Pawlenty renews push to change teaching rulesby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Tim Pawlenty traveled the state today to discuss education initiatives he'd like to see pass during next year's legislative session. Most of the proposals he pitched are aimed at getting a force of even-better qualified teachers in classrooms. Some of the ideas might sound familiar because Pawlenty has pursued them before. Critics say the proposals don't address what really needs to be addressed -- funding.
St. Paul, Minn. — The governor started his event in St. Paul this afternoon by praising the thousands of teachers in Minnesota for the work they do, but added it's a crucial time for the state.
In the next two decades, Pawlenty says as many as half of the state's 50,000 teachers will become eligible for retirement, so a new crop of highly-qualified people is needed.
"Teachers are the most important factor in determining whether students are going to succeed in school," said Pawlenty. "If they are unfortunate and experience a series of ineffective teachers, the likelihood of them doing well in school diminishes greatly."
Pawlenty's proposals would change how teachers become teachers, how they're paid, and how they keep sharp year after year.
The governor wants to beef up the requirements for college students looking to major in education in Minnesota -- as well as the requirements graduates must meet before becoming certified in teaching.
He pointed to a test called PRAXIS, which all prospective teachers must take -- but which the governor calls "watered-down."
"For example, you can score terribly in math, or even miss all of the scores in math, but if you score high enough in other categories, you are deemed to 'pass the test,'" Pawlenty said. "That is not adequate in terms of its rigor, or high enough in its expectations for teachers in Minnesota."
The governor also spoke of requiring future pay raises to be based, in part, on how well students improve when they're in that teacher's class. That goes further than Q-Comp, which became law a few years ago and which emphasizes merit in pay decisions.
Q-Comp is voluntary, while Pawlenty's new plan would cover all districts that don't take part in Q-Comp.
The head of Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, says he's happy to see so much attention paid to teacher quality. But Tom Dooher also cautions against only using student improvement to set pay raises.
"We don't hold enough of those variables. There's too many variables in a classroom to say that these test scores are going to give you pay increases," said Dooher.
Pawlenty acknowledged that not all classrooms are the same, and says his plan would make accommodations for teachers in more challenging environments.
Dooher also says Pawlenty seems to contradict himself by wanting to toughen standards for young teachers, but offering easy access to mid-career professionals looking to teach without going back to school.
Still, Dooher says he's pleased the governor met with him yesterday and spoke of working together.
Pawlenty's proposals also includes beefing up the quality of seminars and development teachers must take to keep fresh on the job.
He also called for expanded training programs for school principals, and summer school for eighth graders who need to catch up on reading and math before entering high school.
The proposals weren't overly detailed. The governor says those will be hammered out after more meetings with education groups. And there was no talk today of what school leaders never stop discussing: How much money the state will send to schools.
Pawlenty says money issues should be addressed after state economic forecasts are released in November and February.
"I think it would be unwise for anyone to stand up and start promising major new funding commitments for anything, until we get a full and final look at the state's forecast," said Pawlenty.
That said, Pawlenty is almost certain to face a budget deficit when the session opens in January. Proposals like today's, even if they don't cost a lot of money, are likely to be involved in larger-scale budget negotiations in coming months.
Critics in the Legislature are already lining up.
"There's nothing hugely new here," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, who chairs one of the education committees in the Minnesota House.
"This governor keeps coming up with little pieces and ducking the real problem, which costs money," said Greiling. "And since he's a 'no new taxes' guy, that really cuts into his ability to have his new plan, frankly."
Greiling points to an effort she's undertaken, which she calls the new "Minnesota Miracle" -- a new funding formula for Minnesota schools.
A spokesman for the governor says his office doesn't take Greiling's proposal seriously, because she hasn't said where the $2 billion a year would come from to pay for it.
Greiling personally supports higher income taxes on the richest Minnesotans as a funding source, but that's not the official party line. She, too, faces political realities, and says the DFL caucus will wait until after the November election to decide what method to support for raising more money.
Still, she's been holding meetings across the state to hear from Minnesotans about the issue of school funding -- there's one tonight in Woodbury.
- All Things Considered, 09/23/2008, 5:23 p.m.