Thousands of Minnesota families will make some of the most important decisions of their lives in the next month. Below are several questions that I hope will help families determine what’s the best form of education this fall for their children.
Fortunately, beginning in 1985, Minnesota embraced public school choices for families throughout the state — both “bricks and mortar” and online. Continuing this, Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker stressed on July 30 that they want to honor family preferences and local decisions based on the best available local research. Seems to me that their plan does, as Walz hopes,“help keep youngsters safe and help them thrive.”
Walz, Flanagan and Ricker wisely recognize as parents, as well as political leaders, that there is no perfect situation for all children. What’s best for one youngster and one family may well not be right for others.
So here are several questions that families may want to consider as they make decisions for and with their children and teens.
— How well did distance learning work for your children between March and June? Of course, this may be different for different youngsters in your family.
— Walz suggested on July 30, in response to a question I asked, that families ask, “What will it take for your children to thrive?”
— How is your youngster’s health? For example, Flanagan mentioned that her daughter has asthma but feels that the St. Louis Park district “is prepared to serve her well.”
— What is your family’s work situation? What impact will the three options have on the supervision and education of your children? Ricker told me on July 30 that if families have child care concerns, they could go to www.mngov/childcare.
— Do you have connections that allow all family members to connect with either work or school? Ricker told me on July 30 that as of June, MDE found about 25,000 students whose families either did not have the technology or the internet connection to participate effectively in distance learning. Over the summer, funds have been distributed to reduce the number. If your family does not have the necessary technology or connection, now is the perfect time to check with the district or chartered school you want your youngsters to attend to see if they can provide this. If your family does not have a strong internet connection and one or more computers, distance learning is not a real option.
— If your student has special needs, what specific assistance has been offered either via distance, hybrid or in-person education?
— How fluent are you in the language your children’s work is coming in?
— What is your financial situation? (Some parents have told me that they want to consider private or sectarian schools.)
Earlier in the summer, more than 130,000 Minnesotans responded to a Minnesota Department of Education survey about their experiences and preferences. Minnesotans don’t agree: 64% were “comfortable sending their students to school in the fall, 11% were uncomfortable, 24% unsure.” You can see the survey at https://bit.ly/2CXGwK6.
One suggestion: Walz asked educators to tell families at least a week before school starts what they plan to do. I hope districts and charters can provide this information sooner, perhaps by mid-August, to help families plan.
Walz recalled that he’s had both “difficult and joyful” experiences as a parent. Making education decisions this fall may be both. It would have been easier for the governor to tell every district and every family, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” But I think it’s far wiser to recognize that community and family circumstances vary. He’s respecting professionals and families to decide, with help, what works best.
Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. He has been an urban public school teacher, administrator and PTA president. Reactions welcome: Joe@centerforschoolchange.org.