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About Those Education Test Scores

Category: Education
Posted: 08/02/15 13:03

by Dave Mindeman

The student test scores were released a few days ago and the data had some disappointments. Everyone is hoping and expecting for dramatic improvements, both in general scores and especially in the achievement gap. It looks like both are treading water right now.

First some observations:

1. The achievement gap is not improving and has gotten slightly worse in each of the last two cycles. We need even more focus on why this continues. And I am not convinced that testing is telling us what we need to know.

2. A chart breakdown examined the schools that were the lowest in scores while having the lowest percentage of students in poverty - an attempt at getting a control group. Three of the lowest 5 in scoring for math were charter schools. And the 5 lowest in reading were all charter schools. So obviously, more charter schools would not be a quick fix either.

3. Black, American Indian, and Hispanic students all have proficiency in the low to mid-30's. This seems to indicate that it is a multi-cultural problem, but also that poverty is playing a larger role.

4. It is still difficult to make direct comparisons because we keep tweaking the tests and we also have problems with the companies that score the tests. Can the data be trusted? Can it really be used for proper study of where we are at? These are important questions if testing is to be the sole criteria by which we measure our progress.

Now with those observations as background, are there things that we are doing right and are there things that can be done better?

A. Early Childhood. Governor Dayton has been focusing on early education during the last cycle. Obviously, this is not a short term fix. The benefits will not be felt for 5 to 10 years, but we need to be consistent about this. The current problems need to be addressed, yes, but that does not mean shifting our emphasis away from early ed. That is the long term solution and if we pull back in the middle of the investment, we will lose out on those long term goals.

B. It's Still About Money. Republicans complain that we are throwing money at the problem and getting no results. Well, when it comes to education investment, money is the method for finding the fixes. Yes, there will be times when we invest in something that doesn't work. But that only means that we need to learn from that and invest in something that has more potential. Cutbacks in funding only delay progress and cuts off our search for real solutions. Governor Dayton won't quit - we need a legislature that won't quit either.

C. Teachers. Republicans are quick to point fingers at teachers as part of the problem. But, quite frankly, the opposite is true. Teachers will be the solution if they are utilized properly. It is teachers who can see how kids are learning. It is teachers that can individualize the skills. It is teacher suggestions that we should be paying more attention to. And in addition, we need to compensate them fairly and subsidize recruitment of teachers who have experience dealing with minority achievement gaps.

Yes, the testing scores show us that we have many things to work on. But we also have to be sure we find the right areas that need to be worked on. Our education network is about to have another overhaul. Keeping the testing and the curriculum in such flux is counterproductive. But Minnesota still has to do better. Other states do not have the kind of achievement gap that we have, so obviously we are doing something wrong.

Let's not overthink this. Keep moving forward on early education. Keep true to the longer vision. Find ways to target minority education. And keep working on our students' overall environment - education, financial, and physical health.

We can and will do better, but only if we work as a team with the right tools.
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Dayton Takes Strong Position - But, Again, With An AWOL Bakk

Category: Education
Posted: 07/23/15 07:30

by Dave Mindeman

On Tuesday, Governor Dayton tried to be pretty clear about next year's legislative session....

"Anybody ... in the Legislature who thinks we're going to give all this money back in tax cuts better understand that I will not sign a tax bill that does not have an equitable amount overall for early childhood," Dayton told reporters.

I didn't see too much ambiguity about that, but of course Speaker Daudt has his "doubts"....

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the governor's remarks Tuesday are an attempt to "hold hostage tax relief." He added that if the governor wants more funding for early childhood education, "it's his job to go out and earn the support for it."

Dayton also sent a clear message about investigations into Planned Parenthood....

He also rejected recent calls for an investigation into Planned Parenthood clinics in the state by Minnesota Republicans.

The Republican Senate minority leader was quick to respond...

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, expressed disappointment after Dayton said he saw no basis for an investigation. Hann argued that the surreptitiously obtained video should be enough to launch a probe.

There isn't any ambiguity about Dayton's positions here. But you know what is missing....once again?

Senator Tom Bakk.

No quotes. No words. No written support.

Will Dayton be voicing a Democratic position but, again, without the Senate leadership being his legislative voice? Will the end product be a Bakk/Daudt trade off.....with the Governor left out?

A Democratic governor with a Democratic majority Senate should have more leverage to work with.

But then, this Senate majority is under Bakk control.

With that in place, we can't be certain of anything.
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Take The House GOP Obstruction Of Pre-K Into The 2016 Election

Category: Education
Posted: 06/02/15 15:46

by Dave Mindeman

It looks like Pre-K is not going to be part of the budget deal. Dayton settled for an increase in the per pupil formula - which will probably allow some districts to offer it.

But the House GOP managed to obstruct and block more progress in education which the Governor is envisioning as the way forward for Minnesota.

GOP tactics were pretty lame. They added policy issues (transgender bathrooms and repeal of LIFO) into the game as red herrings. Setting up a smokescreen that took the focus off the education funding questions and which were clearly meant to frustrate the Governor - who assumed they were talking about one thing, only to be distracted by policy that was never in the original conference bill.

When parents are offered a chance at Pre-K, they take it. Those that can afford it, find a way. But so many parents are both working and barely covering their basic expenses. To them, Pre-K is an education luxury that they just have to leave off the table.

Peter Bell, who is now with the GOP think tank - the Center For The American Experiment - wrote an op-ed in the strib stating that, "For projects like prekindergarten, there's no way to calculate what today's spending will mean to budgets in 10 years." He says that big returns on these investments is a "myth". Apparently ignoring the numerous studies that prove those investments are real an tangible. Maybe they can't fully account for all the variables, but the data moves only in one direction - a significant return on investment.

I guarantee you that a Pre-K return is a lock compared to the idea that tax cuts stimulate the economy.

I hope the House Democrats take this to the 2016 elections. It is clear that the House GOP blocked an opportunity for Pre-K. The money was there....in the bank...but when the 2016 session unfolds, we will see that money getting used for more tax cutting measures and ridiculous policy ideas.

Picking and choosing which 4 year olds are given Pre-K opportunities puts us back into probable achievement gap issues. Sure some poor kids will get the help, but where do you draw the line? Who moves forward and who stays behind. Why can't we just put all of Minnesota's kids on the same level playing field?

It is another lost opportunity. Add it to the pile that the House GOP sacrifices for their estate tax cuts and one time tax rebates and business property tax breaks.

Shuffling money around on a paper trail is not a vision for Minnesota's future. Dayton has put this state on a path to prosperity, but he has more ideas to fulfill.

Next year, take back the House and move Minnesota back on that forward path again.
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