Ari Kiener was MinnCAN’s public affairs manager from 2013-2016.

Yesterday afternoon, the Minnesota Achievement Gap Committee hosted a brown bag lunch featuring Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, who discussed several of the union’s current projects and top priorities. Some highlights included Education Minnesota’s initiatives to recruit more educators of color, as well as its work to ensure that teacher evaluations are implemented with fidelity and tied to meaningful professional development opportunities for educators who need them.

It was exciting to learn about the union’s varied and important initiatives, and to hear Denise’s commitment to learning how all of us who care about Minnesota public schools, “can do good work together.”

I walked away from the lunch with a newfound appreciation for just how difficult (and, of course, rewarding) it must be to represent 70,000 educators. Although Minnesota’s teaching force can stand to be more racially and culturally diverse, there is not a lack of diversity when it comes to educators’ opinions, concerns and ideas.

As Denise reported, many teachers are most concerned about class size, standardized testing and healthcare services for their students. Meanwhile, through a 2013 poll of 400 Minnesota district teachers, MinnCAN found that 18 percent of teachers see “lack of support” as their biggest struggle, while 11 percent said that “student behavior/motivation” is their greatest challenge (10 percent said “class size” is what prevents them most from being able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities).

Denise encouraged all of us to come to teachers first when we have concerns or ideas, to invite them to weigh in on policy and share their expertise in the crafting of solutions. Many groups besides Education Minnesota do already work closely with local public schools teachers. It’s just that different teachers have different priorities, as well as sometimes conflicting ideas for how to elevate their profession and increase academic achievement for Minnesota kids.

Below are a few more findings from our 2013 poll, highlighting the varied views of Minnesota’s public school teachers:

  • 53 percent of respondents agreed that if teacher layoffs are required, seniority should be considered, but the primary factor in deciding which teachers to layoff should be based on teacher effectiveness. 47 percent disagreed.
  • 38 percent of respondents said it was important that 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to student achievement (this measure is included in the teacher evaluation law that Gov. Dayton signed into law in 2011). 62 percent said this was not important.
  • 74 percent of respondents agreed that teacher effectiveness should play a role in determining when a teacher receives tenure. 26 percent disagreed.

The truth is that few teachers (or people, for that matter) agree on everything. And although we must deeply engage with teachers to develop policies that will improve their classrooms and our schools, we must also recognize that these policies will look different depending on which educators weigh in.

That’s why if Minnesotans are to do good work together—as we’ve done with the development, passage and forthcoming statewide implementation of teacher evaluations—we must invite everyone to the table, even if we disagree. Just as Education Minnesota benefits from policy debates among its members, broad efforts to strengthen our public schools can benefit from meaningful, honest and open conversations.

So thank you to everyone at the Minnesota Achievement Gap Committee for organizing one such conversation yesterday, and to Denise and Education Minnesota for reporting back on great work.


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