Alice Seagren says Minnesota's elected officials need to pay more attention to costs vs. the benefits.
In "Giving our public schools their due" (Dec. 9), Dane Smith quoted me as saying that "money does matter" in a speech I gave a few years back to his organization, Growth & Justice. Here is the context to what I said:
As our elected officials decide how much to spend and where to spend it, they often do not consider the cost vs. the benefit. Many times, they continue to support policies and programs that have shown little benefit in spite of huge investments. All programs should be reviewed for improvement or elimination if they are not delivering a benefit to our students.
Smith's commentary stated that it has become costlier to educate a changing student population, with more poverty and more immigrant pupils. That is why it is even more important to fund programs that will give us the biggest bang for the buck.
Two programs are doing just that. They were created and are being sustained with bipartisan support.
The first is the Minnesota Reading Corps. Established 10 years ago, this reading intervention program serves children age 3 through grade three who are at risk of falling behind. Year after year, independent evaluation is showing that children in the Minnesota Reading Corps outperform demographic peers who do not receive these services.
The Minnesota Reading Corps was the only program that received additional funding during the last biennial budget. In a $14 billion budget, the funding is modest at $4 million a year, but the Legislature and governor saw that the benefit is huge.
The second program, established about five years ago, is the Minnesota Principals Academy. Research shows that teachers affect about 33 percent of student learning, and we have given much attention to the support of teachers. But research also shows that principals affect 25 percent of student learning, and very little attention has been given to the continuing professional support of our principals in the field.
The academy uses a curriculum from the National Institute of School Leadership. Johns Hopkins and Old Dominion universities have done independent evaluations in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where this comprehensive professional development also is used. The evaluations have shown statistically significant student achievement when principals have gone through this program. Because of this, Minnesota chose to send 300 principals through this academy.
Both these programs deserve money -- yes, and even additional money. Both are examples of establishing policies and programs that address the changing needs of our educational system articulated in Smith's article.
Current Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was also quoted in Smith's article, agreeing that we need to find smarter ways to fund our schools. That may mean more money. But before we spend more, we can also use careful cost-benefit analyses to first eliminate ineffective programs and redeploy that money to programs that have strong educational results.
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Alice Seagren was education commissioner in the administration of GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
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