Archive for August, 2010

Education Minnesota at Work in Election 2010

August 29, 2010

One of the biggest obstacles to education reform in Minnesota, or anywhere is for that matter, is the fact that unions, school boards, and legislatures are not three separate things.  Often, way too often, they are in bed together.  And that got us to thinking about the upcoming elections and who Education Minnesota is endorsing (and of course giving them money from their slush fund).  Here are some of their endorsed candidates in our area…

Of course it is no surprise that they have endorsed Representative Lyndon Carlson of 45B  (Robbinsdale, most of Crystal, and most of Golden Valley) for a 20th term.  Mr. Carlson is a former teacher (now retired) from the Minneapolis Public School System and has done nothing but throw money at education for the past 38 years!  Carlson is the Chair of the powerful Finance Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

It is also no surprise they endorsed Sandra Peterson of 45A (New Hope, part of Plymouth, and part of Crystal).  She was the president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers from 1977-1987, president of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers from 1987-1998, co-president of Education Minnesota from 1998-2001, and vice president of Education Minnesota from 2001-2004. She was also a member of the board of directors of the American Education Finance Association, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.  She was also a sponsor of House File 3699 which would grant schools district the ability to raise taxes $200 per student in any year the basic formula is not increased.  In other words, the board can raise your taxes without your say so.  This measure is not about “the kids.” It’s about making sure the unions get paid no matter what the economic conditions (since they know 80 % of the money goes right into the pockets of employees).

Senator Terri Bonoff of District 43 was the Senate author of the Senate version of HF 3699.  It is called Senate File 3317, which again would give districts the ability to raise your taxes without a referendum.  Shockingly, Education Minnesota endorsed her as well.  So did the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and the SEIU Union.

Then, of course, there is Mark Dayton our candidate trying to buy the governorship.  Dayton promises to increase teacher salaries and lower class size!  Wow Mr. Dayton those are new ideas, we haven’t tried that before!  Here is bite from Dayton’s website…

I will insist that some of my additional state funding be used to increase public school teachers’ salaries. The average Minnesota teacher’s salary is 3.3% below the national average. Good salaries are essential to attracting and retaining the best teachers possible, who are essential to the best public schools possible.  I will also insist that my additional funding go to lower class sizes. Too many elementary classes throughout Minnesota are overcrowded with 30 to 35 children. Too many high school classes have 40 to 50 students. Those class sizes are “leaving too many children behind.

Really!  All teachers should just get raises?  How about paying good teachers more and telling bad teaches to find a new line of work?  How about merit pay or school choice?  And come on, Mr. Dayton class sizes of 50?  Give me a break!

Of course, we don’t endorse candidates here at 281 exposed.  We trust you to do research and make up your own mind.  But whether you vote for a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Communist, tree hugger, or libertarian, if you want change in education vote against Education Minnesota and their cohorts.

Some GOOD NEWS to Report!

August 27, 2010

We are often critical of District 281, or as we see it public education generally speaking, but even WE can’t find anything negative in latest round of ACT scores.  Here is the article from the District’s website…

Average composite ACT college entrance exam scores were up for students in Robbinsdale Area Schools in 2010. On average, students at Robbinsdale Armstrong and Robbinsdale Cooper High Schools scored 22.6 out of 36 possible points on the test, up from 22.4 a year ago. Robbinsdale students have scored above the state average for eight of the last eleven years and well above the national average for the past eleven years.  The national average score was 21.0 this year, while the state average increased to 22.9 this year.

“We are most excited about the increasing percentage of our students taking the ACT,” said Aldo Sicoli, superintendent of Robbinsdale Area Schools. “The more students taking the ACT, the more that are prepared for post-secondary education.” A total of 635 of approximately 850 Cooper and Armstrong seniors took the ACT, more than at any time in the last five years.

In response to the district’s Strategic Plan goal to raise expectations and increase academic rigor for all students, both schools have succeeded in increasing the number of students taking rigorous courses.  The percentage of students who have taken what ACT labels as “core classes” has increased each of the last two years from 55% of test takers in 2008 to 83% in 2010.  In addition, the schools are working to increase participation in support programs such as AVID, which teaches students academic and study skills, and Admission Possible, which helps promising, low-income students obtain admission to college. While the number of African American and Asian American students taking the test has risen the percentage of these students that have taken the courses to prepare them for post-secondary education has also increased.  For example, less than half of the African American students taking the ACT in 2008 had taken the courses needed to prepare for college compared to more than three-quarters in 2010.   “We would like to continue to increase the number of students of color taking courses to prepare them for post-secondary education as well as taking the ACT exam,” Sicoli added.

The ACT is the primary college entrance exam taken by Minnesota students.  It can also serve to compare the preparedness of our college-bound population to the state and the nation.  The test is a curriculum-based achievement test that covers English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning, plus an optional writing test.  It includes 215 multiple-choice questions.

This looks like good news all around.  Our test scores improved, we are right at about the state average, and we are above the national average.  Good work kids AND staff (the unions not withstanding).   More kids are taking the exam and more kids are passing…even the kids in so-called poverty! You see, everyone can learn!

11 of 13 Schools Fail AYP

August 20, 2010

From the August 19 edition of the Sun Post

For the second consecutive year, two of the 13 schools in Robbinsdale District 281 met Adequate Yearly Progress standards in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

As in 2009, they are Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope and Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth.  The Minnesota Department of Education released its Adequate Yearly Progress report of statewide schools’ test results on Tuesday, Aug. 10.  The AYP data is based on students’ performance on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II tests administered last spring. Students in grades 3-8 took both reading and math tests. Tenth-graders took a reading test, and 11th-grade students took a math test.

According to the MDE, 1,048 of 2,291 state schools did not make adequate yearly progress in 2010, the same number as last year.  The percentage of District 281 students that reached proficiency on math and reading in 2010 was slightly lower in comparison to 2009 results.

Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School and Zachary Lane Elementary reached annual target scores for each demographic group of tested students in reading and math.  District 281 secondary schools reached some of the targets set by the state for demographic groups.  The district also made some targets for individual demographic groups, but did not make AYP overall in reading or math.

Robbinsdale Area Schools students in grades 3-5 are learning at a greater rate than the average student nationally, according to 2010 Measures of Academic Progress test results, a widely used standardized test. The MAP test measures student growth over the course of the school year and is used by teachers to adjust teaching practices during the year at the grade, classroom and individual student levels.

In 2008 only three schools passed.  In 2009 only two schools passed.  Now in 2010 only two schools passed.  Anyone see a pattern?  How many employees are being held accountable for the lack of adequate yearly progress?  Ah…give me a minute I’m thinking…..Perhaps it is time to test the teachers!  Here are some of Superintendent Sicoli’s comments….

“Minnesota’s standards are very high,” Sicoli said. “And those high standards, which are challenging to meet, give us a confusing picture of student achievement when compared to other states or when other assessments are considered.”

Now we like Dr. Sicoli and think he has been a good addition to RAS but what is wrong with Minnesota having high standards?  So should they be lowered?  Is that a better solution?  Also, I’m also not sure what’s so confusing about passing tests.  Someone help me out!  And of course we can’t ever address anything in education without the liberal obsessed race, so-called poverty, free and reduced lunch, achievement gap.  Here are Sicoli’s comments on that matter….

“This is a serious issue, not just for schools, but for our society as a whole,” Sicoli said. “Addressing the achievement gap in reading and math will be a major focus for Robbinsdale Area Schools this year. Raising the scores of our students of color while maintaining high standards for all students will be beneficial for all students and our community.”

So what are the District’s plans to turn around these schools….

District 281 plans a number of interventions to improve student achievement during the 2010-11 school year, including a new elementary school reading curriculum; use of federal stimulus funds for instructional coaches who support elementary teachers to improve whole-school reading and mathematics instruction; and a full-scale evaluation of all curricular programs to ensure that resources are allocated appropriately to district priorities.

I’m glad we are using a new reading program but the other stuff looks like nothing new.

Once again, as always, test scores are not the be all/end all but they are important and we believe in them.  You have measure what kids are LEARNING.  That high school diploma has to mean something!   These test results, fairly or unfairly, give the district a bad name!  And what about those lower class sizes and restored programs that were obsessed about during the referendum?  We were told by the district and their apologists that coughing up yet more money was going to bring us great results!  So much for that!

To Divest or Not Divest?

August 11, 2010

So the Divestiture Committee has finally, after one year of looking at this, come to the district with recommendations for the unused property.  The committee recommended that the district sell four properties,  Hosterman (which is already being sold), old Highview, Cavanagh and Winnetka and retain three properties, New Hope, Olson and Pilgrim Lane.  But, as usual, there are several catches.  Here is the first part…

“First, Cavanagh and Winnetka would not be sold until programs in the facilities moved into the former Sandburg Middle School in approximately two years. Olson and Pilgrim Lane would be retained pending the outcome of a budget planning committee process that is currently underway.”

Olson and Pilgram Lane need to be retained?  What about the back door referendum?  Since the district is planning to use that do redo Northport and Lakeview without a public vote on yet ANOTHER tax increase despite promises by some not to do so (right Mark Bomchill?), why is it necessary then retain these two properties?  We could at the very minimum put them on the market just to see what kind of offers we get.  And of course the district doesn’t want you to have any freedom of choice….

“The committee further recommended deed restrictions prohibiting any future use that would compete for students in district programs.”

Of course!  We don’t want any kids, especially the poor oppressed kids in so-called poverty, to have any chance to better themselves by going to a better school.  No we can’t have that!  And here I thought education was all about the children.

I wouldn’t expect any of this unused property to be sold anytime soon.  The full report is available at the district’s website.

Students show some improvement on state science test

August 6, 2010

Here is the story from the Sun Post;

Students in grades 5, 8 and 10 showed improvement on the state science exam this year.However, the Robbinsdale District 281 average of 41 percent at all three grade levels fell below the statewide average of 49 percent.

Science MCA-II test scores for students in grades 5, 8 and 10 were released July 27 by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Statewide, the results showed “steady improvement over last year’s results,” according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Education.

In Robbinsdale District 281, 38 percent of 5th-grade students met or exceeded the standards, compared to 37 percent last year. Statewide, 46 percent were proficient, compared to 45 percent in 2009.

In 8th grade, 38.8 percent of District 281 students met or exceeded standards, compared to 34 percent last year. Statewide, 48 percent were proficient, compared to 43 percent in 2009.

Forty-six percent of the 10th graders taking the test in District 281 met or exceeded standards, compared to 43 percent last year. Statewide, 51.8 percent were proficient, compared to 50 percent in 2009.

Statewide, encouraging gains were made in minority test results, according to the news release. They include a 5-percentage point gain by African American 8th-grade students, a 4-percentage point increase by Hispanic 8th-grade students, and a 3-percentage point increase by American Indian 8th-grade students.

In Robbinsdale District 281 schools, more students reached proficiency on the science test than last year, according to a news release from District 281.

“We are encouraged by the gains our students made,” Superintendent Aldo Sicoli said. “Thirty-eight percent of students in 5th grade scored at proficient levels, a one percentage point increase.

“Thirty-nine percent of 8th-grade students scored at proficient levels, up five percentage points.

“In 10-grade, 46 percent of students scored at proficient levels, up three percentage points.

“The proficiency rates for district 5th grade and high school African American, Hispanic American and Caucasian students were higher than those for their statewide counterparts. Eighth-grade Caucasian students also scored higher than their statewide counterparts.”

The district’s investment in its science curriculum “appears to have had a positive impact,” Sicoli said.

“We will further evaluate the results,” he said. “We know that we want to make greater improvements.”

A substantial gap continues to exist between the proficiency rate of Caucasian students and that of students of color, Sicoli said.

Each of the 178,500 Minnesota students who took the science test was scored in one of four achievement levels: does not meet standards, partially meets standards, meets the standards, or exceeds the standards.

Students who meet or exceed standards are considered proficient.

Results from the science assessment do not impact Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) at this time.

The percentage of students considered proficient at each of the 16 District 281 schools is as follows:


– Forest, Crystal: 35.1 this year; 32 in 2009

– Lakeview, Robbinsdale: 27.6 this year; 33 in 2009

– Meadow Lake, New Hope: 21 this year; 23 in 2009

– Neill, Crystal: 40.7 this year; 40 in 2009

– Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School, New Hope: 52.8 this year; 50 in 2009

– Noble, Golden Valley: 34.7 this year; 35 in 2009

– Northport, Brooklyn Center: 16.2 this year; 19 in 2009

– Sonnesyn, New Hope: 43.8 this year; 30 in 2009

– Zachary Lane, Plymouth: 59.1 this year; 64 in 2009

Middle school:

– Plymouth: 39.5 this year; 37 in 2009

– Robbinsdale: 38.1 this year; 21 in 2009

High school:

– Armstrong, Plymouth: 56.7 this year; 53 in 2009

– Cooper, New Hope: 33 this year;  33 in 2009

More information: 763-504-8032 (Gayle Walkowiak).

Well, this is good news that the scores went up but 41% of our kids passing means 59% failed.  Those results are still unacceptable.

Committee Anyone?

August 6, 2010

Back at the May 3rd school board meeting Superintendent Aldo Sicoli announced that there are a whopping SIX committees to deal with the budget.  Three deal with revenue and three deal with expenditures.  Hmm…here is some advice to the school board and Dr. Sicoli…..

If the school board wants to “enhance revenue” or as we call it “extort more tax dollars” they have three options

  1. Get an increase from the state or the federal government (by the way that is still our money).
  2. Retain more of our own students….currently 28% of district age kids go to a school outside of 281.
  3. Import more kids from other districts (which will probably continue to drive more of our own kids out).

There! I’ve solved the “revenue enhancement” problem in 30 seconds.  So why to we need three committees to do this?  Will one committee do?

As far as dealing with expenditures, I’ll say it again and again and again until this school boards gets this; It doesn’t matter what or where we “cut” if we keep giving the employees more than we are getting in funding!  If we get a 1% increase in funding, we can’t give the employees a 2% increase.  You’d think we’d have learned from General Motors.  Either the Board doesn’t understand this or they figure we aren’t smart enough to understand it.

Though we think Dr. Sicoli has done a much better job than Stan Mack at involving the public, and this may be part of Sicoli’s community outreach, though again, one committee on each will do and don’t we have a financial advisory committee?  What is their job?  We, however, take a REAL CYNICAL view of this and we suspect this may be part of creating a doomsday scenario to justify another referendum.  Don’t laugh, folks.  Our current referendum runs through 2015 but this district passed a 10 year referendum in 2001 and was back for more money in 2007 (and considered coming to us in 2005).

By the way realize that school funding isn’t going up with inflation.  We all know that.  I can also tell you that our wages aren’t going up with inflation either and I assure you I can’t levy my boss.  Our home values are going down while are property taxes keep going up.  This district has passed 37 years worth of referendums since 1990.  Hennepin county has raised taxes 30 of the past 31 years.  Minnesota is one the highest taxed states in the country and we have candidates for governor (we won’t mention their names, if they want their names mentioned they can pay us like they do the TV networks), who want to raise taxes further.  How many times can we go to the well?

Maybe we are totally wrong here.  Maybe there is no sinister motive.  We are just beginning to brace for yet another referendum or the possibility that St. Paul may take away our right to a referendum and insulate public education from economic forces.  We’ll keep you posted on any finding by the committees or if anyone has information on them, feel free to comment.

Michelle Rhee is our Hero

August 1, 2010

The Superintendent of the Washington DC schools Michelle Rhee just fired 241 teachers for poor performance (out of 4000) for not performing up to certain standards.  It is absolutely terrific to see a superintendent take on the Teacher’s Union and think of the kids rather than use the schools for a jobs program.  Imagine if school boards and superintendents in this area could (or would) set up standards that could reward good teachers and remove bad teachers.  Bring this to Minnesota!! Of course, predictably, the Teacher’s Union is up in arms and whining as they always are.  If the union is unhappy with Rhee, then that tells us she is doing great!  Keep it up Michelle!