Sometimes the easiest way to respond to a problem is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Focusing only on our success ignores not only the real challenges but also the opportunity to work together on solutions. Education Minnesota President Denise Specht’s recent commentary (“One flavor of reform leaves a bad taste,” Feb. 6) is an example.
Specht suggests that all is well in Minnesota’s schools — that the high performance of Minnesota’s students overall means that there is no need to reform our education system.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. This ignores the harsh reality that Minnesota has thousands of students — predominantly African-American and Hispanic — who are not receiving an adequate education.
Specht is correct in citing the results of the Nation’s Report Card, on which Minnesota’s fourth-graders ranked 10th nationally in reading. What she doesn’t mention, however, is that while 50 percent of white students scored proficient on the exam, only 23 percent of Hispanic students and 21 percent of African-American students did.
I highly doubt those families share this rosy outlook on Minnesota’s schools. Real lives are affected when we fail to act.
Yet entrenched interests in Minnesota continue to block common-sense education reforms. Rather than talk about these policies and their impact on kids, it’s easier to level personal attacks against the adults proposing them.
Fortunately, there are other voices in the room.
Across Minnesota, individual teachers and parents are fed up with the persistent inequity and are starting to speak out. It’s encouraging to see community members step out of their comfort zones and share their voices. We should applaud these efforts and welcome diverse opinions. After all, education is a space where we should embrace and debate big ideas, not dismiss them.
When we look outside of Minnesota, there are additional reasons to take heart. Citizens in other states are working together to implement meaningful education reforms, and they’re seeing encouraging progress.
Tennessee, Indiana and Washington, D.C., all invested heavily in implementing student-centered policies focused on teacher quality and high standards. And on the Nation’s Report Card, they boasted the country’s largest gains in student achievement.
Yet these are the very same reforms that Education Minnesota and other groups so virulently oppose.
Isn’t it time we keep the best interests of students — especially those in underserved communities — in mind?
I’ll tell you one thing: The presenters at the 2014 Education Summit hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce certainly do. The ideas aren’t complicated. We should allow great school leaders the flexibility to hire the best teachers who meet their communities’ needs. Educators should be recognized and rewarded for how well they teach. Teacher quality, not the duration of employment, should determine who has the opportunity to stand in front of a classroom full of students. All kids, no matter their ZIP code or family income, should have the opportunity to attend a school that meets their needs. And families deserve quality school choices and transparent information about school performance.
Providing all students a great education is a moral obligation and also is critical to our future economic success. Now is the time to embrace big ideas and take significant steps to reform education. Our kids don’t have time to waste, and neither do we.
So how do we get there? By inviting collaboration and discussion from all interested parties, not discouraging it. Robust conversation centered on improving the lives of kids can only be good for our state. Change is hard, but accepting the status quo will have a paralyzing effect on future generations.
As a Minnesota resident whose kids attended Minnesota’s public schools, I believe there’s too much at risk to allow political rhetoric to cloud the discussion about our future. We are a proud state with a rich history. Let’s work together and build a future we can all look forward to.
Kathy Saltzman is the Minnesota state director of StudentsFirst.