Education leaders offer perspective

Joe Nathan
Guest Column 

Praise and perspective — that’s what more than 30 Minnesota Education leaders offered recently when asked about the 2013 Minnesota Legislature’s decisions on K-12 education, including superintendents Nancy Rajanen of Waconia and Bruce Novak of Cambridge; Lynn Gluck, executive director of Cologne Academy in Cologne; and Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. They agreed in most areas and raised a few concerns.

Asked for her brief summary of the legislative session’s impact on Waconia Public Schools, Superintendent Rajanen wrote, “I appreciate the increase in equalization formula and the recognition that the current system of local levy support was not fair. I also am pleased that the legislature supported all-day, every-day kindergarten for Minnesota students and provided full funding for this program.”

Gluck agreed, writing: “Gov. Mark Dayton’s education budget bill will positively impact funding for all public schools, including charter schools, like Cologne Academy. Most relevant to the work we do at Cologne Academy will be the funding of all-day kindergarten. We believe kindergarten is the foundational starting point for our students and invest heavily in providing low ratios of students to teachers to jump start our literacy initiatives by offering all-day kindergarten to nearly 100 students next fall. This funding will allow the school to further support our strong academic mission and continue to deliver excellence in education.” However, Rajanen believes “the 2014 Legislature must address the enormous cost of the 2012 law regarding teacher evaluation. Quality evaluation of teachers need to be a priority, but cannot be an unfunded mandate.”

Novak also appreciates the overall increase in funding, and additional support for students with special needs. However, he wrote, “This is not even close to what the cost of special education is across the state.”

In a controversial decision, legislators stopped requiring that students pass reading, writing and math tests before high school graduation. Instead, students will take tests showing how prepared they are for some form of two- or four-year college and various careers. Several educators agreed.

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe wrote that this is “is more aligned to our district’s emphasis upon academic growth and career- and college-ready students.”

However, Weaver strongly disagreed with this decision. In a letter to legislators he shared with me, Weaver wrote that the legislature did “make some positive changes for Minnesota students, such as expansion of Parent Aware early education scholarships, goals for student achievement by 2027, and a transition to high school exams that indicate student readiness for post-secondary education.”

However, Weaver believes that the Legislature took “one step forward with the new high school exams, but three steps back with the elimination of basic expectations for student performance on state exams. Under the new system, students who perform at the bottom levels in reading, writing and math on the exams can still graduate with a high school diploma.

“Current state expectations for student performance on reading and writing high school exams … have led to significant increases in the percent of students of color meeting state standards, graduating from high school and lowering drop-out rates.”

Because graduation requirements are so important, I’ll be writing more about this in a future column. It’s impossible to briefly yet fully describe a law that is more than 200 pages long. But despite some disagreements, educators and business people agreed that this year’s Legislature expanded opportunities, especially for young children in important ways.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]