Governor Says On Average, Minnesota Schools Do Great
Ohanian Comment: It's nice to hear from a governor (a Republican) who doesn't seem to use school-bashing as part of his stump speech.
Though 472 Minnesota schools this year failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by federal law, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had soothing advice for parents.
Don’t “freak out,” he said.
“On average, Minnesota schools do great,” said Pawlenty, speaking Thursday (Aug. 26) at the Minnesota State Fair on the day the testing results under federal No Child Left Behind law were announced by the state.
Pockets of students within schools are lagging behind, Pawlenty explained.
Indeed, Minnesota has the biggest learning gap between white students and students of color in the country, he noted.
“That hasn’t appreciably changed in a decade,” said Pawlenty.
Yet state officials say the numbers aren’t as bad as they may appear — Pawlenty argued the term “failing schools’ should be dismissed from the education debate.
Failure of a single student subgroup within a school causes the school fail, state officials note.
Johnsville Elementary and Evergreen Park Elementary in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, for instance, failed to make AYP as a result of a single subgroup.
Hard groups to educate
With the elementary schools, usually the trouble stems from special education or limited English proficiency students failing to make the grade, noted Education Commissioner Alice Seagren “Those are particularly hard groups to educate,” she said.
State education officials are trying to gain greater flexibility from the feds for special education students and limited English proficiency students.
That might be possible, Seagren suggested.
“The No Child Left Behind system is a system that’s in flux,” she said.
Although the number of schools failing to show AYP more than tripled from last year’s 143, high school and middle schools, unlike last year, are included this year.
Some 144 high schools and 94 middle schools failed to make AYP as diagnosed on reading and math test scores in 2004.
Some 124 elementary schools and 106 alternative learning centers were also graded not making AYP.
Still, 64 schools judged as failing to make AYP last year succeeded in making the cut this year.
Five from area
Among these are five from the Anoka-Hennepin — Mississippi and Sorteberg elementary, Champlin Plaza, Andover Downtown, and University Creek — and one from the Spring Lake Park School District, Park Terrace Elementary.
“There’s really no magic bullet except for hard work,” said Principal Rodney Wilson of North End Elementary in St. Paul whose school after earlier failure has made AYP for two consecutive years.
Wilson attributes the success to partnerships between parents and staff and increased instructional time.
Like Pawlenty, Wilson spoke against denoting schools as “failing,” saying it’s a hurtful stigma.
Because many high schools and middle schools are not Title I schools — they do not receive certain federal funding — no mandated remedial action for failing to make AYP is applied to them.
Since the testing results are public information, people will know how these schools are doing, Seagren said.
Consequences for failing to meet AYP for other schools is different.
Eighteen schools have not made AYP in math and reading for three consecutive years, and are required to provide tutoring for students from poor families.
Highland Elementary in the Columbia Heights School District is one of these schools.
Eight schools have not made AYP in math and reading for four consecutive years and need to take corrective actions such as applying new teaching methods.
Seven of these schools are in Minneapolis, and one in St. Paul.
Pawlenty defends consequences
Pawlenty defended the consequences to schools of failing to make AYP under No Child Left Behind. People need to face the facts — some students are not faring as well as others.
“We’re not going to stand by and watch another generation or two of disadvantaged students be left behind,” he said.
Others are less enamored with No Child Left Behind.
Marc Doepner-Hove, vice president of Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teacher’s union, depicts No Child as unfair.
“I found two schools in two minutes that are on there (the AYP list) because on the day of the test, 95 percent of the kids weren’t in attendance,” said Doepner-Hove.
No Child standards will not be in place until the 2005-06 school year. So they’re testing students not on what they taught them, but rather on what they should have learned, he argued.
And problems can keep cropping up under No Child.
“If you fix a problem, it’s not a guarantee next year you won’t have a problem somewhere else,” said Doepner-Hove.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said it’s time to get rid of No Child and it top-down mandates.
Labeling not a helpful step, says Rep. Greiling
“We don’t believe that labeling schools as failures is a helpful step,” said Greiling, ranking Democrat on the House education finance committee.
“It doesn’t tell us anything, especially when so many Minnesota schools have been added to the list of failing schools,” she said.
Pawlenty and Seagren urged parents to closely examine the details of their children’s schools.
The Pawlenty Administration presented its 2004 school report cards on the first day of the State Fair.
Parents can get a print out of their school’s report card at the Department of Education booth in the Education building at the fair grounds, or can check the education Web site at www.education.state.mn.us
Some 71 state schools received five-star ratings on the 2004 report card in both reading and math.
This included six schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.
ECM capitol reporter
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES