Positive signs for public education in FL

Levy renewal, charter cooperation are FL positives

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Looking ahead for 2012, I’m optimistic about Minnesota schools, students and educators. Reviewing more than 40 columns and more than 1,000 email responses in 2011, five issues emerge.

• The enormous array of positive accomplishments for young people in schools. Whether it’s award-winning musicals, math team, history day contests, debate, speech or sports, one thing is clear: Educators all over the state are helping students develop their creativity, talent, skills and interests.

In many but not all cases, families have played an important, supportive role.

For families looking for opportunities, I want to again recommend the Reach for the Stars Catalogue. synergyexchange.org/Educate/Reach.aspx This free guide lists nearly 100 artistic and academic programs and competitions.

• A widespread appreciation of educators. Statewide, almost 80 percent of the local referendums passed this year. This is remarkable, especially given the challenging economic environment that the state and many families face.

With a chance to lower their taxes, thousands of voters, including a majority in Forest Lake, instead decided to keep their taxes at the current level, or raise them.  It’s difficult to interpret these results, at least in part, as anything other than affirming the importance of education and support for educators.

Moreover, nationally, the Gallup Poll showed that around 70 percent of Americans would encourage a child of their own, and other bright young people to be a teacher. While educators don’t always agree with each other, and sometimes disagree with legislators and journalists (including me), it appears that through their votes and expression of opinions to Gallup, there is widespread support for schools and the people who work in them.

• A willingness to spend more time learning from each other, and less time debating which is better, district or charter public schools. Gov. Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius opened the year by urging, that Minnesotans learn from the most effective district and charter public schools.

Many district and charter educators, including some in Forest Lake, found ways to work together.

Is there still competition? Absolutely. But K-12 educators are finding, like colleges and universities staff and faculty, that they can do both. Students gain when this happens.

• A growing interest in, and use of dual (high school/college credit courses. I’ll say more about this in coming weeks.)

But clearly, educators are offering more opportunities for young people to earn high school and college courses. This has the twin value of helping students be better prepared for some form of higher education, and saving money.

• Money is this fifth issue that will be a focus for 2012. If Minnesota’s positive economic forecast that was given in late 2011 is affirmed in February, 2012, schools by law will receive at least some of the money that legislators promised, but “held back” to balance the state’s budget.

Especially in a year like 2012, where we hold elections, the debate over money will be important and intense.

Looking ahead, I see more accomplishment, appreciation, and collaboration. I think that means better use of money, and potentially, more of it spent on young people.

Joe Nathan, a former  public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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