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Our kids need better education (01/26/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

Now we have not only Governor Pawlenty’s, but also Governor Dayton’s Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius, saying that Minnesota is falling behind in education.

“The NAEP science scores are one more objective measure showing that far from being an ‘education leader,’ Minnesota – in reality – is losing ground, ” said the commissioner on Tuesday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered to fourth and eighth graders in the first quarter of 2009, showed that overall Minnesota students do fairly well, but in science, only 43% of fourth graders and 40% of eighth graders are graded proficient. White students, who do better than other racial groups by 20 to 40 percentage points, don’t have anything to write home about, either. In fourth grade, only 51% of white students are proficient, and by eighth grade, only 46% are proficient.

Meanwhile, the Winona Area Public Schools school board has been dithering around for how many years about improving the delivery of education to our kids. It seems each time an effort is proposed that would put a little more rigor into our schools, school board members, the teachers union, and perhaps a newspaper columnist, denigrate that effort.

The former curriculum director took me to task for a similar complaint a while back, sending a list as long as your arm of things the district has done to improve education here. Trouble is, what has been done apparently doesn’t work. We have eighth graders, who will soon be asked to tackle higher math and science courses in high school, who have not achieved the proficiency expected after the first eight years of schooling.

Now Dist. 861 has a wonderful opportunity to be in on cutting edge delivery of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in elementary school through a partnership with Winona State University and a Bush grant. But what does our school board want to know? Not how it works, not what the goals are, not whether it will help our students become more proficient in those areas, but whether they can have the partnership and still go ahead with their plan to use Central Elementary School as the private offices of Community Education and maybe some babysitting.

Central is perfectly situated to facilitate a WSU partnership. A magnet school there could actually attract new students to the district by encouraging families to choose public schools over other options, where there is no university connection nor a STEM program.

What’s not to like about a magnet school at Central — unless, that is, you have made up your mind that what Winona needs is one big elementary school instead of neighborhood schools. Everything, I suppose, if you think we need to fill up the middle school, which even with the fifth graders moved out of elementaries is underutilized. Everything, I guess, if you’ve staked all on a political stand to close Central and force a referendum to build one big new elementary school.

Our kids are not getting as good an education as they will need to succeed in life. It’s up to us to provide it for them. We need to keep Central open by putting a magnet school there close to WSU, which has offered a partnership to improve teaching and our kids’ education by focusing on progressive educational ideas instead of new buildings we don’t need. 


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