Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thoughts on the Weekend. Below is a link from the left-leaning Minnesota Progressive Project on the subject of school choice. The article from their page is a reaction to United States' Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's appearance last Friday at a luncheon sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. As I read the article, I was struck by the same thought I had twenty-some years ago when open enrollment between public school districts was established in Minnesota.

Granted, the situation is a lot different in 2011 than it was in 1987. Back then, area learning centers and contract alternative programs were just getting their feet under them as part of the statewide education delivery system. Now, those alternative delivery systems are a well-established part of enrollment options in Minnesota and open-enrollment is accepted, although not always joyfully, by school districts. Further, Minnesota passed the nation's first charter school law in 1991 and charter schools now number in the neighborhood of 150 with almost 30,000 students attending charter schools.

The problem is, despite this massive increase in choice initiatives, our achievement gap is as large as ever and the opportunity gap is growing as well. All of this begs the question, "Is school choice a means to an end or an end in itself?" I don't have an answer, although I do find it ironic that many parents stay in charter schools with absolutely miserable performance levels.

Much of this will be sorted out in the years ahead and it would be unfair to characterize Duncan's address as dealing solely with parent choice. But if we are indeed serious about closing the achievement gap, we are going to have to ask, and answer, the tough questions.

Star Tribune Editorial on Teacher Pay Freeze. The Sunday StarTribune featured an editorial in support of the teacher pay freeze contained in SF 56 (Thompson-R-Lakeville). The editorial lays out all the pertinent arguments; teacher pay has been rising even during the recession, increased teacher pay when funding formulas don't increase causes program cuts and/or higher class-sizes, and, last but not least, the state is looking at a $6.2 billion revenue shortfall.

Alternative teacher preparation and student assessment may be the primary education issues in the spotlight right now, but rest assured, but the proposed pay freeze (along with other bargaining issues, particularly the January 15 negotiating deadline) will likely be crowding out discussion of a lot of other issues as the session progresses.

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