By Joe Nathan
Fortunately legislators mostly listened to community leaders and students like Sam Petrov, Cherish Kovach, Kelly Charpentier-Berg and Aaliyah Hodge as they considered Minnesota’s pioneering Postsecondary Enrollment Options law. After months of debate, and on a bipartisan basis, legislators agreed with students and many community and business groups that families and students need more, and more up-to-date, information.
Sam and Cherish, who are graduating from Richfield High School, and Aaliyah, who graduated from St. Louis Park, stressed the difficulty of obtaining accurate information from high schools about PSEO.
A May electronic newsletter from the Minnesota Association of Secondary Principals noted that the legislative discussion “seems to ignore the fact that Minnesota law already requires schools provide information to all ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders about PSEO” before March 1. Actually, state law requires that schools provide information to eighth-graders as well.
But the problem is not just the inclusion of eighth-graders. Our organization, the Center for School Change, examined 94 Minnesota high school websites. As of mid-January this year, less than 10 percent of them mentioned the opportunity for 10th-graders to take a career or technical college course via PSEO. Then, sophomores earning at least a C can take additional PSEO courses. The 10th-grade option, which the Secondary Principals association strongly opposed, was adopted in spring 2012.
Shortly after the 2012 legislative session, Minnesota’s Department of Education sent superintendents a summary of changes in the law, including this one. MDE also held meetings around the state in fall 2013, urging schools to provide information about PSEO.
Our research also found that more than 90 percent of the high school websites (often including registration information for the 2014-15 school year) also did not mention that some PSEO courses can be taken online and that transportation funds are available to help students from low-income families get to a college campus. The Association of Secondary Principals asserted that PSEO courses are “largely available” only to students living near a postsecondary institution, apparently ignoring online PSEO courses available anywhere.
Legislators listened. High schools now must provide “up-to-date” information. Students must meet with a counselor before enrolling in PSEO.
Legislators also debated eliminating the PSEO “gag rule”: The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system sent an email explaining it felt current law prevented the system from posting information that students can save money by taking PSEO courses. The Association of Secondary Principals noted that many colleges tell students PSEO courses are free.
But there is confusion about whether PSEO can save future college costs. That’s why Kelly Charpentier-Berg, the Minnesota State College Student Association’s president, representing about 320,000 students, urged legislators to eliminate the gag rule.
Many high schools tell students about financial benefits of dual-credit courses. As Farmington’s website notes, students “can save time and money” by taking various dual-credit courses. Farmington is especially relevant because the Farmington superintendent is president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, which also opposed eliminating the gag rule.
Many groups joined students in challenging the gag rule. They included a progressive “think tank,” Growth and Justice, and a longtime public school advocacy group, Parents United, as well as the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, African American Leadership Forum, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, MinnCAN, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, Migizi Communications, Education Evolving, the Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Students First and our group.
Ultimately legislators eliminated the gag rule for students attending high schools enrolling at least 700 students grades 10-12. So the gag rule remains in effect for communication with students in most Minnesota high schools, which don’t enroll that many students.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis; Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield; Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester; Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul; and Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, among others, argued for accurate information about PSEO.
Legislators did many good things in education, which I’ll describe in another column. For now, thank you to legislators who listened. If high schools cooperate, students and families will have more accurate and up-to-date information about PSEO.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.