What’s up with Article 6 of the Education Omnibus bill (SF3189) awaiting action in the Minnesota Senate? The title is Race to the Top and there are several provisions in the article that raise serious questions about our future education policy.
I have already expressed my concerns about the Alternative teacher licensure provisions in the bill. To address those concerns I have offered an alternative teacher preparation amendment which focuses on mid-career professionals. Alternative licensure candidates would find work where there is a need for teachers in shortage areas or the school identifies a need to eliminate a student achievement gap. The eligibility requirements under the proposal maintain high standards for teacher candidates and require at least 12 weeks of student teaching under a fully licensed classroom teacher.
Other sections of the bill create a tiered licensure system for initial, standard, and master teacher along with statewide teacher, principal, and superintendent evaluations. I am all for evaluations but one provision under this bill would consider a teacher “highly effective” if the students test scores on statewide student assessments improve. We want to raise the bar for students but labeling teachers with this approach needs much more discussion and input. Would it require even more testing in more subject areas in our already over-tested schools? Can we truly measure student growth in an overloaded semester class full of at risk kids? Where does the parent and community component fit in?
Section 4 allows the Commissioner of Education to take over the collective bargaining process if labor and management are unable to agree on a school’s continuous improvement plan. That plan may address, but is not limited to, hiring, reassigning and transferring employees, work rules related to the educational calendar, retention, and employment performance incentives. Should the Governor’s appointed commissioner be allowed to intervene in a process that allows both labor and management ownership in local decisions regarding employment and working conditions? Will decisions by a commissioner create the buy-in necessary to turn a school around?
Section 3 allows the commissioner and the chairs of the House and Senate to provisionally adopt common core state standards now, never mind the work done on state standards over the years, or the lack opportunities for input from our teachers, administrators, or even legislators. Should we adopt national core standards that no one has seen? It all seems a bit rushed.
Article 6 has more questions than it has answers. Even though Minnesota has a long history of educational excellence, there is no doubt we should continue to look at real educational reform aimed at reducing the achievement gap. We can focus on the teacher, but we should not ignore early childhood education, all day kindergarten, extended school programs, targeted services, class size reduction, and other proven initiatives. Race to the Top could be a race to Mediocrity if we rush into “reform” for reform’s sake.