Minnesota has the second largest student achievement gap in the country - with only half of the kindergartners showing up to class prepared - and the state earned a "C" in the 2010 Teacher Quality Counts report, making it 29th in the nation.
These were a few state education facts Cecilia Retelle, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's manager of education policy, discussed Wednesday at a luncheon meeting entitled, "Preparing a world class work force: How can Minnesota students achieve better outcomes in the K-12 system?" About 15 educators and workforce representatives attended the meeting at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd.
Retelle is attending meetings across the state talking to educators and business representatives on how to address necessary education reforms that will improve the quality of the future work force by addressing ways to close the achievement gap and improve student's success, which includes having high quality teachers. Retelle said the chamber is looking for feedback to help it create its own education reform policy.
Retelle said in 2018, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require some post-secondary training, creating a growing disconnect between jobs available and Americans who can fill them. Retelle said China will soon be the No. 1 English speaking country in the world and 25 percent of India's population with the highest IQ is greater than the total population of the United States.
Retelle said the top 10 most demanding jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.
Retelle said the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is proposing three priorities in its education reform: to have an effective teacher in every classroom; require reading at grade level by the time a student completes the third grade; and to increase the high school graduation requirements.
Retelle said the chamber proposes to increase the math and science credits from three to four and world language to two credits that would allow the students to take 3.5 instead of 7 elective credits. Retelle said in 2009, 75 percent of students graduated in four years and a third of the students entering college had to enroll in remedial courses.
Increasing the high school graduation requirements did not sit well with audience members.
Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, said taking away electives from the students is not the answer. Paxton said many students go to school just because of the electives and they should not be taken away.
Jim Christenson, Crosby-Ironton School District secondary principal, agreed with Paxton.
"I would argue that if a students wants to take a business class I would like them to do that," said Christenson. "We offer quite a few elective classes and I would end up having to make some tough choices on what would be available to only offer 3.5 electives."
Christenson said by adding more science and math the state would be making the students' choices for them on what classes they need to take. Christenson said all students are different and not all students would want to take four classes on science or math. Christenson said having electives allows students to be creative.
Retelle said she will note the displeasure in the high school graduation standards and she will see what others in the state have to say about it.
Retelle said the chamber is proposing a statewide standard teacher evaluation that all school districts would use that would be 35 percent based on student data and the evaluations would be completed four times a year. Retelle said there are many good teachers, but there are some who need improvement. Retelle said that many of the teachers who need improvement are not fired and continue to teach.
Central Lakes College president Larry Lundblad said most school districts have some kind of teacher evaluation process that could be strengthened. Lundblad said in his 25 years in education he had to fire one person. Lundblad said people may have not been fired, but "a lot of people exited," by resigning or retiring.
Christenson said he conducts three evaluations every year on probationary teachers, which is a statewide mandate. He said there have been a number of teachers he had to let go in their first three years of teaching because they were not qualified.
"If I have any doubts (on a teacher's qualifications) they won't stay," said Christenson. "It's over a million dollar investment."
Deb Lechner, Brainerd School District director of teaching and learning, said Brainerd is part of the Q Comp program that helps teachers improve their skills. Retelle said part of the education reform is to support teachers who want to participate in the program.
Paxton said what concerns her with the teacher evaluations is if the state already mandates them and if school districts are doing fine with them, then why add more state mandates? Retelle said having a standard test would be beneficial as evaluations and the ratings teachers receive would be done the same way across the board, no matter what district a teacher worked at. Retelle said a teacher could be at two school districts and would have two different rating systems.
On the priority of having students be at the grade level for reading at the end of third grade, Retelle said students in kindergarten through third grade learn to read and students in fourth grade on up read to learn. Retelle said schools should track reading progression starting in kindergarten.
"We need to intervene earlier," said Retelle.
Christenson said Crosby offers all-day every-day kindergarten which helps children, but he said the state funding needs to be changed to give districts more money to offer the program.
Christenson also raised the question of the accountability parents have on educating their children. Christenson said kindergartners should know the basic skills, such as knowing their colors, some numbers and shapes. Christenson said not only are the school and students being held accountable for their education, but parents also should be.
Lundblad added that he was pleased to see the chamber being involved in education reform. He encouraged the chamber to look ahead at fundamental educational changes and look at the work force to see what the schools and colleges can do outside of the traditional ways students are taught.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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