Although funding of K-12 public education in Minnesota has received the most attention in recent days as the Minnesota House and Senate have passed education bills for the next biennium, Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates said there are other provisions in the bills that he likes, and some that have him concerned.
Something that he likes, or at least finds encouraging, is the legislature's apparent desire to do away with the current testing system that requires students to pass a test in order to graduate. While Bates said he's not sure what he's hearing out of St. Paul is necessarily the perfect solution, he's glad to see some effort being put into changing things, hopefully for the better.
"I really hope we get it right this time," he told the Times after spending two days last week lobbying for education funding at the Capitol in St. Paul. "We have this system of testing, we invest a lot of money in all this test preparation, there's a lot of frustration on everyone's part, and we do much testing that you wonder if we're taking away from actually teaching kids."
That doesn't mean schools, teachers and students don't need to be held accountable when students aren't demonstrating what they've learned at what is deemed an acceptable level, Bates stressed. But the current system, he said, falls short of what he's hearing might be part of the final legislation that comes out of St. Paul, a system that would be based on students taking a test after completing a certain course.
"They're describing a suite of tests that kids would maybe take certain exams after certain courses," Bates explained. "You take chemistry, you take a chemistry test afterward. You take biology, you take a biology test after. It would be more timely, more fresh on their minds, and more focused."
It's the kind of testing Bates said he grew up with in England. "It makes sense to me," he said. "You take a class, you learn some stuff, you take a test and you get a score. I don't know how that's bad. It serves as a guide as a student moves forward in his or her education. It tells teachers where students are strong and where they need some help."
Minn. teacher licensing test
There are provisions in the bill related to Minnesota's teacher license test. Some are wondering if the test is simply too difficult, especially for elementary-level teachers. "They're talking about giving people a little extra time, so you don't have a teacher who has 20 years of experience in another state coming to Minnesota and taking a test that is simply nothing like they've ever seen," Bates said, adding that he took a calculus problem from the Minnesota teacher test into a high school calculus class, and one student out of 23 got the correct answer. "You need to know that to teach first grade?" he continued. "I'm not saying we don't want qualified teachers, but these are professionals with college degrees and they are prepared to teach."
Page 2 of 2 - Health care coverage
A push for statewide health care in school districts statewide just won't die in St. Paul, Bates said. Crookston schools offer a "pretty good" package to its teachers and staff, he said, so if something statewide were to come to fruition, it would cost Crookston around $50,000 more. "We pay $11,000 per person, and other districts would be forced to pay what we're paying," Bates explained.
In some other districts, that adds up to some mind-boggling additional costs. In Roseau, Bates said, where $4,000 is spent per staff member, it would add up to an increase of around $1.7 million. "Would they lay off 30 teachers?" Bates said. "For our friends in Roseau, that's terrible, it's unbelievable."
In the small Fisher School, it would cost around $286,000 more per year. "That's the salary of around seven teachers in a district with a small staff," he said. "There's a push to make all of this optional and voluntary, but there's a strong push to make it mandatory. ...If it's mandatory some districts won't survive."