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Education in Minnesota seems ever in upheaval. Well, everywhere. Witness the assault on teaching and teachers by Tea Partiers over the last year or so, resulting in several states going after teacher pay, benefits and general rights. Major changes have been installed in the schools over the last year or two or more. Teachers, parents and administrators in all districts, especially, face renewed pressures to build in reliable systems for teacher accountability and, in core city systems in particular, aimed at significantly narrowing the well-known achievement gaps between students of color and their white counterparts, but also improving learning overall, what with recent math and reading scores hitting historic lows nationally.
Several perceived remedies have been passed by the State Legislature, including:
• alternative licensing and certification of professionals outside the system to enter the classroom – with proper supervision (since teaching methods are themselves are part and parcel of the field);
• despite many doubts and failures, charter schools continue their increases in numbers as alternatives for parents concerned with system schools;
• private and nonprofit teachers corps, such as Teach for America have been introduced to Minnesota, permitting newly graduated semi-volunteers to enter our classrooms for a couple of years’ service, then depart.
• teacher tenure has come under fire, especially when teachers’ union contracts ensure seniority as the time-tested safety net for teachers, good and bad.
Minneapolis is in the midst of contract negotiations and some parents and activists are stepping up and insisting on historic shifts in how teachers are evaluated and whether contracts should use only seniority to release or retain teachers or base tenure on some combination of seniority and competence and other criteria. It’s possible Minneapolis will become the bellwether for contractual reform.
TTT’S ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI examine these issues with our guests this week.