Pronto Pups and backpacks – Update for Aug. 29, 2013

Back to School update

The State Fair may be in full swing but shorter days, earlier mornings, backpacks and lunches to pack – all tell us it is back to school time!

As in years past, throughout this school year Parents United will bring you information about changes you can expect to see in your schools – on new testing reforms, changes to early childhood, and initiatives along the pre-K to grade 12 continuum. We provide news about critical and often controversial education issues, answers about local levy campaigns, and a variety of opportunities for you to provide input on decisions that most impact your schools. And during the next legislative session, which begins in February 2014, we will again provide weekly analysis of proposed school legislation with a parent eye and help the public access the ins-and-outs of Minnesota’s political arena.

If you would like to hear more or want us to come to one of your events, just contact us at info@parentsunited.org. What we do best is network! We reach folks all over the state about something we all care deeply about: providing Minnesota’s children the best public education possible!

What are these MCA tests?

You may have received your child’s MCA test scores this last week and wondered what they really mean for you. Great question! The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments were developed in Minnesota to comply with No Child Left Behind federal legislation. The legislation required these state tests as a “systems check.”

NCLB mandated that each state develop its own academic standards and tests aligned with those standards. A flaw in the law, often cited, is that since each state has its own standards and assessments, state-to-state system comparisons are impossible. Currently, Congress is struggling with the reauthorization of this bill – a task that was to have been completed years ago.

Minnesota law requires review and revision of academic standards and MCAs on a regular cycle, which means that year-to-year comparisons of test data result in erroneous conclusions. The test results you just received are from a new MCA III, aligned with newer career-and-college readiness standards.

The timing of the results is another real problem. What value is there in getting test results at State Fair time, as your child is preparing to return to school for their next grade? What does it mean if your child did well on the tests? Or poorly? Who can you call? How can a teacher use results to inform instruction when your child in no longer in their classroom?

So to recap:

  • NCLB legislation requires annual testing of each child in order to “check the system.”
  • Each state has its own academic standards and tests, making state-to-state comparisons impossible.
  • State law requires ever-changing standards and tests, making year-to-year comparisons impossible.

There is a growing concern nationally from parents about the time, energy, angst and money spent on annual testing that is not for the child’s benefit. This is especially true when we repeatedly hear that there is no money or time for recess, music, art, and even lunch! Many parents and groups of parents are using the option of pulling their children out of the testing.

Resources from the MDE on recent MCAs:

An Exciting “Save the Date”!

All children, regardless of race, gender or class, deserve the opportunity to learn. After decades of contradictory and controversial policy initiatives and reform movements, what is really needed to ensure equitable and adequate public education for all?

Parents United is excited to bring John H. Jackson to Minnesota for an evening program on October 22 to candidly confront this question. Dr. Jackson is known for advancing fairness, access and opportunity in public education in the United States and has made many contributions to the social justice movement. Since 2007, he has led the Schott Foundation for Public Education, best known for their reports on A Positive Future for Black Boys.

Dr. Jackson is well-known for his work on the Urgency of Now [pdf] and the need to change the current national debate around public schools. He will be speaking at 7 PM in the Event Center of the TIES building in St. Paul. Further information will be forthcoming, but I hope you take this opportunity to save the date!

Excerpt from the Education Declaration to Rebuild America, a Schott Foundation initiative:

All children, regardless of race, gender, or class, deserve an opportunity to learn, from pre-K to college. A new approach is needed, based on seven principles:

    1. All students have a right to learn.
    2. Public education is a public good.
    3. Investments in education must be equitable and sufficient.
    4. Learning must be engaging and relevant.
    5. Teachers are professionals.
    6. Discipline policies should keep students in schools.
    7. National responsibility should complement local control.

Looking for Input!

“Discussions about education reform simultaneously blame the teachers and laud them as the most important factor in a student’s success. While educators play a central role, students need a wide array of community support to ensure they’re learning – a circle that many students lack.

“In tackling this education equity gap, we must address a variety of factors including foreclosure prevention, living wage jobs, access to affordable health care, increasing the number of teachers of color, and stronger parent/teacher partnerships.”  – from MN2020 Tuesday Talk, Aug. 27, 2013

One of the ideas floated during the online conversation referenced above begs us to weigh in. As a way to encourage parent engagement in our children’s education, current Minnesota legislation allows parents to take up to 16 hours of unpaid leave from their jobs in order to attend or participate in school activities.

But does that mean that parents who are unable to do without those hourly wages cannot be as involved as their more affluent counterparts? Should Minnesota change it law to allow for paid leave to attend school conferences? Chaperone a field trip? Tutor in a child’s school? What do you think?

The moderator of this Tuesday Talk, Mary Cathryn Ricker, St. Paul teacher and SPFT President, asked that the comments section be left open until next Tuesday, Sept. 3.

A new decade for Parents United

Last year, Parents United celebrated its 10th anniversary! We have learned that we are a unique organization. No other state has an organization quite like Parents United. In our first decade our goal has been to make the public voice relevant in the education debate. We have made this goal a reality! I often say that we elbowed our way to the table and elevated the influence of the parent voice.

This last year alone, every state level education task force had parents as members. Decisions involving principal and teacher evaluation, alternative teacher licensure, school funding, assessments – all were made with parent participation.

Our long standing presence at the Capitol was a factor in this last legislative session being termed the “education session.” A decade ago, Governor Ventura called schools the “black hole of funding.” This year, the legislature and governor raised state taxes for the express purpose of funding schools. That kind of change didn’t happen in a vacuum. We know that bringing your voice into the mix, consistently holding up the value of excellent public schools and providing facts to policymakers and the public, DID influence those decisions. We know our presence absolutely prompted the current environment.

But the more work we do, the more we see must be done.

During our first decade, we were generously supported by state and national foundations, and individuals provided fully 50% of our operating budget. This generosity has made it possible for Parents United to be at the forefront of the education debate.

We are proud of our work and believe Minnesota deserves an independent parent voice supporting great public schools. If you believe as we do, your financial support is necessary.

We know independence has a price. In the spring of 2013, we moved to a membership model to broaden our funding streams. We wish to be responsible for providing credible, timely information as unbiased as we can possibly make it. To do that, a large membership pool of individual donors is our best structure.

If you have yet to become a member, please make that a priority today.

________________

Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; mary@parentsunited.org