So the votes have been counted (at least, for the most part). In Minnesota, we’ve experienced incredible movement-building for education reforms in recent years. What impact will Tuesday’s election results have on these foundational and pivotal strides?
There’s cause to celebrate our work-completed. In particular, we’ve watched momentum build regardless of the political makeup of the state’s administration and legislature: under Governor Pawlenty with a DFL legislature and under Governor Dayton with a GOP legislature.
Now, with Democratic control of both the administration and legislature, we need to fulfill our commitment to implement recent legislative wins with fidelity and maintain the intended positive impact on student achievement. A shift in the legislative composition is no reason to stop now: Minnesota’s enormous achievement gap, drawn predominantly across racial and economic lines, demands that we continue to advocate for meaningful reform.
Nationally, education reform advocates have reason to claim progress, even if the news isn’t all good. Charter school advocates are cheering initiatives in Georgia and Washington, which will allow the development of strong public school choice sectors in those states. Setbacks include the ousting of Tony Bennett, reform-minded superintendent of public instruction in Indiana.
Here in Minnesota, let’s maintain our focus on education reform policy changes leading to increases in student learning. Those changes include:
- Allowing for the developmentof alternative teacher certification.
- Assuring that the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation models are linked to student achievement.
- Developing the pre-K quality rating system Parent Aware.
First, we hope the Minnesota Board of Teaching finalizes a smooth process for approving high-quality alternative teacher certification so that Teach For America and other programs can immediately begin training and certifying great new teachers for Minnesota classrooms. We’re also hopeful that the Board will streamline the process for getting great teachers from other states into Minnesota’s highest-needs classrooms.
Second, we need to make sure that we develop Minnesota’s new teacher and principal evaluation systems to allow them to serve their intended purpose: providing teachers and principals meaningful feedback to drive aligned professional development and, importantly, assess educator impact on student learning.
MinnCAN’s October Research Roundup featured a piece from the American Enterprise Institute titled, The Hangover: Thinking about the Unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge. The authors assert that we need to ensure that districts have the resources to create strong evaluation models, and that the models provide enough flexibility for local education leaders to mold the model to the unique needs of the students they serve. We agree. However, we must avoid “watering-down” evaluation systems to the point that they don’t help school leaders and parents understand which teachers are leading their students to significant student achievement, and why. Then, we need to improve state law to keep “irreplaceable” teachers in the classroom, regardless of how long they’ve been teaching. For Minnesota students, we know that teacher effectiveness is of the upmost value.
Third, we’re enthusiastic that the new Parent Aware pre-K rating system will allow us to determine the quality of early childhood education programs across the state. Now that we can figure out which programs are great, or on the verge being great, we need to invest significant resources to ensure that every parent can send their child to a high-quality early childhood program. MinnCAN fully supports the MinneMinds campaign, a statewide initiative to increase public funding for access to these quality programs.
Finally, we must demand that any increase in resources for public education is tied to accountability measures that make certain dollars invested lead to growth in student achievement for all students, regardless of their background. Yes, we should create a stable and predictable funding model for schools and school districts across the state. But we can’t ask for more from taxpayers without being able to assure them that these investments will lead to measurable student success.
Now that the election is over and the dust is settling, we hope that our new elected legislators are emboldened by recent reform wins and continue the path of improving public education for Minnesota students.
Photo credit: MPR