Courage, cooperation, conflict, creativity and change: those are five words I’d use to summarize public education in 2010. Considering those ideas may help make 2011 better for youngsters, educators, families and taxpayers.
• Many teachers worked hard and skillfully throughout the year. Despite challenge and controversy, the finest teachers continued encouraging and inspiring students;
• DFLers and Republicans who agreed on controversial but potentially valuable strategies – like new programs that would bring talented young, or mid-career people into teaching via alternative routes; and
• The courage of some local union officials who rejected pressure from others and supported Minnesota’s federal Race to the Top application for $330 million.
• Educators, like those in Forest Lake and St. Paul, who worked together to create a school choice fair, putting families first. The fair included district, charter, private and parochial schools. In an hour, families could learn about school options available to them; and
• District and charter public school educators who collaborated on a national conference featuring schools with “green” ideas, making better use of resources.
• Minnesota’s tragic experience with Race to the Top (RTT). Our application, supported only by about 10 percent of local teacher unions, was not among 15 finalists. Minnesota lost up to $330 million that could have been used to fund many research-based ideas to improve public schools. Despite meetings between state and union officials, Education Minnesota’s president wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, criticizing Minnesota’s application. Union officials in winning states strongly supported applications including ideas that Ed Minnesota and many local union officials rejected. (Full disclosure, our Center might have received a small amount of RTT funds if Minnesota’s proposal was approved);
• The RTT conflict was so deep that Minnesota did not even submit an application for the second round; and
• Reactions to the movie, “Waiting for Superman,” which promoted school improvement efforts.
• Student efforts, aided by their teachers, presented marvelous music programs throughout the state. One column cited a powerful presentation by Elk River Area students;
• Princeton and Victoria teachers posted many Internet-based computer links on their Web site. They provided families with marvelous, year round educational opportunities;
• Efforts by districts like North Branch and Ogilvie to experiment with four-day school weeks to keep budget cuts as far as possible from direct teacher/student contact;
• Anoka, Apple Valley, Blaine, Braham, Burnsville, Caledonia, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, Eagan, Elk River, Forest Lake, Little Falls, Milaca, North Branch, PACT Charter, Princeton, Pierz, Rogers, Rosemount, Rush City and Spectrum High Schools, offered Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools or other college level courses to high school students. This helped youngsters be more fully prepared for higher education and can save them thousands of dollars in college costs; and
· Many districts rewarding academic and artistic accomplishment, as well as athletic prowess, via school letters.
This year voters elected a Democratic governor for the first time in two decades. Voters also decided that Republicans would control both the Minnesota House and Senate for the first time ever.
Thanks to many educators who helped bring information to you via this column. Here’s hoping we’ll have more creativity and cooperation and less conflict in 2011.
Joe Nathan, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome are welcome via e-mail: email@example.com