Nathan – Important info finally flowing to families

Important decisions were made in the last week. Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and a number of local superintendents have decided it’s time for thousands of Minnesota families and students to have better information about some key education opportunities.
Last week the Minnesota Department of Education posted a revised, updated and very helpful set of materials about Postsecondary Enrollment Options here: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/CollReadi/PSEO/
PSEO responds to challenges students face regarding college costs and college readiness. Over the last several months, I’ve cited research and experience showing that high school students who take “Dual (high school/college) Credit” classes are more likely to graduate from high school, enter a one-, two- or four-year higher education program, and graduate from some form of higher education.
Minnesota has been one of the nation’s leaders in this area since 1985, when PSEO was proposed by the now late Gov. Rudy Perpich and approved (on a bi-partisan basis, with help from former Gov. Al Quie and State Rep. Connie Levi) by the state Legislature. Many Minnesota high schools responded to PSEO by creating new Dual Credit courses, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in Schools and Project Lead the Way.
Up until 2012, PSEO allowed 11th and 12th graders to take courses on college campuses, full or part time, with state funds following students, paying all tuition and book fees. In 2012, the law was expanded to allow 10th graders to participate. Since fall, 2012, sophomores who had passed the state’s eighth grade reading test have been allowed to take one career technical course, and if they earned a “C” or higher, they could take additional courses. Also, some colleges developed online PSEO courses, and the Legislature allocated funds to help students from low-income families pay for transportation to PSEO classes.
Unfortunately, many youngsters, families and some educators did not know about the 10th grade option, the online PSEO courses and the transportation funds available. Over the last two months, I’ve looked at registration materials on more than 60 Minnesota high school websites. Less than 10 percent had information about the 10th grade option, and even fewer had information about online courses and transportation assistance.
Marisa Gustafson, with the Center for School Change, and I discussed this with MDE officials. They pointed out that the department held meetings around Minnesota last fall to discuss dual credit programs. More than 700 educators attended.
But meeting attendance often did not translate into information in registration materials. So, Commissioner Cassellius arranged for more comprehensive materials to be posted at the website referenced earlier.
Over the last three weeks, I contacted superintendents in about 40 districts, asking them to review materials they share with students. I acknowledged that they may be distributing information that’s not on their website. More than 80 percent of those superintendents responded favorably.
Bloomington Superintendent Les Fujitake wrote, “Thank you for bringing all this to our attention. Not complying with the dissemination and notification requirements were oversights. JHS and KHS online registration guides will be updated with 10th grade PSEO information or links to 10th grade PSEO information by Jan 28. JHS’ and KHS’ hard copy registration guides have already been published; therefore, 9th grade students will receive additional information on 10th grade PSEO from one of their teachers. Our counselors will provide our 8th grade students with the same information received by our 9th graders.”
Burnsville Superintendent Joe Gothard explained that the district provides a link to the MDE PSEO page cited above. He also wrote that in Burnsville, “Guidance counselors include information about PSEO in discussions they have with 9th grade students before they register for classes.
Waconia High School Principal Mark Fredericksen, referring to three key points mentioned above, “I’ll make sure it’s in writing. We do share this with parents; in fact, the majority of our PSEO students are utilizing on-line options.
Chace Anderson, Wayzata superintendent, told me via email, “Yes, the material will be changed. We have been in the process of reviewing and revising our registration information. Our registration materials will reflect that PSEO is an option for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students who qualify. Registration Information will go live on Jan. 28. We have asked sites to update their registration materials so that students have detailed and accurate information about educational opportunities available to them. Options will be identified and shared with students in the registration materials. Information on educational opportunities will be shared directly with students at registration presentations.”
Delano, Lakeville, Mounds View, Orono and Richfield officials did not respond to inquiries.
Wise families will review PSEO along with other dual credit options, considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. Conversations over the last two months make clear that whether it’s the commissioner of education or district staff, there is a widespread commitment to helping more young people be better prepared, and more able to afford some form of higher education.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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