Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interesting Proposal in the House Bill.  I'm sure we will all hear more about this as the education funding bills march toward final passage and make their way into the conference committee, but one of the more ambitious proposals in either bill is found in Article 2, Section 15, of HF 630.  The proposal is entitled Minnesota's World's Best Workforce and it incorporates the Centers of Excellence proposed in the Governor's budget into a framework of goals, incentives, and penalties that would govern a wide range of education achievement activities in Minnesota.  There's a lot of "mays" and a few "musts" in the language of the proposal.

The goals of the proposal are straightforward.  They are:

  1. Closing the achievement gap between all racial, ethnic, and economic subgroups,
  2. Achievement of a 100% graduation rate,
  3. Achievement of 100% of grade-level literacy at the third-grade level, and
  4. Having 100% of students college and career ready by graduation.

Healthy set of goals, no doubt, and here is a description of the proposed process to reach those goals.  Under the proposal, all school districts "must formally develop, implement, and periodically review and, where appropriate, revise a comprehensive, long-term strategic education and budget plan for student achievement premised on research-based strategies . . ."  Whew!  That is the primary must in the proposal and a mighty big and comprehensive must it is.

Things lighten up a bit when it comes to the "how" in the language.  The "must" turns into "may" and districts have options on which methods to employ in pursuit of the achievement goals outlined in the proposal, with the caveat that district plans "must include at least formative assessment practices, consistent with Chapter 120B (the academic standards chapter that will likely be revised if the math GRAD is eliminated and replaced with the proposed college and career ready standards), and other instructional best practices that inform cost-effective, research-based interventions, improve student achievement, reduce disparities in students' academic performance, and foster students' career and college readiness without need for postsecondary remediation."  The measurement of the student outcomes is fairly prescriptive and the status of the district's efforts must be reported to the public on at least an annual basis.

It's here where things get a little dicey under the proposal, as failure to reach achievement goals could result in a reduction of revenue (a maximum of 4% reduction per fiscal year) or, in the worst case scenario, result in a school turnaround plan being forced onto the buildings at which students are consistently failing to reach achievement goal.  The responsibility for handing out these punishments (hard to call them anything else) would be the Commissioner of Education along with the Regional Center of Excellence in which the affected school district is located.

This is a pretty sizable mandate (if meeting academic standards can actually be labelled a mandate; it's more like a reasonable expectation) with a lot of planning and reporting to accompany the outlined goals.  No question this is an ambitious proposal that marks, if not a sea change in the learning and assessment world, a considerable departure from the current system.  I don't imagine this proposal will mollify all who decry the elimination of the math GRAD (I just saw a television commercial urging folks to call their legislators and tell them to not repeal it), but it may produce a system that is more applicable to the challenges being faced by students and the entities that serve them.  The proposed penalties are troubling and determining who will be penalized is also a bit on the murky side, but there may be an opportunity here to do some good things and it will be interesting to see how this proposal is received by the Senate and the Governor as the conference committee commences next week.

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