Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Long Day's Journey into Fright (Ooops! Night.) Tuesday was one of those May traditions as education lobbyists got to park themselves from 8:30 AM until midnight in a variety of rooms following the various education bills that are moving through both houses of the Legislature.

The day started in the Senate with the presentation by Senate E-12 Education Funding and Policy Division Chair Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls) of SF 3189, the Senate's omnibus policy bill. The Division met for about three hours, broke for floor session, and then returned after session and met until about 10 PM. Much of the discussion in the bill centered around provisions relating to the impending Phase 2 Race to the Top application that is being prepared by the Minnesota Department of Education.

As many of you remember, Governor Pawlenty verbally scalded Education Minnesota after we were not among the top scorers in the first round of the competition. In an effort to strengthen our Phase 2 application (among other things), the Governor laid out a number of provisions he believed the Legislature must pass before anymore effort would be put into the Race to the Top process by his administration. Among the Governor's recommendations are:

  1. Teacher Quality and Effectiveness
  2. Align teacher preparation standards with K-12 student standards.
  3. Require that candidates for college teacher preparation programs pass the basic skills test prior to entry into the program.
  4. Strengthen teacher preparation in elementary mathematics and require teaching candidates to pass a math content exam.
  5. Require teaching candidates to complete at least one course online and also learn how to teach an online course to their students.
  6. Use student performance data to monitor the effectiveness of college of education teacher and administrator programs.
  7. Incorporate national standards for effective school leadership, such as the standards developed by the National Institute for School Leaders, into the licensing standards for principals.
Proposals addressing most of these areas found their way into SF 3189 and both discussion and amendments flew around Room 112 as the various sides of the argument had at each other. I say various sides because the support or opposition to a number of these amendments was more varied than usual. Sometimes cultural conservatives would align with liberals on the same side against the middle. Other times, it would be the more traditional liberal/conservative split. Both liberals and conservatives varied greatly from one item to the next. Some legislators who love the more robust teacher training and evaluation don't like the idea of a national core curriculum. Some who like the federal government basically mandating more rigorous training of teachers and greater control by administrators and school boards in the assigning of teachers think there is federal overreach in other suggested parts of the application. In other words, it's all quite confusing and it's obvious that no one is completely happy with the process. Some folks are happier than others, but most everyone has found something to not like in both the process and the content of the proposal.

Most of the amendments offered to the bill came from legislators aiming to soften or eliminate a number of the proposals aimed at teacher-training, evaluation, and assignment. All but a couple of these amendments were defeated, leaving the legislative changes sought by the Governor intact. Still, Commissioner Seagren was quoted as saying this constitutes a "good start (emphasis mine)," meaning we've got a ways to go. Further, seeing that the House has little in its bill resembling the Governor's suggested actions, the starting line may be fairly close to the finish line.

Here is the link to SF 3189.

SF 3189:

An engrossment including yesterday's amendments should be available later today or tomorrow and I will post it when it's available.

I have to book to the Capitol right now, but will finish this description of yesterday's activity later today. Big news. FLASH! The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled against Governor Pawlenty by declaring his unallotments from last year to be unconstitutional.

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