Editorial: Teachers’ union needs to aim higher

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For a state that has prided itself on educational excellence and innovation, Minnesota now seems disinterested in racing to the top.

Minnesota last month failed to make the finalist list for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which offered hundreds of millions of dollars to states that demonstrated a philosophy of improving quality and increasing accountability.

Key failings in the Minnesota application included a lack of support from the state teachers’ union, insufficient policies to close the achievement gap among students and the lack of more flexible teacher training.

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The key roadblock for progress lies squarely with Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union.

One could expect Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be critical of the union’s unwillingness to cooperate on filing for a second round of federal funds. But the disconnect by the union has become so pronounced that even its staunchest long-time allies — DFL lawmakers — are in a feud with Education Minnesota.

One key failing in Minnesota is a lack of alternative pathways to become a teacher. While traditional teaching degrees earned through colleges will always be the main source of producing teachers, it should not, as the union suggests, be the only source.

There needs to be a process for college graduates and other professionals to become teachers through non-traditional means.

The Legislature should pass legislation that will allow for those alternate pathways while still requiring the same level of quality as teachers coming through traditional systems. It has been done in other states.

DFL lawmakers are understandably reluctant to part ways with a group that has provided strong campaign support in the past. But legislators need to look at the benefit to students, not protect political allies.

Legislation is also needed that ties evaluations of teachers to student achievement.

The Obama administration has made clear it will support schools if they demonstrate a commitment to student achievement, teacher accountability and a willingness to make reforms. His approach has won support from across the political spectrum.

Education Minnesota argues that more financial support for smaller class sizes and teacher training will lift low-achieving schools and close the learning gap. Such a position is fantasy at a time when state finances are strained and will become worse.

Whether Minnesota gets Race to the Top funding in the next round — or whether it even bothers to apply — is not the main motivator for education reform.

Finding better ways to produce teachers, adding more accountability and giving the state the tools it needs to help low-achieving schools are necessary reforms that will help better educate students and prepare the state for the future.

— Mankato Free Press, April 19