Sweeping issues, compelling testimony – Update for Feb. 15, 2013

/ 15 February 2013 / eunice

Teacher licensure – MTLE replaces Praxis, but what was the reason?

The Praxis, widely used in the nation, is a series of tests that teacher candidates take to assure a state licensing agency that the candidate possesses the basic skills necessary to teach. “All of the content and skills in the three Praxis tests are expected to have been mastered in P-12 education, are covered in all states’ P-12 standards and the Common Core Standards and therefore cover skills that do not exceed a high school level” (joint report published by MEA and ETS, 2011).

In 2007-08, The Board of Teaching, a body comprised of 11 members appointed by the governor, was looking “in earnest at what a reasonable expectation was for teachers in Minnesota.” Their decision, as well as that of Commissioner Seagren, was to hire Pearson Testing to create a test exclusively for Minnesota teaching candidates written at a “college-experienced level.” During testimony this week, the Board of Teaching’s Executive Director was asked, fairly repeatedly, what impetus there was for this change, what data was used to indicate that the Praxis wasn’t working. It was disturbing that there had been no data, no reason other than conversations that Minnesota teachers should have high skill level. The timing of the decision was driven by a time crunch: changing tests required complying with a timeline for the public bidding process so a “request for proposal” could be made from a new test company.

So what’s been the outcome for Minnesota?

First: If a candidate fails this new test, the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam (MTLE), no information is given as to what remediation is needed. After a set number of retakes, one loses their teaching license. It costs a candidate upwards of $350 to take the battery of tests. __

Second: A concern about racial bias appears valid. Testimony from Augsburg College recommended the test not be used until further research checks out their initial findings of racial bias. At a time that we need to diversify our teaching force, this test may well be disadvantaging teachers of color.

Third: The MTLE, developed specifically to assess college-level experience, replaced the Praxis (arguably a true P-12 basic skills test) but the MTLE continues to be referred to and legislated as a “bottom floor test of basic writing, reading and math skill.” Legislation has been heard that would require passage of the MTLE BEFORE enrolling in a teacher preparation program. In other words, prior to having been taught certain skills, one would need to pass a test showing mastery of said skills.

Fourth: The test is not used in any other state. Similar tests from other states are not transferrable to Minnesota. __A successful teacher from another state must pass the MTLE, but those out of college for years may well find it difficult to pass the MTLE (try doing college math after being away from it for a few years).

Fifth: A question that hasn’t been answered is, what has the development of this test cost Minnesota, in dollars and in lost teachers?

Further outcomes testified to by MDE about use of the MTLE:

  • In 2012-13 Minnesota schools terminated 300+ teachers and in some cases replaced them with less qualified individuals on temporary emergency licenses.
  • 27% of all MN school districts reported that teacher testing requirements were a “large barrier to hiring effective teachers.” In the northwest corner of the state that number rose to 52%.
  • From 2010 to 2011 candidates completing Minnesota teacher programs dropped 13%, the highest percentage the testifier had ever seen

When Rep Isaacson (DFL-Shoreview) continued pressing on why Minnesota moved from one test to another, he asked, “Surely, we don’t fix what isn’t broken here?” I must admit there were some smiles from long time watchers of the legislative process throughout the room. By the way, passage of these tests IS NOT predictive of a good teacher.

Caution—editorializing ahead: It is difficult for me to watch this story unfold when it so clearly parallels the issue with our GRAD test. The GRAD test, whose passage is required of every Minnesota high school student, is written at the 11th grade math level and has been likened to achieving a score of 23 on the ACT. This high-level, high stakes test replaces the old BST, a Basic Skills Test written at the 8th grade level.

Does the state have a compelling interest in integrating schools?

**Rep. Mariani introduced a bill (HF247) proposing implementation of recommendations from the Integration Aid Replacement Task Force. The task force was legislatively appointed and completed their work last February. Testimony on this issue was sweeping and focused on critical issues facing Minnesota’s compelling interest to weigh in on issues of race and equity.

It will be interesting to watch how this bill progresses. The committee ran out of time and will be revisiting the bill next Tuesday, February 19, 10 AM, in the Basement Hearing room of the State Office Building. **

Nutrition – Value-laden decisions ahead!

**Many hearings this week in both the House and the Senate focused on school lunches and childhood nutrition. As often happens in a hearing room, the decision will come down to cold, hard cash. The **state budget will incur a cost in order to provide increases in funding to cover all children who qualify for Free AND REDUCED lunch.

Stories of school lunch lines where children whose parents are deficit on lunch payments were turned away without lunch, were pulled out of line and taken into the kitchen to be given a cheese sandwich, had their hands stamped and otherwise felt stigmatized, quieted the committee room. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid shared their results from a recent School Lunch Survey Project they conducted.**

The value-laden discussions were intense: If parents are not paying for school lunches is it because they are unable or just unwilling? If a parent is not paying, how do you recoup the funds if not by holding them responsible by withholding the lunch from their child? Do we punish the child for the acts of the parent? If you don’t withhold the lunch from a child what stops all parents from simply not paying?

Today, 37% of children in Minnesota’s K12 system live in poverty and would qualify for Free and/or Reduced lunch. A Children’s Defense Fund statistic shared by Senator Torres Ray cited  that 75% of children in poverty have all available parents in the workforce.**

Several researchers, nurses, nutritionists and organizations focused on hunger testified as to the relationship between nutrition and a child’s ability to learn. All bills increasing funding for nutrition have been laid over for possible inclusion in an education omnibus bill.

Shift payback – a complex and important issue to understand

**It is important to understand the issue of paying back schools shifts. Shifts bring delays in, not cuts to, school payments. After the November state budget forecast, the 2012 legislated school payments shifts of 60%/40% were adjusted up to 87%/13% payments. So, while schools began the academic year being paid 60% of anticipated state aid and waiting a year for the other 40%, the improved revenue forecast made it possible for the state to actually pay schools 87% of what is owed them this year since law requires that if revenue is coming in, the state must pay back schools first. The state still owes schools $1 billion in “anticipated aid” and property tax recognition shifts.

Since no one knew what the November forecast would bring, many legislators ran for election on the promise to pay back school shifts, and HF 1 (Selcer- DFL-Hopkins) does that. Veteran legislators defined school shifts as a historic part of the state tool box for balancing the state budget and didn’t understand why this year school shifts had become such a lightning rod for the public; certainly the sheer size of a school payment shift of 60/40 drew greater attention than prior shifts.

Most education organizations oppose paying the shifts back right away. It would take $1 billion from the state coffers – and add not one dime of NEW money to a school’s coffers – to do that. Several organizations testified that a decade of underfunding schools has ensured that the education committees have greater priorities for the state budget than accelerated payments of these anticipated aids – technology, all day K, paying the state portion of special education funding, were all mentioned. Their testimony clearly delineates the issue.

This confused some Representatives, who said that during the election, not paying schools back revealed anger from the public. One said he hears that schools prefer shifts, then the public wants them paid what is fully owed them in state aid, and now schools ask not to be paid back! The testifier clarified the situation: when the state budget is in deficit, schools are asked whether they prefer payment delays (shifts) to cuts, not whether they prefer payment delays to being paid on time. The same organizations asked that this mechanism of balancing the state budget with school shifts happen rarely and only in extreme circumstances – not as an annual event.

MDE – “Leading for Educational Excellence and Equity. Every Day for Every One”

**As the Minnesota Department of Education presented an overview of its work, it was especially interesting to realize the impact of the last decade of state cuts on this agency. Today federal funding accounts for 63% of the MDE budget, while the state provides just 37%. The breadth of what they do is impressive – take a look!

Bills from other parts of the budget with a huge Impact on schools!

Working its way through Health and Human Services is a bill that has significant impact for children and families dealing with autism, the fastest growing special need in our schools.

Working through Taxes, keep your eye on SF 177 (Skoe-DFL-Clearbrook), a bill that will increase the equalization aid to our lower property wealth districts. For the last two decades we have seen a serious erosion in the state’s efforts to equalize tax for Minnesota’s school districts so all can have a level playing field. We will be watching this bill as it moves along a route in tax committees.

What legislators are thinking about….

**It is interesting to see the education bills that have been introduced and may be called up later for hearings; we keep a running list on our website. **Senate Introductions** **  House Introductions**

A Look Ahead

**Another joint committee hearing between the House Education Finance and Education Policy committees next Tuesday evening (Feb. 19) will focus on:

  • The World’s Best Workforce
  • Challenges facing Minnesota
  • Minnesota trends
  • Minnesota benefits and risks
  • World’s best workforce characteristics
  • World’s best workforce: pathways and strategies

If you would like to plan a Capitol visit and need a little help—call us!!! It is always a good idea to check the House/Senate schedule the morning of your visit; hearings and agendas are often changed. And email me to let me know that you’ll be there.

Bills heard this week

House Education Finance

  • HF134 (Woodard) School aids shifts repaid, school district current year aid payment percentage restored to 90, and property tax recognition shift eliminated.
  • HF235 (Woodard) Three-fifths vote required to pass legislation increasing the property tax recognition shift percentage or reducing the school aid percentage below 90.
  • HF1 (Selcer) School district current year aid payment shift percentage restored to 90.
  • HF53 (Woodard) Legislative three-fifths vote required to pass the school aid payment percentage below 90.
  • HF31 (Newton) Reduced-price school lunch meal state reimbursement increased, and money appropriated.
  • HF457 (Fritz) Minnesota Academies for the Deaf and Blind kitchen upgrade money appropriated.
  • HF364 (Bly) Extended time and area learning center programs funding increased.
  • Department of Education agency budget presentation

House Education Policy

  • HF247 (Mariani) Integration revenue replacement advisory task force recommendations implemented, and integration revenue repurposed by establishing the “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” program to increase student performance and equitable educational opportunities and prepare all students to be effective citizens.
  • Hearing on integration revenue

House Early Childhood and Youth Development

  • HF357 (Mullery) Children’s mental health; psychosis early identification, intensive treatment, and support funds appropriated.
  • HF392 (Melin) Public hearing governing provisions modified in juvenile court proceedings.**

Senate E12 Finance Division

  • S.F. 189 (Johnson, A) School lunch aid state reimbursement increase.
  • S.F. 62 (Westrom) Independent school districts #611, Cyrus and #769, Morris consolidation facilitation and bond issue authorization.

Senate Education

  • S.F. 38 (Hoffman, J.) Reduced-price school lunch meals state reimbursement increase and appropriation.
  • S.F. 146 (Hayden) School lunch aid program provisions modification and appropriation.
  • S.F. 260 (Dahle) Teacher licensure renewal mental illness in children and adolescents recognition requirements modification.


Mary Cecconi, Executive Director

Parents United for Public Schools

1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108

651-999-7391; mary@parentsunited.org