Monthly Archives

August 2009

State Fair

By | Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20 | No Comments

state-fairAs I settled in to visit with fairgoers at the Minnesota State Fair before noon today, an elderly gentleman approached me determined to ask me a question or two. His first question: why didn’t I have a tie and a jacket on? With a sideward glance he was pleased to see that I had shaved that morning (and he told me so) and after learning we are required to wear a tie and jacket on the Senate floor, he seemed much more at ease. He did move on to some more pressing issues, but sizing up this politician was first and foremost on his mind.
Today, I spent a couple of hours at the Fair in the Senate Booth. You’ve probably seen us, right next to the House of Representatives booth, as you wandered through the far corner of the Education Building. Perhaps you’ve filled out a survey or visited with one of the Senators spending some time there.
Minnesotans are seldom at a loss to express their concerns or ask a pertinent question. Today I heard about several national concerns dealing with health care, the budget, President Obama, and social security. People were on both sides of the health care debate and everyone had an opinion. Several folks expressed the importance of investing in education. One gentleman wanted to talk about speed limits as they apply to trucks on the interstate while another wondered aloud how we can find more revenue for roads and bridges. Another brought up the idea of a unicameral legislature and was disappointed that it was not part of the survey. I heard questions about nursing homes, long term care, and all types of transit. Many people stopped by just to chat about politics in general while others politely inquired about my own personal background or the district that I represent. I enjoyed the conversations.
If you get to the Great Minnesota Get Together this year, stop by the Education Building (a block North of the entrance) and visit with some of the staffers and legislators of the Minnesota House and Senate. Jacket and tie are optional.

Senator Edward Kennedy

By | Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20 | No Comments

ted-kennedy1Ted Kennedy stopped by the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in 1980 as a Presidential candidate for the Democratic endorsement. I was there that day. The campus was abuzz waiting to catch a glimpse of this famous Kennedy and hear the stump speech prepared for the college students gathered. It was a good speech, but not a great speech. Of course, Kennedy never did unseat Jimmy Carter for the nomination that year and he eventually settled in to a long and distinguished career in the United States Senate.

I have heard Senator Kennedy speak several times since then…with much more passion and direction. He has delivered great speeches and important legislation. Over these several years I have grown to admire and appreciate his work on issues such as health care, minimum wage, mental health, the Americans with Disabilities Act, children’s health insurance, and civil rights. America has lost a great Statesman. His knowledge of issues, his leadership, and his willingness to work across party lines will be greatly missed.

“The more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side. . . .

In short, I hope for an America where neither “fundamentalist” nor “humanist” will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls.

I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt — or religious belief.

I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.”

– Senator Edward Kennedy, “On Truth and Tolerance,” 1983

AYP: Who’s to Blame?

By | Education | No Comments

So who is to blame for a school not making “Average Yearly Progress?” Everyone seems to have an opinion. Earl Weinmann, a friend and colleague of mine in the Northfield school system for the last 17 years, offers the following in response to that very question.

The state of Minnesota just released the standardized test scores mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and everyone’s angry once again. Fingers are being pointed and blame is being deflected. With all of the commotion, it’s hard to discern the political motivations from the financial to the educational. What we are left is a lot of loud noise and the echoes of anger. In the midst of all this blaming and carping about whose fault it is, I would like to calmly offer a few observations.

There are good teachers and bad teachers. There are good parents and bad parents. There are students who do well and students who do poorly. These statements were as true in the “good old days” when we sent a man to the moon as they are today when we debate whether we should go to Mars. The truth is that we have no potion to reverse this inevitability. First a full disclosure: I am a teacher of 25 years of experience who doesn’t “whine” about money. I believe that before we ask taxpayers for more money we have to allocate it better within school districts. I see money mandated or routed for programs, theories, and administrative needs that have little impact on the child. Conversely, I have a $250.00 annual classroom budget and spend over $1000.00 out of my own pocket each year for my classroom – and although, I wish it were different, I don’t mind. I hate what NCLB has done to my image and the reputation of my school, but understand the public clamoring for results. Although I am considered an excellent teacher, I do not want merit pay for the simple reason that “with the king’s purse, comes the king.” In other words, I fear it will generate even more mandates and require even more time that take away from what I believe is necessary for me to perform at a current high level. In short, I understand both sides, but enjoy my career too much to let it infect what I do in the classroom.

What I don’t understand is the vitriol that comes with it. My experience has found that, contrary to many opinions stated here, it is not the pay that drives teachers out of the profession but the beating one endures each day from so many fronts. Everybody seems so angry. Parents are angry. Legislators are angry. Worst of all, the students come to class angry because they model those they admire. I love the fact that the public is passionate about improving education – and there is room for improvement – but it can be done without laying to waste to a dignified profession. In the 1990’s Minnesota invested $152 million for the now defunct Profile of Learning program. Currently, we are spending billions each year to implement the much-maligned NCLB mandates. I will probably make someone angry for saying this, but I do believe that there is a simple solution that has never been tried and, best of all, would not cost a dollar. Teachers in your district have a great deal of insight about how their individual school (and possibly schools in general) can and should improve. They witness and confront a host of problems each year that are not of their own creation but of a moving-target that has been fueled by a dizzying bureaucracy. These teachers, the CEO’s of the classroom, know firsthand what can and cannot work…if only those in power would ask…if only teachers were given the means to help bring about change…if only these teachers were given the respect to share what they have learned about our educational system with all its successes and flaws. Unlike other proposals, I cannot guarantee success. One thing is for certain: whatever the teachers decide, it will require cooperation between parents, teachers, and students. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be working so hard to get it right, that no one will have time to blame one another. No one will have energy left over to get so angry.

Earl Weinmann teaches Social Studies in the Northfield Middle School. He is a former Northfield Teacher of the Year and was a top 10 finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

NCLB Not Making AYP

By | Education | No Comments

nclp-picThis week the Minnesota Department of Education released its list of Minnesota Schools that have not met Average Yearly Progress (AYP) according to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. About half of the 2,300 Minnesota schools made AYP this year. In 2002,the NCLB was passed on a bipartisan basis with the purpose of promoting academic achievement in English, math, and science to students who are not presently achieving at acceptable levels. This past legislative session, I introduced a resolution asking the U.S. Congress not to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act in its current form.
The entire sanctions concept must be revised. NCLB has resulted in an over reliance on standardized testing to the exclusion of other recognized indicators of student achievement. This in turn has lead to significant financial stress on states, school districts, teachers, and educational support staff for certification upgrades, coursework, school improvement strategies, private tutoring, choice related transportation, as well as unavoidable costs that come with school restructuring.
Schools need flexibility in a whole range of areas. Special education implementation, teacher subject area competency, school benchmarks, and student cohort definitions must not be imposed from Washington, D.C. Local educators and state legislatures must be allowed to refine these aspects of NCLB to reflect local conditions and needs. Flexibility and more sophisticated measurements will keep the focus on educating children instead of meeting unrealistic and rigid standards. According to a 2004 Legislative Auditor’s report 80-100% of the schools in Minnesota will not achieve AYP in 2014 as established by NCLB in its current form.
My resolution passed off the Senate floor on a 62-0 vote. Unfortunately, it did not receive a hearing in the House. While a resolution is a far cry from actual change, it would have sent a clear message to Congress to amend the No Child Left Behind Act so that states such as ours can work toward the goal of closing the achievement gap without the coercion of losing federal funds or the disappointment of being placed on a deficiency list.