Update for November 6, 2015: Lots Happening!

/ 6 November 2015 / Shawna


Why did you open this email? We hope it’s because you, like so many, find the information Parents United provides valuable. We often hear that it is the only place where people can find this kind of insight. While this is great to hear, we are asking a little more from you this fall.

Will you pitch in and help us pay to keep up the good work? Next Thursday’s Give to the Max Day is the time to do it! Your donation makes this work happen.


#myMNstudent @ParentsUnitedMN

Bear with us on Thursday, November 12 as we send many emails! If you schedule your gift in advance, we won’t bother you that day. We will, however, have prize drawings throughout the day that include an “Insider’s Coffee at the Capitol,” as well as the grand prize, a “Complimentary Consult” for your group with a focus of your choice! And your GTMD gifts may even help us win extra prize ollars from GiveMN. Be a part of Parents United and a part of a great day of giving! We think kids are worth it!

So what is uppermost on legislators’ minds?

While the legislature works on a biennial basis, constitutionally bound to convene floor sessions no more than 120 days in the two-year period, it is not unusual for committees to hold hearings during the interim. These hearings often provide a view of the issues uppermost on legislators’ minds…

Testing debate heating up

The testing debate was front and center at a recent hearing of the Senate Education Committee. Chair Wiger opened the door to reducing the test burden on our students.

As a prelude, Chair Wiger called upon the company that holds Minnesota’s testing contract, Pearson, and the MDE to explain the testing debacle last spring. The committee wanted answers. Pearson explained how they have changed their system to minimize the likelihood of the widespread test interruption that occurred last year. It is safe to say that the committee seemed less than impressed.

When the conversation moved on to testing reduction, several testifiers took to the stand, many referencing the latest statements made by President Obama:

President Obama says students are spending too much time in the classroom taking tests, many of them unnecessary, and urged officials in the country’s schools to take steps to administer fewer and more meaningful exams.

A problem the administration acknowledged it has played a role in — has taken away too much valuable time that could be better spent on learning, teaching and fostering creativity in schools. To curb excessive testing, Obama recommended limiting standardized exams to no more than 2% of a student’s instructional time in the classroom. USA Today

Strong words, but federal legislation began this testing nightmare and while it may finally be reauthorized after 7 years of languishing in Congress, it appears that annual testing will still be required.

A reminder: Last year’s Education Omnibus bill included a provision limiting the time students spend on standardized tests, doing essentially what the President suggested. Over the years the number of pre-tests, pre-pre-tests, study guides and whatnots that students are subjected to prior to the actual required test, has grown alarmingly. This new provision MAY reduce this burden.

A great deal of discussion centered on the ACT. Reminder, the 2014 legislature required every Minnesota student take an ACT paid for by the state. In 2015 this provision was changed to allow students interested in taking the ACT to take it and districts are now responsible for paying for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch aid.

Full disclosure, in the name of equity, we believe that providing ACT for every student is a mechanism that helps all students access a useful measure with which to continue their education, if that is what they choose. The repeal of that legislation is, to us, a set-back.

A taste of what it was like in the hearing room: Peter Olson-Skog, Assistant Superintendent for Roseville Area Schools, provided thoughtful testimony on the purpose and value of testing.

Education Minnesota took the opportunity to present their newly released EPIC report.

To introduce the report, three of the co-authors testified providing in the trenches background and recommendations for Minnesota’s testing process going forward. Read testimony from: Eric Sivertson, Annette Walen, and Elizabeth Proepper.

While the majority of the testifiers were interested in test reduction, the Business Partnership and MinnCAN took an opposing view. The audio for this testimony presents an alternative perspective (begins at 1:20).

Teacher licensing still contentious

A joint hearing of the House Education Finance and Education Innovation Policy committees focused on changes in law on teacher licensure and new rules.

Teacher shortage is driving this argument and the Board of Teaching shared an update on how they are working to streamline teacher licensure. The BOT appears to be working with all stakeholders to solve several of the problems. The final report is due January 2016.

Testimony on the shortage was compelling and legislators brought the conversation back to its roots and the many reasons why the shortage might exist in the first place. There were moments of fiery and intense debate! Watch the video:

Joint House Education Finance and Education Innovation Policy Committee Hearing

Parent lawsuit seeks metro-wide school integration plan

This is a lawsuit that warrants attention. Parents from St. Paul and Minneapolis are taking to the courts to deal with the increased segregation in their children’s schools. It is reminiscent of a lawsuit 20 years ago that was partially resolved with “The Choice is Yours” program. The most interesting question this brings to mind is; what impacts has the expansion of school choice had on our school system? Read more: Potential desegregation suit against the state of Minnesota.


Ongoing dispute with the Higher Learning Commission

Over the last several weeks, we have been bringing you information about changes that will impact Minnesota students’ opportunities to take college classes while in high school.

There is national push back against these changes. Read Senator Franken’s response to the Commission.

The purpose of concurrent enrollment is to let students experience college-level courses while still in high school. The program has been highly successful in Minnesota, benefiting an enormous number of students. It is not hyperbole to say the future of this program is at grave risk. It is imperative that if you believe in the program you make yourselves heard! The Minnesota Rural Education Association has a great deal of background information on this issue that you may want to know!


The Annie E Casey 2015 Kids Count Data Book is available!

If you have never spent time looking at this data, or if it has been awhile, it is well worth your time. The Kids’ Count data tracks children’s well-being in Minnesota and across the nation in the areas of Demographics, Economic Well-Being, Education, Family and Community, Health, Safety and Risky Behaviors.


Don’t Forget the Families

Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed This newest Search Institute report should shake up the current narrative about learning for the 21st century. We currently use the blunt proxy of race and socio-economic status to identify potential struggling learners. But perhaps it is time for more sensitive research tools that tell us exactly what factors impede and promote learning. For examples, factors like students’ access to positive developmental relationships, exposure to violence, processing disorders and learning disabilities deeply affect learning in ways that demand specific interventions.

It is especially telling to learn how this research suggests how schools should be partnering with families.


Worth a Second Look

Election results in the Twin Cities show districts largely sought money for classroom expenses, technology upgrades and additions to existing buildings. Read more about how metro districts faired.

Across the state of Minnesota, 90% of levies passed. Read more about some notable successes and failures.

And finally, check this out! Tweens, Teens and Screens


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.