June 30, 2017

ICYMI: 6 Education Policy Changes to Watch

By Daniel Sellers

Although Minnesota’s 2017 legislative session has technically been over for weeks, the Legislature and governor have some lingering disagreements, which they took to a Ramsey County courthouse earlier this week. Despite the ongoing controversy, it seems likely that HF2, the education bill Gov. Dayton signed into law earlier this month, will remain in effect even after the dust settles on the legal battles. In fact, many parts of the bill are already heading into implementation.

Although much has already been written about some of the bigger ticket items in this bill, there are some lesser known policy changes and investments that will make a huge difference for Minnesota students. Here are some of the changes—and the nitty gritty details—you might have missed:

DATA DISAGGREGATION

To help all students excel, Minnesota must start with accurate, detailed data on student outcomes and needs. In 2016, the Legislature passed the All Kids Count Act, which called for more refined data disaggregation across race, ethnicity, and other key categories, while also requiring cross-tabulation of student achievement data. For example, we’ll finally have data on how Hmong and Somali students are doing separate from Asian and black students. This session, we partnered with policymakers and fellow advocates to make this law even stronger, removing implementation hurdles while ensuring we capture data on Minnesota’s predominant student groups.

Collaboration between community groups, district leaders, and the Minnesota Department of Education led to improvements that will position Minnesota as a national leader on data disaggregation. The law will be rolled out during the 2018-19 school year at six school districts and charter schools before full statewide implementation in 2019-20. The Minnesota Department of Education is currently working to identify rollout sites, including metro, suburban, and rural communities, that would exemplify the diversity of Minnesota public schools. These rollout sites will then help policymakers perfect the data disaggregation law before full statewide implementation.

ALTERNATIVE TEACHER PREPARATION

As the needs of our students change, so must our approaches to preparing new educators. Between Minnesota’s growing teacher shortages and stagnant educator diversity, there is growing demand for non-traditional but equally rigorous pathways into the classroom. During the 2017 legislative session, we worked with policymakers and educators across the state to remove hurdles and support investment in innovative models for teacher preparation. Specifically, the new education law:

  • Rewrites existing policy to clarify the original intent of the state’s alternative teacher preparation law, allowing programs to operate independently from rather than as a subsidiary to traditional higher education programs; and
  • Creates a state grant for alternative teacher prep to support innovative homegrown training models and help nationally renowned alternative programs take root in Minnesota.

TEACHER RETENTION

Great teachers are critical to student success, but until now, Minnesota school leaders have had little flexibility to retain their best educators during staff reductions. In line with common sense, Minnesotan public opinion, and a growing body of research, the Legislature passed a bill this session to repeal the state’s archaic “Last In, First Out” default policy, which put seniority ahead of teacher effectiveness and student needs. Now, local districts and unions will have full control in developing a local policy for staff reductions that could protect highly effective teachers.

ACCOUNTABILITY

To understand how our schools are doing and address opportunity gaps, parents, communities, and policymakers need reliable, objective data. Annual tests are one critical tool for understanding outcomes both within and across schools. But when students don’t take the test, or even worse, when schools don’t ensure they’re administering the test in good faith to all students, we are left with bad data.

Take the story of Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. In 2012, 26 percent of the 240 eleventh-graders tested in math were proficient. By 2015, 53 of 181 tested students measured proficient—an increase rightfully celebrated as a major success. But in 2016, only 17 students were tested. While 10 of them were proficient—yet another increase to 59 percent—we simply don’t know what’s happening with many students who never took the test.

To address this growing problem, the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that schools assess at least 95 percent of students annually. If they fail to do so, schools must still include 95 percent of students in the proficiency denominator—in essence, preventing falsely inflated data from masking real challenges within our schools. State legislators included a provision in HF2 that requires MDE’s public reporting to align with this federal standard.

EARLY LEARNING

The earlier children access high-quality early learning, the more likely they are to excel in school, the workforce, and life—a fact which is especially true for learners from low-income families. That’s why this session, advocates, and legislators continued to call for greater investments in early learning. EdAllies and our partners advocated for an equity-based approach that targets children with the greatest need, and empowers families to choose the best program for their child, whether in-home, center-based, or school-based. There was intense debate between the governor and the Legislature over how—and how much—to invest. While there is still work to do to both streamline and grow our early learning systems, the final agreement represents another year of significant progress. The compromise invests:

  • An additional $20 million in targeted early learning scholarships for low-income children; and
  • $50 million (one time) in a new funding stream for district and charter schools, “School Readiness Plus,” which is more targeted to students in-need, and better incentives mixed delivery to increases parent-choice than the Voluntary Pre-K program created last year.

TEACHER LICENSURE

Thanks to years of hard work from educators, advocates, and legislators from across the aisle, we are finally on track to fix Minnesota’s broken teacher licensure system. So what will the licensure overhaul actually do? Here are the highlights:

  • Building off of recommendations from the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor, Minnesota will establish a straightforward licensure model that allows teachers to come in at one of four tiers, depending on their training and experience. The model clarifies standards, sets clear renewal requirements and limits, and offers increasing levels of professional recognition based on experience and training.
  • By setting a first-ever “floor” for emergency licenses, the tiered structure will ensure that school leaders have clear guidelines on who they can hire to fill positions in shortage areas. This will simultaneously elevate the bar for entry into the profession and empower school leaders to hire the educators their schools need.
  • The new tiered system will create a fair and understandable path to licensure for experienced out-of-state educators, who will no longer be required to complete redundant coursework or student teaching.
  • The Board of Teaching will dissolve on Dec. 31, 2017. In its place, a new, Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board will oversee all teacher licensing activity, streamlining operations by absorbing some duties currently managed by the Minnesota Department of Education. The 11-member board will include teachers and school leaders, and, importantly, have a direct line of accountability to the governor.

Despite the political turmoil at the Capitol, this was a significant year for education policy. Policymakers advanced some important changes and investments that have the potential to build stronger schools, so long as those changes are implemented well. In the coming months, that’s what we’ll focus on.

As for teacher licensure, whether the debate heats up again at the Capitol or in implementation, we know there is more work to be done. Sign your name here to demonstrate that you support the licensure overhaul and will help us hold state leaders accountable for its successful implementation.