Thursday, August 18, 2005

Education reform and the commissioner that got away

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:08 PM |  

So much for reform.

According to the Pioneer Press, hundreds of teachers and school administrators got a crash course Wednesday on a new system for tying teacher raises to performance instead of seniority, but only a couple of districts are on the verge of making the switch.
The heavy turnout was understandable given the financial incentives lawmakers attached to QComp. Districts where administrators and unions agree to overhaul traditional pay models can qualify for $260 more per child in state aid, part of an $86 million pot statewide.

"People are curious," Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said. "The money is very tantalizing. They'd like to see if they can make it work."

The money the Legislature set aside for QComp won't cover every district in the state, making the program first-come, first-served. State officials are assuming that many districts will require a year or more to transition into the program.
In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for results. A year or so for planning, a year or so to make the transition, a year or so for results to filter to the classroom, a year or so to evaluate the results -- and today’s kindergartner is preparing to enter middle school before we can possibly know if he or she benefited at all.

Oh and by the way, only two school districts on that timetable -- Hopkins (Sen. Steve Kelley’s district -- Coincidence? I think not.) and St. Francis. Perhaps the program will close the achievement gap between the Swedes and the Norwegians, but don’t hold out much hope for solving Minnesota’s #1 education and most costly societal problem, the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Cheri Yecke Book Available in Paperback

So much more reform.

From the Michigan Education Report --
In 1983, the U.S. Education Department’s National Commission on Excellence in Education published its watershed report, "A Nation at Risk." The report famously stated, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

Since then, there has been a great deal of talk about improving the educational system. Some legislation has been passed purporting to raise standards.

But on the whole, it’s hard to perceive much improvement. In fact, if author Cheri Pierson Yecke is correct in "The War Against Excellence, [The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America‘s Middle Schools]" things have gotten worse, particularly at the middle school level.
The book that Yecke’s Senate critics claimed “bashed public schools,” and that they used to oust her from the position of Minnesota commissioner of education -- but whose philosophy is now being seriously considered -- is now available in a paperback .

Said one teacher/reader --
There are many teachers fighting for better performance at the Middle and High School levels and your book has helped move us away from the "heretic" and "dissenter" labels. It's so nice when we can refer to people like you when we try to force school administrators to face common sense.

I just thought you'd like to know that your book has helped us feel that we aren't the only "crazy" people out there demanding proof before instituting educational "reform."
An $86 million dollar pot is not the road to education reform. A $24.95 book just might be.

Yecke has written a follow-up report to the 2003 book, that will be released at the National Press Club on September 14.