Education bloggers offer issues and approaches to ponder

/ 24 August 2012 / eunice

Beth Hawkins, MinnPost, August 24, 2012 – There is a great deal of education-related bloggy goodness going around this week and Your Humble Blogger would be remiss if she allowed you to head off to your weekend without proposing a little leisure-time reading.

First and most notably, Mary Cathryn Ricker is blogging from Finland where she has spent the week as one of two local members of a star-studded delegation of U.S. education advocates, courtesy of the Education Funders Strategy Group.

Ricker is the head of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and co-chair of the state task force that is working on designing a teacher-evaluation process. This promises good things for teachers and students, since she believes evaluations should improve teaching, not punish underperformance.

She’s not just smart, but witty: Her blog entries this week include “Angry Birds, Happy People,” “I Like to Move it, Muuvit” and “Anything for You, Finland.” If you check it out, be sure to read through her tweets, which are found just to the left of the main blog copy.

The other Twin Citian on the trip is Ted Kolderie, a senior associate at the St. Paul-based education policy think tank Education Evolving, one of the designers of Minnesota’s 1991 charter school law and a convener of big conversations.

And Finland, of course, is basically the Promised Land for educators. Pupils there perennially top international rankings, and it boasts the most equitable outcomes in the world — admittedly with a more homogenous population — with few discrepancies between its low- and high-performing schools.

Teaching is a prestigious occupation in Finland, attracting the top of each academic class. And teachers who graduate from the country’s single graduate-level training program have a great deal of freedom in the classroom.

Very different personalities, Ricker and Kolderie are both firm believers that empowering teachers drives learning. I can only imagine if they are seated together, no one on the flight home will get any sleep.

The aforementioned evaluation process design gets raised by teacher-blogger Christina Salter, who titled her post about the experience “A Win-Win.” The school where she taught and was evaluated is St. Paul’s Higher Ground Academy, and the site where she is a “school reform blogging fellow” belongs to the advocacy group MinnCAN.

“I completely support the idea that schools should evaluate teachers on the basis of their students’ progress,” Salter wrote. “As for my school’s approach, it’s a complicated but fair way to incorporate student data into my evaluation.”

It is, however, a path strewn with problematic issues, she added: “My experience in the classroom has made me realize how difficult it can be to accurately use student data. I know that some of my students’ test scores do not always truly reflect their academic growth, whether that is due to problems with taking the assessment or even lucky guesses for the answers.

“Based on my personal experience, I think that using student data to evaluate teachers nationwide is a worthwhile goal, but lawmakers need to ensure that it’s used fairly and in conjunction with other measures of teacher quality.”

Finally, the School Law Center has started a blog and gotten a Twitter handle, and if the first entries are any indication, it’ll be bookmark- and follow-worthy. The first blog post concerned Mississippi’s horrifying school-to-prison pipeline; the second, back-to-school advice for families of special-ed students.

A small St. Paul law firm founded by Amy Goetz, the center represents students and families in all kinds of education-related cases. A couple of its clients have appeared in MinnPost stories.

Goetz’ former law partner, Atlee Reilly, represented J.K., a Minneapolis teen who was transferred involuntarily out of Minneapolis’ Southwest High School in a move that drew attention to a disciplinary policy that Reilly contended denied kids due process.

Don Austin’s quest to learn to read in jail shone light on our own prison pipeline in a 2010 story that drew the attention of a documentarian taking a look at the issue.

Lamentably, it seems the pipeline endures. In June, Austin was charged with a new offense. We’re keeping an eye on it in case there’s another chapter to be added to his story.

Me, I’m starting my weekend a little early. I’m headed to the State Fair, where I’m looking forward to moderating a discussion about politics, voting and money at the Independence Party booth with former IP gubernatorial candidates Tom Horner, Tim Penny andNirvana’s Krist Novoselic, who is in town with FairVote.

As the party’s FaceBook page bills it, “What happens when you take a political reporter, a rock bassist and a couple of policy wonks and put them all next to a giant shack of cheese curds?” Join us at 3 p.m. Friday to find out!