Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tremendous Testimony in the Senate.  Every now and then an issue pops up that isn't recognized as one of the major issues facing the state, but the individuals who come to testify are so compelling that it is really something to watch.  That's the way it was today when the Senate Education Finance Committee discussed Senator Lyle Koenen's SF 88.  SF 88 would allow those school districts that are currently using a 4-day school week to continue to do so.  There has been some concern expressed that the Minnesota Department of Education wants to put an end to districts' ability to have a four-day week.  While that sounds good on its face, the evidence presented by five school districts currently using the 4-day school week shows that the 4-day school week option is more than just a viable choice for districts that are under considerable financial stress; it is a solid choice that promotes learning, provides greater student opportunity, and effective staff development.  What was particularly impressive about today's testimony is that it came from all segments of the school community.  Students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and parents all came forward from these districts and explained how the 4-day school week is working well in their community and how they cannot see going back to a 5-day week without considerable disruption, cost, and--most importantly--loss of the increased opportunity and effectiveness that the 4-day week has provided.

To me, this is another "form over content" issue.  Whenever anyone mentions "4-day school week," you can almost hear the gasps of "How terrible!" or "How did that happen?"  And that's why it's extremely important for policymakers to listen to those who are employing the 4-day school week and understand how they got there and how they are making it work (and more importantly making it work effectively for their needs).  Each of these districts has re-arranged its schedule to get the maximum amount of value out of both student contact and professional development times.  There have been impediments--and I don't imagine the initial decision was a comfortable one--but each of these districts has worked with its community (or communities) to make the newly-adopted system work admirably and, in a number of instances, provide more student opportunity without sacrificing academic performance.  Sounds like a true win-win to me and I hope the Legislature and MDE see it the same way.

Contingents from five different school districts testified:  MACCRAY, Blackduck, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Lake Superior, and Ogilvie.  Each of these districts came to the decision to implement a 4-day school week from slightly different paths, but each one of them now swears by the framework and want to retain it.

The Senate also heard a raft of bills dealing with allowing school districts to start their 2015-2016 school year before Labor Day and allowing districts to establish a flexible learning year without MDE approval (SF 162).

House Hearing.  The House Education Finance Committee spent its time discussing two bills related to pre-kindergarten program--Representative Halverson's SF 226 that would increase funding for learning readiness and Representative Loon's HF 318 that would fund the parent-child home program--and Representative Wills' HF 568 and Representative Bernardy's HF 674 that would increase funding for the Minnesota Reading Corps.

Interesting Story from MPR.  There hasn't been a lot of discussion of the Common Core standards thus far during the legislative session (which is a bit of a surprise to me), but I heard this interesting story on Minnesota Public Radio's Marketplace Morning Report this morning (I guess that's why they call it a morning report).  The story focused on the costs of developing tests to measure the performance on the Common Core standards.

Here's the link:

Here's a different story on the same topic from Monday's Marketplace Morning:

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