Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Race to the Top Hearing. The Senate and House K-12 Education Policy Committees met for almost three hours Tuesday morning in a joint hearing dedicated to the proposed application for Phase 2 of the United States' Department of Education's Race to the Top program. The Governor's office has drafted a bill that it believes would, if passed, put Minnesota in a much better position to receive approval in its grant application.

As I listened to the discussion, I couldn't help but recall Book One of Plato's Republic (Stop the eye-rolling! You know you want to hear this analogy!). That section of Plato's masterpiece dealt with the discussion of how the concept of justice should be defined. Change the word "justice" to the term "education reform" and the discussion was just about as frustrating as the one facilitated by Socrates in the fifth century B.C.E. The especially frustrating element of the discussion is that everyone seemed to want to play the part of Thrasymachus--you know, the "might makes right" guy--but both sides of the argument want to make it seem like the other side is the one with all the power.

Education Minnesota, while not being as blunt as Thrasymachus, seems to believe that the Governor is trying to ram a poorly-designed program down the throats of an unwilling population. On the other hand, the Governor seems to contend that Education Minnesota holds all the cards and that their refusal to support the Governor's proposal makes the whole enterprise an exercise in futility. And thus, the discussion pretty much hangs on that point, whether or not that point is being expressed.

The testimony was good and it was supportive for the most part. Dr. Misty Sato from the University of Minnesota and Peter Hutchinson and Susan Heegard of the Bush Foundation presented their plans for improved teacher training and evaluation. We were fortunate to hear the Bush Foundation's program at last week's SEE meeting and Peter Hutchinson, as he contended he would, made an impassioned plea for the Legislature to think outside the box and adopt a bold proposal like the Bush Foundation's to include in the state's application.

The die is yet to be cast on this proposal. I am certain discussions are going to continue to take place over the next several weeks and with a K-12 conference committee likely to begin its work by the first week of May, there is plenty of time for the Legislature to adopt proposals that should, at least in theory, make Minnesota's Phase 2 application more competitive. That said, the proposal is going to have to be considerably more competitive as Minnesota scored well behind the finalists in the initial round of Race to the Top.

SF 3373--the bill containing the Governor's recommendations--was introduced in the Senate today. It was not introduced in the House because the House did not meet in floor session today. Here is a link to the bill.

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