Legislators should approve these four good ideas

As Minnesota legislators conclude their business in the week, here are four things I hope they do to help improve public schools.

Some don’t cost any additional tax dollars. Some require a relatively modest investment in students, schools and educators.

1. Make it easier and clearer for qualified, licensed teachers from other states to receive full teacher licenses in Minnesota. A 2015 Minnesota Department of Education survey (view the report at http://bit.ly/1GPm3eU) found districts all over the state are having difficulty finding fully licensed teachers in areas including math, science and special education.

Meanwhile, people like Nicole Bridge, a public school math teacher who taught for seven years in three other states, reported she had “massive problems” getting clear information about state licensing requirements from the Minnesota Department of Education and Board of Teaching. She ultimately was hired to help Minneapolis middle school teachers.

Anthony Hernandez, a Harvard graduate from Austin, Minn., was licensed in Washington, D.C., but encountered similar frustrations. He wrote: “When I moved back to Minnesota, there existed no clear or coherent explanation from MDE around how my license in D.C. would or could transfer to Minnesota. The process was confusing and overly bureaucratic. Failing to remove unnecessary barriers for out-of-state teachers like myself is a disservice to students because it keeps out teachers who often have relevant experiences in high need schools and makes our teaching pool less competitive.”

Hernandez added that he knows “many frustrated out-of-state teachers with valuable and diverse classroom experiences who want to teach in Minnesota, but have been met with confusing and unnecessary bureaucracy.” He’s now teaching at a Columbia Heights charter public school.

This idea has bipartisan support and has been promoted by several groups, including MinnCAN, a statewide advocacy group.

2. Help reduce college debt and increase Minnesota’s high school graduation rate by providing more funds to increase the number of College in the Schools courses and concurrent enrollment or dual-credit courses offered on Minnesota’s high school campuses. I’ve attended five hearings on this, spoken at a few and noticed that literally no group has spoken against this.

MDE statistics show that students in every racial and economic group who participate in these courses are more likely to graduate from high school. University of Minnesota research shows the university received just under $2 million in 2013-14 to develop (plus training and supervising) these courses. The return to families and taxpayers was that if all participants then entered the U, they would have saved more than $24 million in tuition!

I also hope legislators will adopt language from the current Senate K-12 bill that allows ninth- and 10th-graders to take these courses in high school with no other restrictions, if high school and college faculty agree the student is ready.

3. Increase the likelihood that students who arrive on Minnesota college campuses will actually earn a degree by adopting suggestions from Students for Education Reform that make a “co-requisite model” an option on every Minnesota State College and University campus, and make sure students know this is available.

Maryland, Tennessee and Texas colleges found that allowing students to register in a regular credit-bearing course and support workshop helped them “catch up,” increased course completion and in some cases increased graduation rates of those who needed remedial courses. Currently more than half of Minnesota’s students entering our two-year public colleges must take at least one remedial course in reading, writing or math.

4. Listen to both business and teacher leaders who urged that the state provide startup funds to several teacher-led district schools.

Startup funds already are available (via congressional appropriation) for chartered public schools. The proposed $1 million appropriation would provide planning and startup funds for several new district public schools. It would recognize that there are outstanding district teachers with excellent ideas who deserve a chance to carry out their ideas, not just in a classroom but in a new school or a school within a school.

These research-based, common-sense strategies will help public schools operate more efficiently, help more students succeed and save taxpayer dollars. I hope legislators listen to their advocates.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.