Guest opinion: Pushing education

By Dennis Schminke, Republican Candidate for District 27B

The topic of education will always generate lively conversation in Minnesota. Parents care about their children’s future and taxpayers care about the money. Education is one of the constitutionally mandated responsibilities of our state government. Politicians on both sides of the aisle like to spend money on it. It is the single largest line-item in the state general fund budget — nearly $16 billion.

Dennis Schminke

Dennis Schminke

Education is important, because it is rightly seen as one of the primary keys to prosperity — for both individual students and our state as a whole. Minnesota ranks high nationally in median household income — in part because of a well-educated, highly motivated workforce. Long-term, the only way to compete successfully in today’s global marketplace will be for bright people to figure out ways to deliver more output from each hour of work expended. Technology, innovation, and education work hand-in-glove to achieve this.

There are things we do well in Minnesota. ACT recently announced 2014 testing results. Once again Minnesota led the nation with an average composite ACT score of 22.9, with 76 percent of graduates taking the test. That means that the AVERAGE Minnesota graduate scores better than 70 percent of those taking the test nationwide. That is remarkable. Austin’s average was 19.5 with 90 percent of Austin graduates taking the test, placing us just below the 50th percentile nationally.

That is the good news. There are also areas needing improvement. The Minnesota Legislature and Department of Education should focus efforts on these.

Even with that average composite score, ACT estimates that over 40 percent of Minnesota graduates taking the test are not well enough prepared to succeed in college-level coursework. They will spend time (and money) during their first year doing remedial work.

Another challenge to address and overcome is our so-called achievement gap — the disparity in test performance and graduation rates between white students and the various minority student populations. Minnesota’s gap has historically been high by national standards. Our statistics improved at the fourth grade level in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Results at the eighth grade were not as encouraging. In both cases, there is still a long way to go. Particularly vexing is the fact that the widest gaps exist in the big-city school districts of Minneapolis and St. Paul — where we are spending far-higher amounts per student than elsewhere in the state.

So what is to be done? How do we make education better so that students will succeed?

First, we have set high standards for learning, and should not flinch from the goal of students meeting them. Whether students pursue a college degree, or a potentially high-paying career path in a technical field or skilled trade, they will have a higher chance of success if they are competent in reading, writing, and math. If a diploma from a Minnesota high school is to mean anything, we do ourselves no favors by dropping the requirement to pass the MN-GRAD exam.

Next, we are on the right track with testing. That which is important, we measure. What we measure, we get better at. Test results are useful most directly as an indicator of each student’s progress and where help is needed. Additionally, there is widespread agreement that having an effective teacher in the classroom strongly correlates with student learning. Using that same data, there is a fertile field for academic researchers to plow: What works? How do we evaluate the performance of schools, curriculums, and yes, even teachers and alternative classroom techniques?

For the Legislature and the State Department of Education, there are additional issues to be addressed: funding disparities between Metro schools and ours in Greater Minnesota; teacher testing and licensure requirements; creating a balance between performance and tenure when it comes to teacher compensation, retention, and promotion.

Economists tell us that when it comes to performance and success, incentives matter. Throughout our education system we have two imperatives — to evaluate what we need to get done, and to align everyone’s incentives — from superintendents to classroom teachers — with those goals. Our first consideration must be for the students, whose future success hangs in the balance. We must be careful not to steer the system in a direction that provides benefits to the adults running the system rather than the students attending.

 

Mower County

In Your Community: Wolfe siblings get together to celebrate milestones

Mower County

In Your Community: 2024 Music Hall of Fame inductees honored

News

Canadian wildfire smoke chokes Upper Midwest for second straight year

Mower County

Archaeology in Mower County: Beyond the quarry

Mower County

Ikes fundraiser Wednesday night

Education

Rochester Public Schools move to formalize procedure for helping transgender kids

News

Psychosis care model gives new hope to young patients

News

Proposed Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment draws rival crowds to Capitol for crucial votes

Austin Packers

APS Board gets update on plan to add boys volleyball

Mower County

Legislature prepares to go down to the wire as Minnesota session wraps up

Mower County

Skilled Nursing Care Week: Nurses thrive with in a family atmosphere

Mower County

Public invited to walk for mental health

Education

Riverland graduation: stories of hope and resilience

Blooming Prairie

To be celebrated: Zumbro Education District holds Activity Day for special education students

News

Minnesota readies for its flag switch as old banner comes down

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

Convictions: April 29 to May 6

News

Bob Ross’ legacy lives on in new ‘The Joy of Painting’ series

News

Judge directs Michael Cohen to keep quiet about Trump ahead of his hush money trial testimony

News

Prepare for another summer of air quality alerts, but less than 2023

Mower County

In Your Community: Mower County Senior Center

Mower County

St. Mark’s to host seminar on downsizing

Mower County

31st annual Stamp Out Hunger drive this Saturday

Education

Riverland Music student qualifies for national competition

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

18-year-old from Lyle charged with 15 felonies, 14 related to child pornography