Archive for February, 2011

Will it Happen Here?

February 26, 2011

We’ve been struggling with what to write about the events going on in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey knowing we’ll just attacked by the usual union sops.  The question we face is when will this happen in Minnesota?  The conventional wisdom is that with the Republican legislature pushing reform and a governor who is in the tank with the unions, little will change in the next four years.

Unions began over one-hundred years ago in an attempt to protect workers and give them simple benefits (vacation time, safety, raises etc.).  Today unions are not about that.  They are about political power.  Teachers’ Unions in particular have become nothing more than a lobbying group for the Democratic Party, not a group trying to improve education, but trying to employ as many union members as possible.

Luckily, the public, who is paying the enormous union bill, is catching on that we can’t do business as usual here in Minnesota anymore.  If Tom Dooher were smart, he and Education Minnesota would and would have made some smart concessions over the years;

*remove automatic raises like steps and lanes

*get rid of tenure

*insist on regular evaluations and institute merit pay

*contribute to their pensions and health care

*increase the retirement age over time

If the unions had agreed to these simple things over the years, perhaps the public would be more sympathetic to their cause.  Their inflexible positions seem to be part of their downfall.  We would support all of the above changes but we don’t think that goes far enough.  Like Governor Scott Walker, we think the root of the cause is the collective bargaining process.  Unions claim that Walker is trying to redefine collective bargaining and the are right.  Walker is correct to do so.  It is this process that needs reforming.

Think about it like this; is it really fair when the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers sits down to negotiate a contract that has to be approved by School Board that they helped elect?  In 2009 all four union backed candidates got elected.  They were each given $500 of money from the RFT.  Then these same people approved a contract negotiation!  When a private sector union and their management sit down for contract talks, we doubt the workers gave money to their management….

The state government have given unions several assists in their negotiating to make it even more unfair.  By creating teacher tenure, they’ve taken the ability to hire and fire out of the hands of collective bargaining.  If school districts can’t let go of bad teachers or ineffective teachers, how then is it a fair process?  Also the January 15 negotiating deadline is another problem.  Why is it that if a contract agreement isn’t reached by January 15 of an even year, the school districts face a $25 fine per student, per day, and the unions are not punished at all?  Talk about unfair negotiating!

Of course in the private world, if management and employees negotiate a bad contract a company could go under, unless you are GM then you get a government bailout.  If a school district and the unions negotiate a bad deal, they can just dump the cost off on the taxpayers.  And, if we don’t want to pay the bill, we don’t care about the kids.  The negotiating process is the ROOT of the problem and THAT needs to be reformed and changed.  Will it happen in Minnesota?  We think it can, should, must, and will happen, Mark Dayton aside.

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Universal Pre-K?

February 21, 2011

Despite a $6.2 billion budget and out of control spending, the Minnesota DFL in St. Paul is making sure to propose more spending bills and mandates.  DFL Representative Sandra Peterson (45A) is the chief author of House File 365 to which read as follows;

Section 1. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROPOSED

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to provide for the education of young children through age five and to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure early childhood development and education and a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Sec. 2. SUBMISSION TO VOTERS.

The proposed amendment must be submitted to the people at the 2011 general election. The question submitted must be Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require the state to provide for early childhood education?

Yes ladies and gentlemen, you are not misreading this!  Representative Peterson is proposing to amend the Minnesota Constitution to provide universal education for kids through the age of five!

So let’s see….if you are Sandy Peterson or your typical public school apologist you already think schools don’t have enough, teachers don’t make enough, there aren’t enough programs, blah, blah blah.  So your solution is to add another mandate, another requirement, another burden to put on the taxpayers?  Do parents have any responsibility at all?  The government has to take care of you from cradle to grave?

Of course, the public school apologists will gush about how wonderful this is and how important it is and call themselves pro-education because they want to spend more, and more, and more, and more.  And remember if you don’t favor this then you don’t care about the kids you child hater!!!!!

Senate Passes Alternative Teacher Licensing!

February 8, 2011

From the Star Tribune;

By a 40-23 vote on Thursday, the Minnesota Senate approved an alternative teacher licensure bill that would streamline the process of becoming a teacher and provide another path to the classroom.  A companion bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee later on Thursday and could go to the full House next week.  The Senate vote was largely along party lines, with three DFLers joining the Republican majority in supporting it.  The legislation is designed to get more mid-career professionals and young people into teaching without having to go through the current, lengthy licensure process. It would allow candidates to earn two-year limited teaching licenses in order to prepare for earning standard licenses. They would still have to undergo a minimum of 200 hours of classroom preparation, pass exams in various subjects and have bachelor’s degrees.

Of course Education Minnesota had a predictable reaction to a new idea;

The Education Minnesota teachers union expressed disappointment at the Senate vote. Union officials have stressed that they agree with a streamlining of the licensure process. But they want provisions added to the bill that would require teachers licensed under such a system to have degrees in the fields they will be teaching and a 90-day period of supervision by licensed teachers.

I bet if these alternative teachers were unionized Tom Dooher and his cronies would have a sudden change of heart!  The article continues;

Sen. Gen. Olson, sponsor of the Senate bill, said she thinks the measure will improve schools by injecting a new spirit into K-12 education. “When you have teachers entering classrooms who think they can make a difference and think all children can learn, it’s been proven to make a difference,” said Olson, R-Minnetrista.  The absence of an alternative licensure program was one of the reasons cited for the state missing out on tens of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funds last year.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL- Minnetonka, cited the support of numerous education and community organizations for the bill. She also noted the concerns of the teachers union that requirements under an alternative licensure program wouldn’t be rigorous enough.  “I would never support anything that threatens the integrity of the teaching profession,” she said. ” … Alternative licensure is working. Those states — there are 35 of them — that have alternative licensure have strong records of the success.”

But Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, argued that requirements in the bill weren’t stringent enough. “This is for anyone irrespective of grade point average and what your college major is,” Wiger said.  Supporters of the bill argued that getting new blood into the profession is necessary to help narrow the achievement gap between white, middle-class students and low-income minority students. They cited the “Teach for America” program, in which college graduates work in schools.

Well, we assume our depressed governor will veto any legislation that the unions don’t rubber stamp.  Still 40-23 is quite a wide margin and it is so nice to actually see reform coming from the Senate Education Committee!! What a change!

Ickler Writes a Letter to the Editor

February 6, 2011

Al Ickler, the Director of Community Education in District 281, recently wrote a letter as a guest columnist in the Sun Post, let’s critics of public education have it.

Ickler writes the following;

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, recently wrote that “national destinies are not shaped by what percentage of GDP federal spending consumes.” And yet, we have already begun to hear the partisan rancor from our legislators around taxes, spending cuts, reform or a combination of all three.

OK we have to jump in right here.  David Brooks is no conservative.  All he does is rip Republicans and he has no respect outside of New York and Washington.  We know that to Ickler anyone to the right of Barney Frank is conservative so perhaps that the reason.  And what is this partisan rancor?  Are people not allowed to disagree?

I listen to these discussions with a keen ear because I work for Robbinsdale Area Schools. Part of my work is to support the Legislative Action Coalition, a citizen-led group advocating for the learners and communities served by Robbinsdale Area Schools.

The LAC has advocated for resources for all students and, in particular, for children from families living in poverty, because the district’s objective is to raise student achievement for all students, and close the achievement gap.

As we have stated over and over and over, the LAC’s platform is boring and redundant.

Our schools have strong education programs. Both Cooper and Armstrong high schools are ranked among the top 1,500 high schools in the nation by Newsweek magazine. Our high schools have a 95 percent graduation rate. College-bound graduates have traditionally scored above the state and national averages on the ACT college entrance exam.

You know we always hear this Newsweek ranking…..what is this based on exactly?  When was the last time Cooper or Armstrong made AYP?  Oh, that’s right it must be poverty.

But the achievement gap between white students and students of color persists, and is not acceptable. Resources must be allocated, even at a time when resources are scarce.

Sounds like a demand for more money and lower class size….you know those new ideas from the public school apologists.

Our LAC citizen advocates are aware that the per pupil aid formula (the primary revenue source for schools) has not changed since the 2008-09 school year. They also know the state has borrowed money from districts and “shifted” payments from districts. However, the demands for educational success and the needs of students have increased.
Back to David Brooks. If the most important thing is not the percentage of GDP relative to federal spending, what should we be focused on? He says national destinies “are shaped by the character and behavior of citizens.”  And what pivotal institution is located in each of our communities, and partners with families to educate our children and support their development into productive citizens? Our schools.  Education must step to the forefront as we move through the legislative session. Our schools are the engines of success for our children and our community.

A quality education, beginning with excellent preschool experiences and culminating at high school graduation, is key to employment at a livable wage and to a meaningful life well lived. It provides the skills and knowledge to comprehend our increasingly complex world and to be an active participant in a great democracy. Education is the driver of innovation and job growth. Education, in short, is the key ingredient for successful communities.

Yes, and quality education is a great thing that’s why we favor school choice.  If your getting a great education then why does it matter where you are going?  And schools are educational institutions not a basin for “community building” or “social engineering.”

I believe that schools are part of the solution, not the problem, and that we need to first focus on our values as we solve our state’s budget deficit. If you also believe these things, please join me in supporting and advocating for our schools.
Al Ickler(al_ickler@rdale.org) is executive director of community education for Robbinsdale District 281 Schools.

No!  GOOD SCHOOLS are part of the solution.  Then again, to public school apologists there are no bad schools.  We WILL advocate for schools…public and private!