Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Congrats and Thanks AMSD. I want to commend the Association of Metropolitan School Districts on their 2011 Annual Conference. It was both timely and excellent. The theme of the conference was "Building a Bridge to the Next Generation of Public Education."

There were four presenters. I missed the last two due to a dental appointment, but the half of the conference I witnessed was very informative. The conference kicked off with "Minnesota and the New Normal;" the presentation put together by State Economist Tom Stinson and State Demographer Tom Gillaspy. I love these guys, but given the gravity of their presentation, I doubt they will change the name of their act to "Tom and Tom's Traveling Fun Show."

These two have been providing top-notch information to decision-makers over the past two decades and the content in their latest program is no different. The program is a stark description of the challenges facing both Minnesota and the United States as Baby Boomers retire and the needs of a growing retirement population clash with the needs of education and other programs utilized heavily by working families.

We are trying to set up these two for a presentation at our May meeting (they are in such high demand that they are not available until then). I am certain that their program will remain salient even after the curtain falls on the legislative session.

The other presenter I heard was Dr. Susan Leddick of PKR, Incorporated. Dr. Leddick works with a variety of education leaders in states throughout the nation. Her energetic presentation provided a ton of insight on the challenges facing communities--and sets of communities--as they attempt to change their school systems to meet the needs of today's students. My only quibble with her presentation (and it certainly isn't with anything Dr. Leddick said) is that it reminded me how long I have been in this business and how many times I have heard many of the reforms being discussed in other states as part of the education reform discussion in Minnesota. The consistent problem with reform is that it requires both the need for reform, the various proposed reforms, and the atmosphere that allows reform to all converge. We may be in the situation where significant reform is possible, with each of these elements fitting together more seamlessly than they have in the recent past.

Dr. Leddick played the video below as part of her presentation. It is from a speech given by Dr. Ken Robinson, the British education reformer, and is both entertaining and informative.

The other two presenters were Dr. Bruce Fuchs, Executive Director or CESA 6, a Wisconsin company involved in the education reform debate, and Dr. Bruce Connolly, the Senior Innovation Lab Coordinator for the Stupski Foundation.

Links to each presenter are below:

Stupski Foundation:

Senate Education Committee Hearing. The Senate Education Committee met today and heard presentations by Teach for America and the Center for the American Experiment. As in the case of the House of Representatives, it appears that the Senate is intent on accomplishing something on the alternative teacher licensure issue with some measure of dispatch. While it has yet to hear individual bills relating to the subject, an alternative licensure bill has been introduced in the Senate--SF 40 (Olson), companion to HF 63 (Garofalo)--and will likely receive attention soon.

SF 56. I mentioned SF 56 (Thompson) in yesterday's blog and described it as a mandate relief bill. That's hardly do it justice. Senator Thompson's bill does provide significant mandate relief in the form of repeal of the January 15 negotiations deadline, the maintenance-of-effort provision and set-aside for mental health personnel in the safe schools levy, and the 2% staff development set-aside along with the 50%/25%/25% distribution of staff development funds.

The big fish I neglected to point out in the bill is a proposed salary freeze for all teachers in Minnesota for any contract not settled by the day following enactment of the bill and would run through June 30, 2013.

If you support such a freeze, contact Senator Dave Thompson along with your local State Senator. Senator Thompson's contact information can be found at this link:

Another Way of Looking at the Education Funding Debate. An article on the Center for American Progress' website came to me via Twitter today. It looked interesting so I investigated it more closely. It is interesting, but as is the case with a lot of analysis of education funding, it is also a bit misleading and overlooks a lot of differences that exist between school districts throughout the country.

The article (and interactive map) gauge "educational efficiency," which roughly translated means how does the amount of money a district receive correspond to its level of achievement on statewide standards. It reminded me quite a bit of the study former Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Cheri Yecke undertook for the Center for the American Experiment.

I could write for awhile on this, but by the time I was done, this blog would make War and Peace look like a comic book in a comparison of length, so I will make my comments concise. Efficiency is not a bad thing. It's always nice when a goal is reached as efficiently as possible. However, the goal of the education system is to educate students and to do that as efficiently as possible. Efficiency is not the primary goal of the education system. It is one of many secondary goals. Important--very important--but not at the center of the discussion.

I suppose one can argue that meeting the statewide standards is sufficient, but as anyone familiar with the education process can tell you, we certainly want to provide an education for all children that goes beyond simply preparing students to take tests.

Most SEE districts fare well in this comparison and the reasons are fairly straightforward. SEE districts don't receive a lot of money and their students score well compared to other districts on statewide tests.

Here are the links for the article and the interactive map:

Interactive Map and Table (just zero in on your district and click):

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