Recipe for Real Education Reform

By: Senator Roger Chamberlain

38Chamberlain-squareDuring the past several years I’ve written a lot about education. It’s an emotional issue and it has been frustrating to witness the continued deconstruction of public education. It’s why education is the center piece of every campaign; it’s an important factor for families buying a home; and it’s something almost everyone cares about deeply.
The modern view of education is based on a fundamental shift in educational priorities. That shift has not delivered on its promise. Rather, it has limited and restricted opportunity for a generation of students.
During the last 40 years, numerous programs and policies have been introduced, and billions of dollars spent with the promise of improving educational outcomes for students. Some of the programs include Head Start and other early childhood programs, profiles in learning, outcome based education, and No Child Left Behind. These programs have a well-intended goal, but what do we have to show for it?
According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in 2012 15 year old U.S. students ranked 27th in math, 17 in reading, and 20thin science.
We are all aware of the tragic situation of the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. Roughly half of their students graduate and less than 40 percent are proficient in math and reading. In St. Paul, the graduation rates went up slightly as learning actually decreased.
Not to pick on Minneapolis and St. Paul. Suburban and rural districts are not immune to the problems infecting our modern public education system. With a little research from sources like, you will find trouble in Edina and Brooklyn Center as well.
Cheryl Lowe, an educator and founder of Highlands Latin School in Louisville, KY described the problem as a shift away from objective knowledge and academics to “broader social concerns that had nothing to do with education.”
For decades progressive ideas have been replacing hundreds of years of proven methods of teaching and learning. A top down approach from federal and state lawmakers has pushed parents aside and burdened schools with excessive, unnecessary testing and rules.
Others, like Diane Ravitch, go further. In her book “The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980,” Ravitch writes, “the reform efforts based on the modern view of knowledge have produced nothing but a litany of failure.”
At the very least, we should agree there is cause for serious concern. So how do we get back on track?
I recently read about an academic turnaround at Minneapolis North High School. North was performing poorly for a number of years; enrollment had dramatically declined and was on the verge of being shut down by the Minnesota Department of Education. Then they hired a basketball coach, Larry McKenzie, who insisted parents play a more active role in their children’s education. Shortly after his hiring, the grades of his players dramatically increased and began to change the culture at the school. When Principal Shawn Harris-Berry started two years ago, only three students were enrolled in the school’s academic and arts academy. Because of their focus on parental involvement, she now has 157 students.
We must build on these successes. This session I will sponsor and support legislation that will begin to reform Minnesota’s testing system; I will offer legislation to expand deductions for k-12 school expenses and credits for parents with dyslexic children; I will also work on and support legislation to develop site based schools and innovation zones. We do not need to rethink how we educate kids; most educators know what will work. The path to education reform begins by putting parents back in the driver’s seat and empowering educators.