MinnCAN is a part of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now.

We’re focused on a Minnesota where all students excel in rigorous and relevant schools. Learn more about our impact across the state.

by Joe Nathan
in the HometownSource on Tuesday, July 12, 2016
A recent, successful effort by students and parents in St. Paul highlights the importance of a July 12 meeting in Minneapolis.
As some Minnesotans are demonstrating in the streets for a more just society, about 50 Minnesotans met July 12 with Minnesota Department of Education officials to discuss how Minnesota plans to implement the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, aka ESSA.
That law requires the state to assess and report what’s happening with students. The law also ultimately could bring millions of dollars to Minnesota public schools.
A student from the High School for Recording Arts who attended the July 12 meeting emphasized the importance of “retaining music and other arts in schools, rather than cutting them.” A group of St. Paul students and parents calling themselves No Cuts to Kids, in which I was involved, promoted this idea in recent St. Paul district discussions. Sometimes, in the rush for improved test scores, policymakers forget the enormous value of music and other arts.
Ultimately the St. Paul School Board listened to students and parents who recommended greater cuts in district administration so that more programs in areas like music and art could be retained. That experience helps demonstrate the importance of families and students, along with educators, participating in budget and policy decisions.
Tasha Gandy, Minnesota executive director of Students for Education Reform, attended the Minneapolis meeting and helped arrange for students to participate. She explained that she is “eager to see the next steps that will allow students and parents to be engaged” in the development of MDE’s plan. Gandy and her colleagues have successfully included high school and college students in many community, school and legislative meetings over the last few years.
The statewide education advocacy group MinnCAN convened the July 12 meeting. Andrea Roethke, MinnCAN’s interim executive director, believes the meeting’s “high turnout demonstrates how eager people are to get involved in ESSA planning.” She added, “People brought real, concrete ideas to the table and we need to tap into that.”
She also thinks: “There is a clear appetite for MDE to do more around engaging parents and the communities of color. This needs to be two-way, with MDE both offering accessible information and taking in meaningful feedback. I think people also need more clarity around how this engagement will ultimately drive decision-making.”
Other participants emphasized the importance of follow-up.
Marika Pfefferkorn, director of Minnesota Black Male Achievement Network at the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, was both hopeful and concerned. She believes that the opportunity to help plan implementation of the new law represents a “one in 50- to 60-year opportunity.” However, she felt that MDE was still “talking in the same circles.” She was one of many who encouraged much greater outreach by MDE.
Charlene Briner, chief of staff at MDE who attended the meeting, told me that MDE is eager to hear from and work with a variety of people. Briner is convinced that “the broader representation we have, the better outcomes will be.”
MDE has created a webpage where information is available about the law at http://bit.ly/29Ds4Ef. A federal summary is at http://www.ed.gov/essa.
Demonstrators in the streets are a visible reminder that changes are needed. I think both peaceful demonstrations and detailed discussions are needed to produce progress. If there is strong follow-up to meetings like the one on July 12, we should see more opportunities and better results, at least in our public schools.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.



Recent Posts

More posts from In the News

See All Posts