President's plan has appeal of the familiar to Minnesotans

  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • March 10, 2009 - 9:51 PM

President Obama's call for an education resurgence based on merit pay and charter schools, among other things, found some agreement from Minnesota's Republican governor and the DFL-leaning teachers union, which have sharply disagreed on those issues in the past.

Charter school leaders also said Obama's talk should help, even as they spent another day at the state Legislature with lawmakers who are preparing to require greater accountability from charter schools.

"President Obama is right when he says, 'it is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones,'" Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement. "That sentiment is a driving force behind Minnesota's Q Comp performance and professional pay program and our Pay for Progress initiative.

"We hope the Obama administration will look to Q Comp as a model as this national discussion on performance pay for teachers moves forward," he added.

A spokesman for the governor said Obama's remarks are further evidence that the Legislature should pass Pawlenty's education reform initiatives.

But the teachers union, no fan of Q Comp or charter schools, said the state has already made more gains than most others along those lines and should move forward carefully.

Obama's proposed policies "won't have the same impact here because we've been leading the way in making choice available to parents," said Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the union that represents 70,000 state teachers and education professionals.

Minnesota is an example the Obama administration can use for "what is good for public policy on education," Dooher said. But he added, "The devil is in the details."

The teachers union plans to work with the administration "to make sure the policies that are crafted are working with teachers, and making sure that the best practices for teachers are going to be involved," Dooher said.

Others endorsed Obama's plan more comprehensively.

"I thought it was one of the best statements about public education priorities in the last decade," said Joe Nathan, direct of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.

The broad outlines of the president's speech were even-handed and rooted in research, said Nathan, a charter school backer. Schools as well as teachers that show strong performance ought to be rewarded, he said, adding that the state should enlist its best teachers in an effort to improve the skill level of all teachers.

Wherever the state finds successful programs -- charter schools, gifted teachers, or early childhood development programs -- "they should be replicated and expanded," Nathan said.

The Legislature currently is trying to toughen standards for charter schools, and Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, said he is for it and in favor of the principles Obama laid out in his speech.

"It really is all about accountability and transparency for charter schools," Piccolo said. "Generally, I thought it was a wonderful speech."

Gregory A. Patterson • 612-673-7287 Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

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