Vallay Varro was a founding state executive director. She now serves as the president of 50CAN.

What a season.

Back in January more than 200 of you gathered inside our “warming house” on the Capitol south lawn to kick off MinnCAN’s 2012 campaign, The Playbook for Education in Minnesota. That day MinnCAN's Vallay Varro told you about three winning policy plays for Minnesota’s public schools and the children they serve: 1) Prize First-String Teachers, 2) Scout Minnesota’s MVPs: Most Valuable Principals and 3) Launch the Achievement Power Play.

These plays build on the three policy victories we celebrated in 2011 and the findings of our second annual “The State of Minnesota Public Education” report. And with the help of Minnesotans from every pocket of the state, our campaign sparked an expansive dialogue on these reforms: Nearly 3,300 people took action, we published a statewide public opinion poll showing overwhelming support for teacher layoff reform and three dozen news stories featured the campaign – including 14 editorials and op-eds.

Given the buzz our campaign generated, the natural next question is: did it accomplish anything? The answer to that is a resounding YES. Here’s the breakdown of our 2012 policy goals and what we accomplished with each of them:

  • Scout Minnesota’s MVPs: Most Valuable Principals. A win!
    When Gov. Dayton signed education omnibus bill H.F. 2949, we scored big for Minnesota public schools and the principals leading them by enacting legislation that connects 35 percent of principal evaluations to student achievement. Our platform to hold principals to the same level of accountability as their teachers was made possible thanks to the support of the governor, the legislature and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. Minnesota will now have regular, comprehensive evaluations for principals through a trusted model for identifying which principals are thriving and which are faltering so we can support those who need it and recognize those who deserve it.

  • Launch the Achievement Power Play. Off to a great start!
    We made two big moves to expand schools that are working, close that aren’t and improve those in between:

    • We helped Minneapolis Public Schools and Charter School Partners secure a provision in H.F. 2949 to allow charter schools to collaborate with their home districts. Now, district and charter schools can work together on everything from facilities and transportation to training and student achievement assessments. District schools can also include the academic performance of the students of a collaborating charter school for the purposes of student assessment and reporting.

    • We rallied behind a second provision in the omnibus bill to expand game-changing Career and Technical and post-secondary education options – an exercise in strong collaboration between Sen. Olson, Rep. Garofalo and Commissioner Cassellius. Now, more students will thrive in Minnesota classrooms.

Our power play builds off the notion in hockey when your team has a numerical advantage on the ice. More great athletes dramatically shift the odds in your favor. In education, the more great schools, the better the chance of meeting the needs of every Minnesota child. This year we will continue to embark on plays to scale school models with proven results and hold accountable those that prevent students from receiving the kind of education they deserve: Launch School & District Report Cards as a tool to help parents decide which school is the best option for their child, showcase Minnesota’s top achievement gap-busting schools and seed an achievement kick-start fund to provide the financial resources to scale-up successful schools.

  • Prize first-string teachers. Special interests put ahead of kids.
    Our statewide poll revealed overwhelming support for teacher tenure reform, including 91 percent of Minnesotans who say teacher performance should be the number one factor in a layoff decision. With phone calls and emails to legislators and the governor, we reinforced those findings: More than 2,000 emails and 800 phone calls flooded their offices urging them to support H.F. 1870, a simple measure to protect great teachers by basing layoff decisions on performance and not just seniority.

The legislature heard your call and passed H.F. 1870. Scores of Minnesota newspapers then urged Gov. Dayton to sign this meaningful reform into law. But the chance to prize first-string teachers fell flat when the governor vetoed H.F. 1870.

Political stagnation continues to prevent Minnesota schools from considering the factors that matter in important staffing decisions. But we know where Minnesotans stand, and we’re not giving up the fight on behalf of teachers who are posting learning gains and whittling away at our staggering achievement gaps.

When we founded MinnCAN at the start of 2011, we set out to change the conversation around education in our state. And 64 news stories, three issue briefs and two reports, 816 phone calls and 4,040 emails sent to policymakers later, we can write with confidence that we have.

But the battle for great schools isn’t won in a single year—or even two. We still have the second-largest achievement gap in the United States. Forty percent of Minnesota high school graduates need remedial math or reading upon entering college.

Recognizing our work is far from over, more and more Minnesotans are pledging to stand up for great schools year in and year out. I am so grateful for your support.

Together we are enacting the policies that will help give every Minnesota child access to a great public school. Because great schools change everything.


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