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  Thursday January 29th, 2015    

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What school board should advise about (04/08/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

In a curious exchange at the last Dist. 861 school board meeting, several board members questioned the need to set up a retreat to set their direction for the future. Administrators and teachers take care of everything already, was the sentiment expressed, so why bother.

My question is this: if this is the attitude, why bother to have a school board at all, even if, as they explained, theirs is an “advisory” position?

Winona is not immune to the “learning gap”, as the very wide divide between the students at the top of the heap and the substantial bottom is called. Doesn’t the board think it should insert itself into the conversation about this in Winona Public Schools? The board members are, after all, our representatives, and don’t we want all students to have a chance at academic success, and don’t we want all kids to learn to read, write and do numbers? There should be questions coming from the board to school administrators and teachers about this divide at every school board meeting.

The school board should be questioning how the honor rolls at the Middle School and High School can be jam-packed with students at the same time that a great percentage of these students are not passing state standards in math and reading and writing. Shouldn’t there be some direction coming from the board that goes beyond sitting at the meetings and simply saying yea or nay to action suggested by administration?

A recent story in the Minneapolis StarTribune (March 31, 2012) gives a good incentive to school boards in the state to begin to look more closely at their districts. The article, “Minnesota teachers start to sweat the big test,” reported that “Minnesota educators are asking lawmakers to postpone a new state requirement for new teachers to pass a college-level reading, writing and math exam before they can work in public schools.”

“’What we see is the potential for 400 current classroom teachers not to be in the classroom next year,’ said Keith Hovis, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education. “And that could cause significant staffing problems statewide.’” That’s a lot of teachers who can’t pass a test on the things they studied in college just a few years earlier. These teachers are in your child’s classroom, holding provisional licenses, indicating they have passed a basic skills test.

This subject leads inevitably to the fact that there are another 1,100 recent college graduates who could not pass the test and were denied even provisional licenses. What does this mean? How could our colleges and universities have graduated these people if they cannot pass a basic skills test or will not be able to pass a college-level reading, writing and math test?

It would seem that the mindset that puts kids on honor rolls who are not actually proficient in reading, writing, and math is also at work in our higher education facilities. This is unconscionable. These people put in four years, take on huge loan payments, and they are not prepared to hold a job. How many teachers are there in our schools who have not been required to pass a test on their grasp of these subjects and will not be tested?

Like law school and medical school graduates who can’t pass the bar and boards, and teacher training graduates should be weeded out well before they receive a degree. Until that happens, those who wish to practice in the teaching profession must be held to the high standards a statewide college-skills test will offer.

That’s what I’d like a school board to “advise” administrators and teachers about — closing the learning gap and making public schools into what they were intended to be, a place that takes children from all economic, societal, and intellectual levels and gives them a chance at a decent life in the United States.

Book Talk

Two great books, both finalists for the National Book Award (and one a winner): Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, and The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. Must-reads. I don’t know how the Book Awards committee made the choice. And to think I was reading tawdry mystery novels during 2011 and missed these two! (By the way, the new Elmore Leonard book, Raylan, is pretty darn good.) 


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