Pawlenty Outlines Education Reform Initiatives

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 at 9:01 am

Article From Office of Governor Tim Pawlenty:

Governor Tim Pawlenty today unveiled initiatives to improve teaching, increase accountability for academic results, and provide intensive intervention for 8th graders struggling in math and reading.

“Besides parents, the quality of teachers is the most important factor in determining whether students will be successful at school,” Governor Pawlenty said. “ Minnesota is blessed with some of the best teachers in the country and we appreciate our teachers. With these proposals, we will lead the nation in improving teacher effectiveness.”

Effective Teachers – The Teaching Transformation Act

The centerpiece of Governor Pawlenty’s proposal is the “Teaching Transformation Act.” It will help recruit the best and brightest into the teaching profession, improve teacher training in college, provide a more supportive working environment for teachers, and implement a 21st century compensation system linked to performance.

An extensive body of research has found that effective teachers and instruction increase student achievement. Last year, the McKinsey consulting group released a study that found the world’s top-performing education systems shared many common characteristics, including recruiting high-quality people to become teachers and developing them into effective instructors.

The study also found students assigned effective teachers three years in a row outperformed, by nearly 50 percentile points, students assigned to less effective teachers.

Almost one-half of the teaching profession in Minnesota is projected to retire over the next 10-15 years. More than one million teachers in the United States will retire over the next ten years. In order to address the looming teacher shortage and improve teacher quality, Minnesota needs to transform the way we attract, train and keep teachers.

The Teaching Transformation Act includes:

* Tying increases in teacher pay to improved student performance.
* Setting tougher entrance requirements for admission into teacher preparation programs. This would include setting minimum entrance requirements for college students before admission into teacher preparation programs; strengthening the state’s teacher certification test, including raising cut scores for prospective teachers; revising the standards for approving college teacher preparation programs and including more rigorous standards on content, technology and instructional strategies; enhancing academic preparation that reflects challenges facing teachers today; using data to analyze student needs; utilizing technology in relevant, exciting ways; and developing strategies with higher education institutions to recruit students to become math or science teachers.
* Creating the SMART Program (State of Minnesota Mid-Career Alternative Route to Teaching) to recruit mid-career professionals to teach in high-need subject areas in math, science and other teacher shortage areas. The program would be modeled after similar programs in New York City and Texas that have been effective in bringing mid-career professionals and other high-quality, dedicated individuals into teaching. It would be developed in partnership with non-profit organizations or universities and local school districts would be able to hire from the pool of teachers.
* Modernizing professional development for teachers by focusing on more time for continuous training, providing teachers with performance feedback through evaluations, and encouraging teacher collaboration to better use data to improve student achievement. The Governor’s proposal would improve the current system of professional development that relies too heavily on periodic seminars and programs that fail to relate directly to the classroom. Currently, two percent of the general education funding formula is utilized for staff development.

Empowering Innovative School Leaders

Governor Pawlenty’s education proposal also creates thorough professional training for Minnesota school principals and empowers them to transform their schools to better meet the needs of their local students.

Research, including the seminal publication A Nation at Risk, emphasizes that school leaders are the key to education reform. It found that school leaders need to be “collaborative” and “visionary leaders,” while also developing expertise in school improvement, managing data and curriculum and understanding instruction.

The Governor’s proposal includes:

· Expanding the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) program training over time to all existing and new principals and charter school directors. According to the organization, NISL is focused on helping “school districts prepare their principals to be outstanding instructional leaders in high-performance, standards-based schools.”

· Revising standards for approving principal licensure that includes more rigorous training for principals to be instructional leaders in their schools.

· Giving school leaders more authority to make hiring and personnel decisions.

Aggressive Intervention through “Summer of Success” for Struggling 8th Graders

Governor Pawlenty is proposing an intensive intervention program targeted to students not yet proficient in 8th grade reading or math on the state assessment.

Currently, just over 30 percent of Minnesota 11th graders are proficient in math, compared to 64 percent of 6th graders. Additionally, approximately one-third of students entering college in Minnesota require remediation in math.

“Far too many Minnesota students are falling behind between elementary school and high school,” Governor Pawlenty said. “By focusing on at-risk students who are struggling in 8th grade, this program will better increase their chances for success in high school and beyond.”

This intense remediation of four to eight hours per day would be provided outside of the normal school setting in either a four- or six-week program during the summer between 8th and 9th grade. The program, “Summer of Success,” will begin as a pilot project and would be administered by instructors who are highly trained and qualified in reading and mathematics instruction.

“Summer of Success” will be different from traditional summer-school or after-school programs. Funding will not flow through school districts and program operators will be selected through a bid process overseen by the Minnesota Department of Education.

This program would be modeled in part after two programs in use in North Carolina. One is an intense six-week program that assists Marines at Camp LaJeune who want to join a specific training program or improve rank, but need remedial training. Another prepares students who were conditionally admitted to two North Carolina colleges but need five or six weeks of remediation before they begin their regular college courses.

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