By Bill Blazar, August guest blogger
Minnesota’s higher ed system is spending too much time and money on remedial instruction for Minnesota’s high school graduates. The dismal state of K-12 outcomes is a drain on taxpayer-funded resources and a disservice to the students themselves.
Statistics for the 2005 Minnesota public high school graduates — the most recent year available — highlight the disturbing state of affairs. Within two years of high school graduation, 49% of the class enrolled in a Minnesota public higher education institution. Of these students, 38% took one or more developmental courses during that period. Mathematics is the most common developmental course taken, followed by writing. These students must pay for high school-level classes while not earning credit because the classes are not college-level.
What’s the recourse? The short answer: Colleges should refuse to accept any student who isn’t college-ready. Even if that were done, however, there’s no guarantee that many schools could return a “new and improved” graduate. Witness the fact that Minnesota overall still has one of the worst achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students of any state. The gap persisted in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) reading and math tests conducted this spring for students in grades 3-8 and 11.
We’ll not make any serious headway into producing college-ready — or, for that matter, work-ready — graduates until the K-12 system takes decisive action to put the proper tools in place. So why not require schools to employ “highly qualified” teachers to effect substantive change in the student “product.” Research underscores that second to parents, the quality of teachers remains the biggest predictor of student academic success. Alternative teacher licensure is one proven avenue to transforming student outcomes. That’s why the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, as part of a broad-based coalition, has fought so hard the past two legislative sessions to give alternative teacher license permanent status in Minnesota.
Our schools — and thus our students, our future workforce — are missing key opportunities to reap the benefits of some of the best and brightest teaching candidates in the classrooms. At present, graduates of the highest-performing teaching programs for underserved students — programs like Teach for America that have shown remarkable success in other parts of the country — must apply for a teaching waiver on a year-by-year basis.
Contrary to the claims of those who oppose alternative pathways for teacher education — chiefly, Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teachers union — alternative licensure neither takes away jobs from current teachers nor shortchanges teacher training. The additional options simply enhance the pool of quality candidates and will bolster the collective efforts of the rank-and-file teaching corps.
Higher ed plays a vital role in this initiative as well. Institutions must become active supporters of alternative licensure and other strategies to solve the problem. That requires more than simply communicating with legislators. Institutions ought to be developing curriculum that’s specifically designed for these unconventional teachers. As an example, Hamline University does so for programs such as Teach for America. Others should follow suit. Institutions also could adjust admission requirements: Accept students only if their respective high schools provide the remedial work so students are ready for college.
The stakes are too high to let this issue die. The effort requires a full-court press. The Minnesota Chamber is determined to ensure that every Minnesota student has a chance to succeed. Minnesotans deserve no less.