowed into the ‘club’. There is often an attitude of ‘I did it so you can do it too’.

    It just may be that the funding crisis in the state will force some changes in parts of our education system. When it is literally impossible to economically protect and preserve the status quo we may see changes.
    .-= (Ray Cox is a blogger. See a recent post titled Concrete Driveway) =-.

  36. I wanted to clarify two things:

    1) When I say I’m in favor of Alternative Licensure, I do NOT mean Teach for America. I agree with others that a 5-week program delivered to idealistic 22-year olds is not adequate preparation to grant a teaching license.

    What I support is coming up with a way for,say, a mid-career professional (aged 30 or over, say), to fairly quickly and efficiently become a teacher. Maybe a 3- or 6-month prep program that focusses on classroom management/pedagogy of specific subjects–but glosses over the “philosophy of education” courses that many teachers tell me aren’t that day-to-day useful anyway. I’m thinking here of how to get the mechanical engineer licensed to teach math–or the diplomat licensed to teach French.

    Bottom line: I’m in favor of SOME forms of alternative licensure, not all.

    2) When I say I’m disappointed in Education Minnesota and the NEA (and I am), this is NOT to say that I think they are completely responsible for all ills of education. I think that administrators, too, shoulder (or, rather, SHOULD shoulder) the burden in assessing teachers, feeding back to them, coaching them to improve where needed, and ultimately, culling the ranks of those that cannot or will not show improvement. That’s certainly NOT a job for unions–they can and should be sticking up for their members and insisting on due process.

    Furthermore, I think there already exist lots of mechanisms for administrators to do this job. “Performance improvement plans” are, on paper, mandated in our school district. They are just not, as far as I can tell, actually used very often. Because, I suspect, with an assertive union, it IS a pain to fill out the paperwork and go through the steps–but in my mind, that is as it should be. We need less wussy administration if we want to improve teaching. Our current practice/policy of only assessing tenured teachers every 5 years is ridiculous.

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