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Education - Minneapolis School Board 2002

Goal 1: Setting a Standard

For the past three decades, the state of our educational system has seen nothing but consistent decay. In math, science, literature, language, history, and every other subject, the educational standards to which we hold our children are lower than the standards to which their parents were held. We are supposed to be a nation of progress, and yet our children suffer in an educational system which continues to backslide out of control.

This is not the way it is supposed to be.

So we have a problem. What’s the solution?

Well, if our standards have declined, then it’s time to draw a line in the sand. In fact, we need to do better than that: We need a set of standards that says we can do better. We need to challenge ourselves. We need to challenge our teachers. And, most importantly, we need to challenge our students.

You may think we already have a set of standards: The state’s Profiles of Learning. But the truth is, they aren’t doing the job. There are two important areas where they fail:

Nature of the Standard. The state’s standards are vague, emphasizing methods of learning over the content of what is learned. Setting those standards as a minimum would result in students dotting i's and crossing t’s… instead of knowing what the i's and t’s actually mean.

What I’m proposing, on the other hand, is a knowledge-based standard. A standard which sets out what students need to know, and which can be used in an objective manner to determine whether or not students have learned what they need to learn.

Application of the Standard. The other problem with the state’s standards is that they are applied at the end of a student’s career, instead of being used as an integral part of the educational process. The Basic Skills Tests are given in 8th grade, and are then given again and again – while the student continues to advance in school – until they are passed… at which point the student is allowed to graduate.

This is not an effective way of solving the problems our schools have. We have to address these issues earlier – and that means detecting problems before they become insoluble. Furthermore, we can no longer ignore problems in the hope that they will disappear of their own accord.

What does this mean? It means we begin assessing the progress of students at every grade level. And, furthermore, it means that we actually take action – on an individual basis – as a result of those assessments.

In the system as it exists today, we already conduct aptitude tests – but we ignore the results. Applying a standard means making those aptitude tests mean something. It means applying a minimum standard of knowledge for advancement.

Why is this important? Because the first time you push someone beyond their capabilities, it’s over. You’ve doomed them to failure. If you take someone who cannot read and promote them ruthlessly until they find themselves in a high school setting – still unable to read – you have not done them a favor: You have crippled them for life.

Is testing going to solve our problems? No. But setting a standard – and having a willingness to enforce that standard – will. A child who cannot read should not be prevented from graduating; they should be prevented from reaching the second grade. Why? Because the high school setting is not – nor should it be – designed to teach reading and writing: That’s what the first grade is for. And attempts to rectify in high school a problem which should have been corrected ten years earlier compromises the educational quality of the high school experience. If we make sure that the only students who reach second grade are those students who are ready for second grade, then we’re going to have a lot fewer students reach high school who aren’t ready for the experience.

It’s a matter of not letting children slip through the cracks.

Knowledge, not process.

Teachers, not bureaucrats.

Education, not socialization.