ST. PAUL-There is no more important issue facing the Legislature each year than education. A great public education system builds a strong workforce, molds our future leaders and innovators and serves as the foundation for a strong economy.
It's also an emotional issue. For many of us, it has been frustrating to witness the continued deconstruction of public education. We've failed to adequately prepare students for college. We've failed to close the achievement gap. Graduation rates are mostly stagnant, and test scores are falling.
It's clear the modern view of education has not delivered on its promise. Rather, it has limited and restricted opportunity for a generation of students.
For decades, "reform" 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 leading to continued failures.
To remedy this, Senate Republicans announced the "Your School, Your Needs" plan to improve public education in Minnesota. Our proposal will renew and revitalize an overburdened education system by strengthening teaching and empowering parents, giving every child the best possible chance of reaching their potential.
Some of the proposals include:
▇ Providing an equal 3 percent funding increase for all students across the state, while freeing school districts from costly mandates.
▇ Requiring students be proficient in reading by fourth grade, and proficient in reading and math before entering college. A 2010 report found 40 percent of freshman having to take remedial courses because they were underprepared for college.
▇ Increasing the education tax credit, which has not been adjusted for two decades.
▇ Allowing schools to consider teacher quality and performance when making hiring and firing decisions.
Too often, the Legislature ignores the root problems facing our schools, instead using a one-size-fits-all approach of more money and more mandates. These tie the hands of schools and continue the status quo. "Your School, Your Needs" is different. It raises the bar for student achievement, rewards effective teachers and gives parents more choices to encourage their child's unique style of learning.
In contrast, the governor and Democrats offer nothing new. They continue the same approach by defending a public education system monopoly. Their plan is composed of misplaced priorities that simply throw money at a system that is failing both students and educators.
I recently read about an academic turnaround at Minneapolis North High School, which highlights the positive change parents and educators can bring. North was performing poorly for a number of years; enrollment had dramatically declined and the school was on the verge of being shut down by the Minnesota Department of Education. Then they hired Larry McKenzie, a basketball coach 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.
"Your School, Your Needs" builds on these successes by putting children in a position to succeed, encouraging parent involvement, and expecting results. We do not need to rethink how we educate kids; most educators know what will work. The path to reform begins by putting parents back in the driver's seat and empowering educators.