Update for February 13, 2015—The Heart of the Matter

/ 13 February 2015 / Shawna

This week at the Capitol

Days before Valentine’s Day, when representatives shared chocolates and cupcakes with fellow committee members, they also shared disagreements and challenged one another’s thinking. Witnessing this passionate exchange reminded us of Dr. Martin Luther King’s timeless question, “What is in your heart today?” Clearly, lawmakers have this in mind when they write and debate policy. The challenge is in finding the paths to shared goals – like student learning – that don’t just reflect the positions of leaders, but serve the best interests of kids. The disagreements shed light on the compromises that will surely be made this session.


In the House

The author of House File 2 (Loon-R-Eden Prairie) believes districts need flexibility for retaining quality teachers, teachers need flexible pathways for attaining licensure and kids need the very best teachers in front of them at all times. The bill is filled with provisions and most stakeholders find it incredibly complex.

This bill showed a definite division between the Republican controlled committee and the DFL minority. Every amendment introduced by minority members was defeated. Every vote was along strict party lines. Even members from greater Minnesota voted with their party against amendments that ostensibly would have helped their districts.

Let’s break down HF2, provision by provision.

1) Teacher candidates must take the MTLE (Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examination) and may substitute a current ACT or SAT as a substitute only if they do not pass. Candidates who teach in their non-English native language AND “community experts” would be exempt.

The hope: Uphold high standards for licensing teachers. Currently and historically, Minnesota has some of the highest standards for teacher licensure in the U.S.

The controversy: Current statute says they can take either test. This question was driven home by Rep. Yarusso (DFL Shoreview): “Why, when the rest of the bill is intended to streamline licensure, is a qualifying test required–especially when that test is known to be a barrier to teaching and an unreliable exam?” Repeatedly she asked what the purpose would be for requiring teachers, many who may be coming from out of state (the aforementioned reason for the bill) to deal with and pay for an unnecessary test? One representative mentioned a profit motive for the testing company.

2) In order to deal with our teacher shortage, the legislature passed the Alternative Teacher Certification Law in 2011. It allowed the Board of Teaching to license teacher candidates through streamlined pathways. HF 2 requires implementation of this law by the Board of Teaching by January 1, 2016.

The hope: Require a due date to implement this method and ease the process of attaining a Minnesota teacher’s license for those coming from another state. Many examples were given in testimony of highly qualified out-of-state teachers facing obstacles to licensure in Minnesota.

The controversy: The author of the bill believes the BOT (Board of Teaching) is not moving fast enough to negotiate a reciprocity agreement so teachers from out of state can teach in Minnesota. But the BOT countered that only 2% of applications for teacher licensure came from out of state in 2014 and 1% of those were granted.

3) Allows non-profits organized for educational purposes to provide teacher prep programs leading to a limited-term license.

The hope: This may relate to organizations that train teaching candidates seeking an easier route into teaching positions in Minnesota.

The controversy: Several nonprofits invested in education provide brief teacher trainings, sometimes as little as 5 weeks, before placement in a classroom. The question was consistently posed: Is this up to Minnesota’s usual rigorous teaching standards? See recent article on Teach for America.

4) Allows districts, rather than the Board of Teaching, the ability to license “community experts” to teach in areas where specific expertise is needed, such as technology or the trades.

Hope: Districts are allowed to make local decisions about who fills hard-to-fill holes in their teaching staff.

Controversy: Even current technical education teachers are asking, “Are we lowering our standards?” Rep. Yarusso detailed over a century of high-quality teaching in MN, clarifying that in all of Minnesota’s history, we have never allowed a person in front of a classroom without any testing, teacher prep or licensure. She asked her fellow representatives; why now? This was particularly galling to minority members since the bill would mandate the MTLE be taken by teachers from traditional colleges of education–but not one test would be required for these folks.

5) HF 2 prohibits administrators from placing a student with a “less effective” teacher for consecutive years.

Hope: Exactly what it says.

Controversy: if we have an evaluation system, would it not ensure effectiveness? A child can’t have an “excellent” teacher one year, and a “very good” teacher the next? Is effective not quality? This will require teachers to be ranked. How do we define effectiveness? If effectiveness is not public information, how would a parent know to invoke this law on behalf of their student?

6) HF 2 requires districts to devise a plan for teacher lay-offs based on teacher-effectiveness categories and evaluation outcomes. This repeals current statutory provisions that make seniority the basis for decisions made on “unrequested leaves of absence” or layoffs.

Hope: Schools can retain high quality teachers who lack seniority.

Controversy: As we see it, this may be one of the biggest controversies of the session and we will be writing about it over the next several months. We are hearing lobbying groups and legislators say “This bill is what parents want.” We think that by providing you information, you are quite capable of deciding for yourself if this is good for Minnesota. Stay tuned!

Passionate testimony came from legal counsel for Education Minnesota, Jess Anna Glover. She is most concerned that this bill will increase competition among teachers and decrease incentives to welcome challenging students to one’s class. She added, “Parents could lose advocates” if teachers felt their employment was at risk when they spoke up in their districts. Rep. Selcer (DFL-Minnetonka) read into the record multiple quotes from business executives who are moving away from this type of model specifically because of the great harm it has caused their workforce.

Denise Dittrich, a former Minnesota legislator and Associate Director of Government Relations at the Minnesota Association of School Boards, astutely reminded the committee that this bill will not fix what’s broken in education: “The number one thing that you can do is to fund education adequately and make inflationary increases in education funding.”


Slam Dunks!

This week it was heartening to see a few Slam Dunks! These are bills endorsed from both parties and met with enthusiasm across the aisle. We will go out on a limb and predict they will make it into this year’s Education Omnibus Bill:

HF568 (Wills, R-Apple Valley) and HF674 (Bernardy, DFL-Fridley) implement the Governor’s recommendations to fund Minnesota Reading Corps. Many testified, using empirical data, that Reading Corps members, who are trained in reading intervention strategies, have proven great success in increased student achievement and reduced referrals for special education services. Less expensive than hiring extra staff, one principal declared, “There’s nothing like it in our schools. The tutor is critical. It helps below grade level students transform reading from something hard to do to something students love to do.” Read more.

HF 247 (Selcer, D- Minnetonka) This bill allows 9th and 10th grade students with world language skills to qualify for advanced level classes through programs such as College In the Schools and Post- Secondary Option. This bill nicely embraces foreign language knowledge as an asset. Said Representative Yarusso, “This comes a long way from when my mom knew she would have been punished at school for speaking the language she spoke at home.


Over in the Senate

Fueling Education with Breakfast

On Tuesday, the Senate E-12 Budget Committee heard SF 344 (Johnson, D- Blaine), a bill to fund school breakfast for all students.

Currently, statewide, all kindergartners receive free breakfast. This bill would expand breakfast for every elementary child in Minnesota whether they qualify for free/reduced price lunch or not.

Some background facts that support this bill:

• 51% of kids go to school without breakfast.

• Research shows that kids who eat breakfast score better on tests, have fewer health and behavioral issues, maintain focus, improve memory and are less likely to be prone to obesity.

Concerns included how we reach the kids who actually need this program and questions as to why we would propose free breakfast for all elementary kids. Testifiers in support suggested the bill will “level the playing field” by making breakfast accessible to all children and increase participation by reducing the stigma for children who come from low-income families.


What a Difference a Day Makes

 On Wednesday, the Senate E-12 committee room was packed with people testifying in support of SF162 (Koenen,D-Clara City) and SF 88. These bills allow continuation of 4-day school weeks by providing school districts the authority to choose a 4-day week, rather than the Minnesota Department of Education.

Some districts in their sixth year of a modified school week are rural and serve fewer than 1,000 students. What started as a cost saving measure seems to have evolved into an enhancement of opportunity for children, teachers and staff.

Testifiers from all three groups shared the benefits of the schedule. Kody Goraoke, Elementary Principal in the ACGC School District (Atwater, Cosmos and Grove City) stated, “We use our Mondays very wisely.” Children can participate in numerous academic and non-academic activities, while educators are allowed more professional development opportunities. Kids have study groups, get extra help from teachers and participate in dual credit programs like College in the Schools. School aged child-care and other community needs like HOPE (Helping our Population Eat) are also readily available.

Testifiers said that many of these schools are outperforming schools on a 5-day week. Joshua Grover, High School Principal at Blackduck School District summed up, “Let us make the choice for what we know is best for our students and not change something that isn’t broken.”

Editorial Comment ahead…

As a past parent educator, I was excited by innovative opportunities some districts offer parents on the “extra day,” like “parent connection Monday” and parent classes.

—Heidi Huelster, Parents United Policy fellow

Read more on the hearing


More on Testing…

On Thursday, MDE Assistant Commissioner Kevin McHenry and Director of Assessment Jennifer Dugan presented recommendations from the Testing Reduction Advisory Group commissioned at the request of Governor Dayton.

Testing Reduction Advisory Group recommendations:

  1. In keeping with current assessments, keep MCAs in grades 3-8. This includes math and reading in each of those grades and in science for grades 5 and 8. If the federal government decides to no longer require states to do this kind of testing, the group would reexamine this recommendation to discuss the possibility of moving to every other year.
  1. Continue giving a college entrance exam including a writing component to all students in either grade 11 or 12. Give districts flexibility between administrating it in grade 11 or 12, and include an augmented version of the ACT to meet accessibility requirements.
  1. Continue using Grade 10 Reading MCA and Grade 11 Math MCA. There was task force disagreement over this, resulting in a compromise. Again, if federal rules change, the group would revisit this recommendation. Further, they suggest working with higher ed to determine an MCA cut score that could be used to enroll in the state post secondary system.
  1. Administer one career interest survey to all students in grade 8 and 10.
  1. Stop administering Grade 8 and Grade 10 Career and College Assessments. ACT is phasing out their two tests, so the suggestion is to augment MCAs to provide better info to students, parents and teachers on a child’s strengths and weaknesses.
  1. Stop using College Placement Diagnostic Exam. Enhanced reporting data from MCAs should be more predictive of college readiness and needed interventions.
  1. No longer mandate using High School Science MCAs and allow college entrance exam to suffice. This change would require a waiver from the federal government. Note that Commissioner Cassellius disagrees with the group on this recommendation.

In a letter to the committee, Commissioner Cassellius recommends restricting standardized testing to less than 2% of instructional time. Districts could not test more than 18.7 hours in elementary and 20.4 hours in secondary. It seemed that most in the room welcomed the recommendations, outlined below.

Editorial Comment Ahead: Children in The United States are the most tested in the world and parents are becoming savvy about how to opt out of them. As a parent frustrated with how much my kids are tested, a very small weight was lifted knowing that the MDE is trying to address this. I agree with Senator Kent’s statement, “We appreciate where we are going, but we are a long way from where we need to be.”  –Heidi Huelster, Parents United Policy fellow

Have questions about testing in Minnesota? Read more and scroll down to the Parent Fact Sheet.

Finally, here is an interesting article on the business of testing.

For more on the conversation around testing in Minnesota, see our February 6 Update.


Bug Eyed: Thoughts on being a fly on the wall at the Legislature

—by Ann Hobbie, Parents United Policy fellow

I had two big “ah ha!” moments this week at the Capitol. The first – it’s not always a lack of knowledge around a topic that makes this lawmaking process difficult to comprehend. Sometimes, bills are just complex and unclear. After reading HF 2 — which has myriad provisions around teacher licensing, handling teacher lay-offs, and using teacher evaluation information – I was finally brave enough to approach a few veteran lobbyists in the room to ask for clarification. Lo and behold, it was unclear to them as well! Phew!

The second had to do with the role we play, as Parents United. We are truly different from most of the other “players” in the room. We say in the close of every Update, our agenda is simple__: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator for a legislative process often oblique to the public. 

This position sets us apart and in some ways makes our job harder than many lobbyists in the room. They are hired to advocate for a particular position or one provision and weigh in when called for. We, however, find ourselves wrestling with the task of discerning all of the information parents and citizens will find most compelling – and then untangling it and telling you both sides of the story. Confronted by our own personal opinions and experiences, this exercise in neutrality is sometimes difficult! I found myself envying those who get to build a case around a stated platform as they enter the debate.

Another epiphany about being a fly? It’s good to hang out after hearings listen to the buzz. You can learn a lot about what’s likely to happen next!


At the Federal level

The week, Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN), Michael Bennet (DFL-CO) and Susan Davis (DFL-CA) introduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act. It would create a new competitive grant program to recruit, support, and prepare aspiring and current principals to lead high-need schools. Read more


Bill Introductions

Thousands of bills are introduced each session. Each week in this section you will be able to read through newly introduced bills that deal with education. No bill can be heard in committee that has not first been introduced on the floor of the House or the Senate, so unless it is on this list, you won’t see it in committee. Conversely, the chair of each committee is charged with deciding which bills will be heard. Reading through these bills gives us a better understanding of what our elected leaders are thinking.

2015 House Education Bill Introductions

2015 Senate Education Bill Introductions


A Look Ahead

The Senate E-12 Budget Committee will be hearing the Governors’ bill on Thursday. It is essentially the “MDE bill” that is taking the Governor’s budget and putting language to it regarding what he is willing to fund.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee will be focusing all week on ways to offer tax credits for pre-K expenditures and teachers with master’s degrees in a content area directly related to their licensure field.


Worth a second look

Look who loves Parents United! Thank you for the shout out, Mary Turck!

Our Newsletter; read about staff changes, our parent advisory’s thoughts on college and career readiness, and Mary’s thoughts on this legislative session.

Want more on Reading Core? Visit our front page today.


What Can I do?

Check out At the Capitol, where we will keep you updated on committees, bills and opportunities to get involved at the Capitol this session.

The Capitol is under construction! Before You Visit Today is a helpful resource with restoration updates, parking information, accessibility.


What is Parents United’s agenda_?** **_Our agenda is simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Truth be told, Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator fora legislative process often oblique to the public.