From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee talks education reform at chamber summit

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: February 6, 2014 - 4:23 PM

There are probably not many teacher types in the Twin Cities who didn't know that Michelle Rhee was in town today.

That's because local social media has been burning up with news of Rhee's keynote address to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's education summit in St. Paul.

Much of it has not been nice.

That's because Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools and founder of StudentsFirst, has irked teachers' unions across the country by her opposition to tenure and her support of standardized testing and charter schools.

Consider this tweet from the Badass Teachers Association

"Michelle Rhee is not about kids. She is about profit. Get her out of St. Paul!"

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, criticized the chamber for charging non-members $75 to hear Rhee and others speak.

“It’s clear the sponsors only want to hear people who can afford an expensive ticket and take the morning off from work,” she said. “That’s not working families. It’s also not Minnesota educators and students, who will be in class at that time. Who is this event really for?”

Others, however, love Rhee for her tough-talk and willingness to push against the education establishment. No doubt that's one of the reasons why she was invited to speak.

On Thursday, she continued to hammer on the need to reform education in Minnesota and beyond.

 “Real reform means raising standards, investing in teacher quality, strengthening accountability, and empowering parents with more school choice and information," Rhee said. "These policies have shown promise and they can help close Minnesota’s persistent achievement gap. Above all, true education reform means making sure that every policy decision is driven by what is best for students, not adults.”

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, also spoke about the need to push for reform, particularly when it comes to training teachers.

After her speech, she spoke to the Star-Tribune about efforts to abolish what is commonly known as the basic skills exam for teachers.

Recently, a state-wide task force recommended doing away with the exam, citing complaints that the test is unfair for aspiring teachers who are not native English speakers among other reasons. A minority faction of the task force, which included Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and Senator Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, argued for keeping the test.

Walsh thinks scrapping the test would be taking a step backward.

"It's basic reading, writing and math," she said. "That test should be an entry test for teachers, not an exit test."

Last year, the Council released a report ranking teacher preparation programs across the country. Most got very low marks from the group.

"It's no wonder when we have curriculums that are so weak that we have teachers struggling to pass a basic skills exam," she said.

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