Gov. Tim Pawlenty toured the state Tuesday to roll out a set of sensible proposals intended to improve K-12 teaching, increase accountability for student performance and provide intensive summer school for students struggling with reading and math.
Together, the plans rightly focus on increasing the quality of teaching and learning with the ultimate goal of boosting student achievement. Some are proposals the governor has pushed for previously, while others expand on concepts his administration already has in place.
Ambitious reforms are needed in Minnesota. Although students generally score well in nationwide comparisons, wide discrepancies remain between white students and some students of color. In addition, only about 30 percent of state 11th-graders are proficient in math, and about a third need remedial math courses after entering college.
Called the "Teacher Transformation Act,'' the first initiative would set a higher entrance bar for admission to teacher preparation programs, create a program to recruit midcareer professionals to teach in high-need subject areas, and provide more continuous, real-time teacher training that is directly applicable to the classroom.
Pawlenty also proposes taking the pay-for-performance concept a step further than the current voluntary Q-Comp program, which only encourages district leaders to change their compensation models. Under the proposal, the state would require districts to use new money in teacher contracts for raises tied to student test-score performance.
To address school leadership and administration, the governor wants to expand participation in a national school leadership program for principals and revise standards for approving principal licensure.
In addition, his proposed "Summer of Success'' program would provide an intensive four- or six-week summer school session for at-risk eighth-graders who have fallen behind in reading and math. The providers would be selected by the Department of Education, and the programs would operate separately from school districts.
Several of the proposals have merit. Research confirms the need to improve college training programs and provide more professional development for teachers and administrators. Targeting struggling eighth-graders also makes sense, although it's also important to invest in stronger preschool and elementary education so that remediation just before high school isn't needed.
Pawlenty's first batch of proposals heading into the 2009 legislative session doesn't touch the state's 800-pound gorilla of an issue: school finances. The recommendations come at a time when dozens of state school district leaders feel they are underfunded by the state and are asking voters to fund basic operations.
Pawlenty didn't attach price tags to his proposals or address the larger funding debates, saying it would be "unwise'' to discuss major new funding commitments without a state financial forecast. As has been the case for most of his tenure, the governor will likely face a budget deficit later this year.
Education Department officials say these are just the first of the governor's plans for education. That's good to hear. Hopefully future proposals will include even more details and specifically address funding questions.