Thursday, April 22, 2010

Congrats to Roger Giroux! The Anoka Technical College Foundation threw a nice little breakfast for retired Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dr. Roger Giroux this morning. It was truly a great event that featured some very interesting testimonials from students and teachers at the college describing what the programs there have meant to them. One of the students will be graduating this spring from the Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) that Dr. Giroux, along with Anoka-Hennepin administrator Ginny Karbowski and the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, worked to establish on the Anoka Technical College campus.

The second speaker was a graduate of the Anoka-Hennepin's Area Learning Center a few years back who has graduated from several programs at the Technical College and is now an instructor there.

The third speaker was a student who was forced to make a mid-career change in vocations and is a recent graduate of the nursing program who is now employed full-time in her new career and will also be teaching at the Technical College in the future.

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren was scheduled to appear, but had a last-minute conflict that prevented her from attending. She sent a great and entertaining letter that was read to the audience.


It would be my guess that Commissioner Seagren was embroiled in discussions over Race to the Top in an attempt to craft a bill containing enough of the Governor's suggestions that will merit his continued support and can still pass the Legislature. What struck me during the student/faculty presentations was (after wondering if Arne Duncan was familiar with programs like this one) why isn't Race to the Top concentrating on programs like the one featured at this morning's breakfast.

Three compelling stories. Two people who wouldn't have finished high school without the programs available through an area learning center or STEP. Another person who was in desperate need of new employment skills after being laid off from her job and found those skills at the local technical college.

As you've noticed in my Race to the Top comments in earlier entries this week, I'm not totally sold on the value of the program. Yes, we should re-apply and if it takes a few sensible changes to law to make the application more viable, then let's make those changes. Would it be nice to have some money? Absolutely. There's no detracting from those two facts.

BUT, shouldn't the federal government be working to strengthen programs that already have a proven track record of retaining high school students through the application of alternative learning strategies--particularly "hands on" learning available through technical programs--and also providing industry-ready skills for mid-career employees?

And that's my frustration. Minnesota has been a leader over the years in secondary-vocational education (at least it was once upon a time), but the failure to provide additional state formula revenue for these programs over the past two decades has put a number of these programs in danger of being cut. Programs like STEP are efforts to utilize existing facilities for both secondary and post-secondary students to get the most possible mileage out of equipment that is necessary to successfully train students and are cost-prohibitive for school districts alone.

There are other areas where Minnesota is a clear national leader, particularly in the area of Response-to-Intervention. Shouldn't our Race to the Top application be looking at these programs instead of initiatives like alternative teacher licensure?

This leads to the next question, which is "What will the re-authorization of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) look like?" Will it simply be Race to the Top writ large or will it be an effort that will seriously look at federal programs, like Special Education, Technical Education, and Title I, that are woefully underfunded. That's the $64 billion question (inflation from the old television show amount) and I'm guessing most of you know what my hopes are.

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