School system 'a relic,' gov says

  • Article by: EMILY JOHNS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2010 - 10:43 PM

After a failed first try at innovation funding, state will reapply at only if legislators pass reforms, Pawlenty says.

Minnesota won't apply for a second round of up to $175 million for school innovation unless the Legislature passes education reforms that would give the state a better chance at getting it, Gov. Tim Pawlenty told educators on Tuesday.

"Our school system is filled with good people," Pawlenty said, "but it's a relic of the 1940s."

The governor's remarks were the latest salvo in a growing debate over teacher quality in Minnesota in the week since the state lost out in its effort to win up to $250 million in the first round of the federal "Race to the Top" competition.

His office blames Education Minnesota, the state's leading teachers union, for standing in the way of the kind of reform favored by the Obama administration.

Teacher unions have been a frequent target of Pawlenty, who is considering a 2012 run for the White House.

In its own comments on Tuesday, Education Minnesota said that a second application would be worth the effort.

"Race to the Top" is meant to distribute $4.35 billion in federal aid to states making great strides in education reform. Applications for the second round of funding are due in June.

Last week, when the U.S. Department of Education announced the two winners -- Delaware and Tennessee -- it also revealed why other states' applications fell short.

Federal reviewers said Minnesota's application failed because of the state's inability to construct good policies supporting teachers, to dump bad teachers, to place the best teachers where they're needed most, or to find faster ways to get teachers into the classroom.

They also cited the state's inability to narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and questioned whether Minnesota has the political fortitude to implement changes.

One reviewer questioned an assessment system that found 97 percent of the state's teachers to be highly qualified.

Pawlenty said he will ask the Legislature to act on a bill that would make it easier for people to find "alternative pathways" into teaching, something he said would give the state "the ability to get the most highly effective teachers" in the classroom.

Chas Anderson, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said that Minnesota would also benefit from a law making the state's authority to intervene in struggling schools clearer.

A number of other states also are considering not applying in round two, including Colorado, Arizona, California, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota.

Some states questioned the criteria by which winners were chosen, and some people suggested the contest amounted to too much federal intrusion.

A major factor hurting Minnesota's initial "Race to the Top" application was the fact that only 12 percent of the state's teachers' unions signed onto it, citing disagreements over the policies included on what is best for students.

Anderson said the department will work to gain teacher support if the state applies for the second round of funding.

"But we can't water it down to get further support," she said.

Winners in the second round of the competition will be announced in September, Anderson said.

In its statement, Education Minnesota also referred to the achievement gap, saying that solving it and improving learning for children "must be a true team effort, inclusive of everyone who wants the achievement gap eliminated."

Minnesota finished 20th out of 41 applicants and earned 375 out of 500 points, about 70 points behind second-place Tennessee.

More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he expects a larger number of winning states in the second round, possibly 10 to 15.

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

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