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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

MN House GOP Ed Bill May Pass - But It Will Solve Nothing

Category: Education
Posted: 03/07/15 10:44, Edited: 03/07/15 11:13

by Dave Mindeman

On Almanac last night, the political panel had a discussion about the Education Bill that passed in the MN House-- the changes to LIFO.

It is disturbing to me that the message has been framed and locked in by the Republicans. They insist this is about teacher "quality". And it is NOT.

There has been some talk creeping into the conversation about the real problem in education which is a teacher shortage and lack of minority hiring. But the Republicans have focused on this "quality" issue in hopes that they can convince the public that the teacher's union have made it "impossible" to get rid of bad teachers.

KSTP/Channel 5 piled on by doing a poll (which to me was a push poll) that got their desired result of 80% in favor of "quality" over "seniority". The question insinuated that "quality" and "seniority" were unrelated - which is absolutely false. Experienced teachers are the best teachers.

But the framing was complete and Republicans are quoting the poll at every opportunity. The bill has passed the House and has a chance in the Senate with Senators like Terri Bonoff regurgitating the GOP talking points. I don't know if Gov. Dayton will sign the bill - he has mixed feelings, but he has vetoed such bills in the past.

Now I wouldn't mind some tweaks to the concept - like exempting Special and special needs teachers or other hard to fill positions. Because the real problem, as I have said before, is teacher shortages.

Changing LIFO is NOT going to improve teacher "quality". If school districts really want to change that so bad, they could collectively bargain it out. But the truth is, they don't do that. And the reason for that is that without something tangible like LIFO to use, the districts would be forced into subjective decisions that can cause challenges and even lawsuits.

But let's get back to the real problem - teacher shortages. How do we solve that? Part of this GOP education bill tries to streamline teacher licensure. Which we actually already did a few years ago, but the process is not proceeding fast enough for our legislature.

They want a fast track to licenses for Teach For America workers, for out of state transfers, for private sector business people. Right now, that can be difficult to do because Minnesota has tough standards for licensure.

I find it a little ironic that a bill that focuses on "quality" focuses on a provision that actually reduces quality standards for license. But let's move on.

So how do we attract more teachers?

Well, it should be noted that Minnesota has some of the toughest teaching standards in the nation, yet ranks 28th in the nation for average starting teacher salary.

Minnesota's average starting teacher salary is $34,505. The national average is $36,141. Compare that to a $9 per hour minimum wage full time which equal $18,720 and the poverty guideline for the US, which is $23,283 for a family of 4.

We profess to want a "quality" teacher in every classroom, yet we pay them wages that lets them scrape by.

In Alaska, teachers are paid over $44,000. Gosh, even in Alabama, they pay more - $36,198. Yet, here in Minnesota we say we highly value education, but apparently don't value teachers.

Frankly, how do we expect to attract more teachers in Minnesota? Why would a teacher from another state move to Minnesota and take a cut in salary. And never mind that business people be given a fast track to a Minnesota license.....why would they ever work for that kind of salary?

And if teachers can't even have any job security at that salary level (seniority/tenure), then is it any wonder they leave the profession in droves?

When we have this "every kid deserves to have a quality teacher" discussion, let's get to the real bottom line. We want tough standards to maintain that quality but we also need to pay these professionals what they deserve. Education costs Minnesota a lot of money....but the "quality" teaching that we say we want, will cost a whole lot more.

Until we are willing to stop demagoguing these periphery issues and start dealing with the cost and professional value of the teaching profession, we will continue to have partisan witch hunts attacking the teacher's union.

The House GOP education bill may find its way into law, but you know what?

It will solve nothing.
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Finally, Pioneer Press Discovers The Real Education Issue

Category: Education
Posted: 03/01/15 16:57

by Dave Mindeman

I want to get back to the education bill coming out of the Minnesota House regarding changes in LIFO and licensure.

Finally, we seem to have one of the major dailies bringing up the points I have been trying to make recently. From the Pioneer Press:

Minnesota faces teacher shortage, but how best to fix it?

Key excerpts:

Complicating the debate is state data on Minnesota's teaching force that sometimes paints a conflicting picture of the hurdles and shortages described to lawmakers. Despite the attention they draw, teacher layoffs are rather rare. At the height of the recession, less than 2 percent of Minnesota's teaching force was cut.


Minnesota's process for licensing teachers is often criticized as convoluted, but the number of teachers from outside the state being licensed has more than doubled since 2010, state data shows


Each year, about 10 percent of that workforce leaves, mostly because of retirements, personal reasons or being hired elsewhere. The data suggests about half of those departing teachers leave education altogether. Young teachers have some of the highest attrition rates, with 32 percent leaving teaching within their first five years.

And more...

State data show some of the toughest teaching jobs to fill are those working with students with learning or developmental disabilities, students learning English and jobs that require special language skills.

These are noteworthy points and also points which the House Republican caucus is NOT addressing in their education bill. Focusing on teacher layoffs as a problem source is like focusing on ditches as part of a road problem. It does not get at the root of the problem. And the root problem in education is getting and keeping teachers in the profession.

Even if you would assume that LIFO is a significant problem, districts do have the legal authority to take other factors into account in 40% of the school districts. Frankly, I think district administrators are too lazy to make that happen or too fearful that it will lead to protracted negotiations that they want to avoid. The Loon education bill would open up a new can of worms for districts to contend with in contract negotiations.

There is one important point that House Republicans refuse to take into account...

One thing is clear: Layoffs of teachers are relatively rare, even in tough times.

Our problem is not "fairness" in layoffs, it is keeping teachers period.

Is anybody at the legislature listening?
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KSTP/Channel 5 Gets The Question Completely Wrong

Category: Education
Posted: 02/27/15 09:21

by Dave Mindeman

KSTP/Channel 5 did another of their snapshot surveys and asked this question:

There is a proposal in the legislature to change "teacher tenure" rules by ending the so-called "last in, first out" method of laying off teachers who have the least seniority. Should layoff decisions be based on seniority? On the quality of the teacher? Or on something else?

Asked of 525 registered voters. Margin of error for this question = +- 3.5%.

11% Seniority
80% Quality
4% Something else
6% Not sure

Now I think there is an odd narrative perpetuated with that question and shows obvious bias. Notice that the questions seems to be separating "Quality" from "Seniority" as if they are two separate things.

The reality of evaluating teachers is that embedded in the "seniority" class of teachers are virtually ALL of the "quality" teachers as well.

This debate has lost any credibility in its terminology. The use of Last In, First Out (LIFO) is a defined parameter which a lot of school districts would use regarding layoff decisions anyway. Teaching "quality" isn't going to magically appear in a teacher just starting out. Some will show natural gifts, but good teaching methods are born from experience (seniority if you will).

And the even larger issue is ignored here. The number of teachers laid off gets to be fewer and fewer as we reach a crisis in shortages. Our problem is finding a way to keep quality/experienced teachers and teachers in general - not laying people off. A low paying job can be a little more attractive if some job security (tenure) is available.

KSTP may believe that their question has validity based on how things have been framed at the legislature. But truthfully, the choices offered via that question tell us nothing.

Yes, I am sure that 80% of Minnesotans want to keep "quality" teachers, but let's at least correctly define who that is.
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