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— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: editorial.board@apgecm.com.

“Due North” is the name given by DFL Gov. Tim Walz to his educational initiatives. It is an extensive two-page list of goals addressing the immediate needs of students left in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and commitments to close the long-standing achievement gap between social-economic classes of students. It also addresses funding structures and academic standards that are specific to the inclusion of indigenous and minority cultures of our state.

We believe the student achievement goals of the initiative are ambitious and for the most part appropriate, even though the strategic plan of the Minnesota Department of Education, a companion document to Due North, offers a better level of specificity. The pathways to achieving the goals of Due North are vague and uncertain, even as the costs will be specific.

Before the opponents of the governor’s educational plan take aim at its provisions and decry their costs, let’s recognize that an overall state budget reduction of 5% proposed by Senate Republicans is neither a plan for the future nor a remedy to the immediate needs of students and parents.

Walz speaks of the need of all initiatives and expenditures to be “student centered” or “student focused.” To make that happen, the goals need be accompanied by delivery of specific programs and services identified by the location of students who will be the recipients and the timeline for their availability and the student’s expected success. The proposal for summer school instruction, for example, is necessary to help make up for lost learning during the crisis.

This initiative should be framed with the proposed student-centered level of specificity. Parent and students should know they will have summer programs paid for by additional state funding. The delivery points and the costs per student should be included in the plan as well as the areas of learning and expected outcomes. Each of the initiatives of Due North needs to be accompanied by that level of student focus.

The most ambitious and appropriate goal of Due North is to close the achievement gap that has long existed between the socio-economic classes. Closing that gap is critical to the welfare of all. But again, slogans and budgets are not a plan, nor will they necessarily bring about results. Saying that it is student-focused doesn’t make it so unless there are specific actions that track from the funding to the school, to the classroom or program and to the student with documented outcomes and traceable results.

We have been attempting to close the achievement gap for the better part of 60 years at the federal and state levels. Federal and state monies have been devoted to that end through the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) and the state Compensatory Education Program a few years later with a host of other initiatives accompanying the programs through the decades. Both state and federal programs provide additional funding to schools based on concentrated levels of socio-economic disadvantaged students. (Incidentally, the emergency federal funds directed to defray COVID-related educational costs are also based in part on concentrations of socio-economic disadvantaged students).

The achievement gap is still with us and may be exacerbated by a year of distance learning. Due North must reflect the successes and failures of past and existing programs and specifically illustrate the factors that will make the plan succeed. There has to be a counter to the claim that Due North is not more of the same. Perhaps the specification of student-centered plans will make the difference more visible.

Legislators are proposing either continuation or initiation of other approaches to closing the achievement gap, such as a constitutional amendment, choice, vouchers, increased post-secondary options, increased funding for universal early-childhood education and school-to-work programs. These too should be put to the student-centered test with a review of who benefited, at what cost and with what outcome.

— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board.

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