The recent release of our state’s test scores shows areas of encouragement, but reading and math scores, as well as attendance rates, proved disappointing despite considerable efforts and resources to move the needle forward (“Math and reading scores drop,” Aug. 30). The news is especially disheartening for those of us in education who see the perplexing persistence of achievement disparities among our students.
I work in one of the larger metro school districts, home to a diverse student population that is embraced and validated by our staff. I am honored to work with volunteers, community partners, teachers and administrators who are committed to exploring best practices in service to our students’ success, not only academically, but to their social and emotional well-being as well. We genuinely accept our responsibility as educators to provide all students an optimal learning environment and know we have work to do.
However, I find the billboards sponsored by the Ciresi Walburn Foundation that read “Minnesota schools are worst in the nation for our children of color” to be more than provocative. To me, they are demoralizing and shortsighted. The message focuses on school failure, ignoring the impact of poverty, housing instability, employment, food insecurity, language barriers, mental health issues and more.
Achievement disparity in education is a complex challenge. All stakeholders need to be identified as having not only an essential role to play but responsible for making a commitment to effect change. Singling out schools and their perceived failure is not provocative, as the foundation may have intended. I feel it is counterproductive and an easy shot.
Jill Kaufman, New Hope
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In response to “Face up to gaps in student test scores” (editorial, Aug. 31): I have been an elementary school teacher in the state of Minnesota since 1987. It pains me to read that in 2018-19 “every racial group saw a decline in student progress on test scores over time.” I have two comments on this.
No. 1: We as teachers cannot do this work alone. We need parents, families, administration, communities and outside organizations to partner with us. Minds and structures need to be open to change and state mandates need to be funded.
No. 2: Ask some teachers what they believe needs to change in order for these gaps to close. Clearly the current efforts are not working. No one has ever asked me, nor likely my very educated, experienced, hardworking and fabulous co-workers, for our thoughts on closing these gaps. Give us a try!
Elizabeth Wisti Schutte, Corcoran
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When current state Sen. Paul Anderson was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s chief of staff, he balanced the state budget on the backs of our public schools with the now-infamous and regrettable “budget shift” that forced many Minnesota school districts to borrow money just to pay their bills. Those 2009 shenanigans are still being paid for by our schools and have contributed materially to large class sizes, understaffing and students being underserved.
Anderson and DFL Rep. Ami Wazlawik have suggested we not hire more math teachers and instead use barely trained AmeriCorps volunteers in the “Math Corps” program (“Math, reading must improve,” Readers Write, Sept. 2). Having lived in Africa for years, I’m very familiar with President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps and how it works. Well, Anderson is no Kennedy, and AmeriCorps is no Peace Corps. It is astonishing that these representatives want to use volunteers to fix the problem Anderson and his Republican cronies created 10 years ago.
There is a different, better and obvious solution: Sufficiently fund our schools so that class size can be held in check and reduced, and hire actual teachers to teach our children. Sen. Anderson and Rep. Wazlawik, you could be the bipartisan coalition that saves the current generation of students who are paying for the stunningly awful fiscal policy of a long-gone administration, but not in the way you suggest.
Greg T. Laden, Plymouth
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First, congratulations to the St. Paul Public Schools for starting high school later to meet the educational and physical needs of high school students (“St. Paul kids prep for new start time,” Sept. 2). The push for a later start for high school students has been a long journey.
In the 1990s, the Minnesota Medical Association sent a letter to all Minnesota superintendents informing them of the sleep needs of teens and asking school districts to consider later school start times for them to improve their overall health. In Edina, based on our desire to make changes based on solid research, we accepted this challenge and became the first high school in the nation in 1996 to start high school later based on scientific research. Then, to make sure this change was professionally researched and to determine if it this move was beneficial, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota helped us do a study on its effects.
As the article stated, this research showed great gains in many academic and social/emotional areas for our students. Now some 23 years later, I still get contacted by students and parents nationwide who want to know how to make this change for their students. In education, to find any change that has survived and flourished for over 20 years and is still growing is amazing. It must work.
Enjoy your extra sleep, St. Paul high school students. You are part of the wave!
Kenneth Dragseth, Edina
The writer is a retired superintendent at Edina Public Schools.
Apply strict standards to Walz, too
I read with great disappointment the Sept. 1 editorial (“Answers and results are needed at DHS”), which attempts to take new Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead to task for her lack of leadership at the embattled state agency.
Nowhere is Gov. Tim Walz mentioned — either directly or indirectly — by the Star Tribune Editorial Board for failing the same criteria of leadership. Wasn’t her appointment made by Walz? In fact, why isn’t Walz mentioned more as having something to do with the scandals at the Department of Corrections, the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, etc.? He apparently is not accountable or questioned for any responsibility for any mess that his administration is presiding over. Why?
Appropriately, the Editorial Board frequently holds the Trump administration accountable for a multitude of executive blunders, yet it applies an attitude of indifference for demanding a similar standard for Gov. Walz. Like Commissioner Harpstead, the very best we can expect from Walz is “gauzy comments,” a phrase the Editorial Board used to characterize the new commissioner’s actions at the agency.
The need for transparency and accountability of both individuals is glaringly absent. It is the Star Tribune’s responsibility to apply the same standard to all of our leaders.
Tom Berkelman, Plymouth
Overdue charges don’t discriminate
I was appalled at the comments made by the letter writer regarding overdue library fees (“Let’s shelve overdue fees,” Sept. 3). He said that the fees discriminate against poor people and people of color.
This is about responsibility, not color or income. Doesn’t matter what our income is or what we look like, we still have rules to follow and we are all capable of that. We know what the due dates are when we check things out. In many cases, the library automatically renews books and they e-mail us to let us know. We are not unaware. It’s a choice each one of us makes.
Marilyn Mangan, Mound
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