If you want to stay on the cutting edge of Minnesota education policy debate in the coming months, you really must watch TPT-TV's broadcasts this week of a recent "Minnesota Meeting'' on education reform.
(It's a one-hour show, and will be broadcast five times in the coming week on TPT Minnesota Channel 2.2 or TPT Life Channel 2.3, click here for more detail on viewing times and digital access).
The Minnesota Meeting, a perennial service of The Minneapolis Foundation, has been a valuable and intelligent civic forum that has addressed some of our state's biggest policy challenges. The TPT video of the June meeting, also sponsored by the Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, features a presentation by the leader of a school reform effort in Connecticut, dubbed ConnCAN, (short for Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now), and then a group discussion with prominent Minnesota education innovators and key leaders of the state's African-American community. I attended the June event and was impressed by the strong focus on the compelling facts of under-achievement by racial minorities and low-income students in many schools and the seeming inability of the public education system to reverse those trends. One of Johnston's more provocative assertions raised this question: Instead of always saying we can't fix our schools or expect better results from poor kids until we fix poverty, might the opposite be more true, that we can't fix poverty unless we improve teacher quality and fix the schools?
Our own analysis and set of prescriptions for improving educational attainment and reducing the gaps in Minnesota does include improvements in teacher quality and other school reforms as promising interventions. Our Smart Investments in Minnesota's Students agenda also includes substantial pre-school investments in early childhood education and it offers a comprehensive approach that begins before birth and continues through successful post-secondary degree completion. But a more singular focus on school reforms _ with a ConnCAN-style emphasis on accountablity, choice and flexibility _ is definitely gaining momentum in Minnesota. And a MinnCAN initiative is likely to be front-and-center in the 2011 legislative session, regardless of who wins the elections in November.
Common ground stretches as far as the eye can see on this point: our community and our economy are in jeopardy as a result of too many students failing and we simply can't afford year after year to allow so many kids to fall behind and for half our young adults to fail to obtain post-secondary credentials. Impatience and frustration are justified. Pessimism and inaction are not.