Education reform: The race is over, but this is no time to rest

  • May 23, 2010 - 8:27 PM


K-12, higher ed will collaborate

The end of Minnesota's chances for progressing in the Obama administration's Race to the Top challenge represents an opportunity lost for our students. But it does not spell the end of reform.

In fact, we are bringing significant change to the education landscape in our region by partnering with other universities and the Bush Foundation to transform the way teachers are recruited, trained, placed and supported in their new careers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

We will develop 25,000 effective teachers over the coming decade -- enough to replace all the teachers expected to retire or change careers in that time in the three-state area -- and guarantee their effectiveness.

Too much of this year's education reform debate has centered on alternative licensure, ignoring the fact that most teachers obtain their education through traditional routes, in the higher-education system. Instead of arguing about who can prepare them, we believe that our states should approve teacher-preparation programs that are willing to do what we are doing: guarantee the effectiveness of their graduates to the K-12 districts that hire them. These programs must agree to support graduates through their first three to five years of teaching through a variety of methods, including mentoring arrangements, in-service workshops and additional on-campus seminars during the summer.

This collaboration between universities and our K-12 partners strengthens an important relationship that has not always been as strong as it should be. We need better information on how our teaching graduates are faring and how we can use their experience to improve our teaching-preparation programs. Our partners in the schools need an ironclad guarantee that the graduates they hire will be able to meet the challenges they will face in the classroom.

Together, these changes would form the most innovative system for assuring the effectiveness of new teachers and principals in the country. Even without new federal education funds, this system will allow our students to literally race to the top.

Robert H. Bruininks is president of the University of Minnesota. Earl H. Potter is president of St. Cloud State University.


Many are taking up the challenge

Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, threw its weight around the Capitol to defeat legislation that would have improved education and strengthened Minnesota's bid for a Race to the Top grant.

Fortunately, others are taking up the challenge of change. The Minnesota Business Partnership, the Itasca Project, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Bush Foundation, for example, have teamed up on a sustained effort to advance meaningful education reforms -- and we're looking for others to join us.

The Bush Foundation has partnered with 14 colleges of education on a $40 million project to transform how we recruit, train and place teachers. Over the next 10 years, as baby boomers retire, 25,000 teachers will enter the field with new tools and a guarantee from their alma maters that they are effective teachers.

Medtronic, General Mills and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce are among those supporting efforts like Teach for America to bring talented people with more varied backgrounds into teaching and place them in the schools where they are most needed.

Principals play a vital role. Yet the path to the principal's office is based on self-selection, with limited training and support. To strengthen principal leadership, the partnership and leading employers like Cargill, Travelers and Capella University are funding leadership-training programs at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College and are providing senior executives to advise principals on the challenges of leadership.

The key to effective reform is using data to inform decisions and drive improvement. The Minnesota Department of Education, with support from Accenture, the TCF Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation and others, is developing the tools to turn data into useful, understandable information for educators, policymakers -- and parents.

Contrary to Education Minnesota's stance, there's an appetite for new approaches among educators. Administrators and union leaders in the most-challenged districts -- Minneapolis and St. Paul -- supported Minnesota's Race to the Top application and welcomed graduates from Teach for America. And the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers worked with the partnership and Education Evolving to create a new national model for schools run by teachers.

Dedicated educators, innovative school leaders, foundations, employers and community organizations are doing what it takes to help Minnesota students win the global education race.

Charlie Weaver is executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.


Important, but not the only debate

Since Minnesota is no longer running the Race to the Top, we must get serious about defining our state's future reform agenda. Our districts had much at stake, but the money alone was not enough to entice them to sign onto the state's application. The reforms at the heart of Race to the Top were.

Failure to find a common vision for improving education aligned to President Obama's priorities continues to tarnish Minnesota's hard-earned reputation as a state able to innovate in education. We think it is time to recommit to leading public education reform in this nation.

Discussions about teacher and principal licensure, quality, evaluation and retention not only must continue but must expand to include an examination of the processes for alternative teacher certification and teacher development in higher education institutions. Educational research is clear: the quality of teachers and school leaders makes or breaks the achievement of students and schools.

We must engage in transformative work at colleges and universities to ensure that prospective teachers are identified, coached and trained to be effective -- such as the work the Bush Foundation is currently leading at local universities. If an alternative path to licensure creates opportunities to attract qualified and innovative individuals to the field who may have pursued a different path in college, then the state should find the right balance of requirements to make it happen.

At the end of the day, however, the debate over alternative paths to licensure is distracting us from the larger issues. The world has changed dramatically in 40 years, yet education's human-resource practices remain trapped in the 1970s. Evaluating teachers annually and factoring in student achievement should not be a radical idea. We need peer-driven systems that support staff improvement; less-arcane processes for exiting ineffective teachers and school leaders from the system are a must. Compensation practices need to reward performance more and seniority less.

We are committed to moving ahead on the reforms our districts can implement. We'll keep the faith and the focus on this race to reform, because it is a race our children are counting on us to win.

Bernadeia Johnson is deputy superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools. Valeria Silva is superintendent of the St. Paul public schools.

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