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Star Tribune writers tracking education issues

St. Paul's English language learners deserve better, critics say

The St. Paul School District is being pushed to improve services to English language learners who comprise about one-third of its student population.

Opinions differ, however, on the current state of the programming.

Kristi Herman Hill, an English language teacher at Washington Technology Magnet School on the North End, told the school board at its monthly meeting Tuesday that the ELL program was in crisis.

She said staffing has been reduced while the number of students has remained steady. Hundreds of kids are not getting the services they should be provided, she contends, and many are being left behind when it comes to college and career readiness.

Herman Hill said she knew of 11 students who could not qualify for remedial college coursework.

The assessment offered by her and others came after the state Department of Education audited the program during the fall and found that the district was out of compliance with federal requirements in several areas. The district now must identify corrective measures to be taken during the next year.

In a statement, district officials said that despite the audit's findings, "there is no crisis." The review allows the district to "improve our practices and see where we can do better. If we take into context all that we are doing well, then this constructive feedback will only make us better," officials say.

The program also was audited in 2010, and then and now, questions were raised about whether enough teachers had access to professional development opportunities.

On Tuesday, the board received a petition signed by 1,032 people calling for program changes.

The petition, circulated by the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, seeks greater transparency in program allocations as well as a "consistent, well-articulated six-year graduation path" for refugees whose educational experience is limited or has been interrupted and who need to acquire not only English skills but also literacy and academic skills.

A Karen refugee who is a student at Como Park Senior High told the school board that she is fortunate that the school will allow her to stay for an extra year of coursework, and that other students should have that opportunity. She added that some students are in classes with as many as 40 kids.

The district said that work is underway to provide a response to the state by March 30, and that it has been a collaborative effort that last week involved 15 English language teachers. Officials concede, however, that issues surrounding professional development could require a multi-year approach.

Plaintiffs file appeal disputing Minnesota's teacher tenure laws

Four plaintiffs filed an appeal Thursday in their fight to challenge Minnesota's teacher tenure laws.

A judge rejected their suit in October but the parents are back to assert that state laws are protecting ineffective teachers and violating students' rights by keeping low-income and minority students from attaining a quality education.

“This lawsuit is about our children, said Roxanne Draughn, mother from St. Paul and a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “And when your child is suffering, as a parent you can’t back down." 

Judge Margaret Marrinan dismissed the suit, filed last Apri on the grounds that no link could be made between academic achievement and due process for teacher tenure laws.

In their appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the state has created a barrier by keeping students from their constitutional right to an adequate education. They indicate that the state has defined its measures on teacher effectiveness to ensure that students receive a quality education.

“It is the courts’ role to ensure that laws do not violate constitutional rights,” Jesse Stewart, attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Education Minnesota released a statement in January when the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal. In the statement, the teacher’s union expressed that the appeal was another attempt to silence teachers.

 “Due process protections are earned by Minnesota teachers after they have passed a lengthy probationary period and have met certain performance expectations,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said. “These laws don’t prevent bad teachers from getting fired. They prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons.”