Joe Nathan Column: When systems don’t serve students

Joe Nathan column – As we start a new year, it’s time to ask some tough questions. Over the past year, I have seen more and more examples of education systems that don’t seem to be serving at least some students. Some systems seem to be putting a priority on protecting the way things used to be, above the students and families they’re supposed to serve.

For example, at a time when college and university costs are challenging for many families:

–Why does state law prohibit Minnesota colleges and universities from telling students and families that they can save money by enrolling in postsecondary enrollment options courses? The state’s PSEO law (124.D.09, subdivision 9) states, “A postsecondary institution may provide information about its programs to a secondary school or to a pupil or parent and it may advertise or otherwise recruit or solicit a secondary pupil to enroll in its programs on educational and programmatic grounds only.”

–Why are a number of Minnesota’s two-year colleges not telling students about the law passed in spring 2012 that allows 10th-graders to take a career or technical course as part of Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options program?

–Why aren’t a number of Minnesota high schools including information about this 10th-grade option in registration materials available on their websites?

–Why won’t a Minnesota public university award an undergraduate degree to a high school student this spring if he’s in “good academic standing,” doesn’t owe money and will have completed the required courses?

–When state colleges have agreed that a number of high school teachers are qualified to teach a college-level class to high school students, why is a regional accrediting association insisting that students must take a certain number of credits from a college professor to earn a two-year, A.A. degree?

–Why are some school districts giving more credit on their grade point averages to students who take courses in the high school, compared to those who take a course on a college or university campus?

–Why hasn’t a legislative mandate been followed in 2012 or 2013 that requires a yearly report from the Minnesota Department of Education to the Legislature on the number of students at each public high school who take remedial courses on entering a Minnesota public college or university?

Over the coming year, we’ll explore these questions. It’s an election year. Some of the issues discussed above involve state law. Some involve actions by local school boards. Some involve high schools, college and universities.

In each case, students, families and taxpayers deserve more than answers. If the institutions are serving students, answers aren’t enough. Changes are needed.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,

  • John Webster

    The questions posed all have the same answer: some politically powerful groups like things just the way they are, and want to protect the financial interests of their group members. Anyone who follows politics knows that there have been many examples of Republicans protecting business interests in return for votes and campaign contributions. Democrats do likewise for those in the education establishments K-college.

  • Jerry Mintz

    With such interesting and useful services one has to wonder whose interest it serves to NOT publicize them.

  • Wayne Jennings

    These are excellent questions which demand action. We have to address them one by one. Some require legislative action which means finding an author for a bill and then followup for hearings. Some need the bright light of exposure to cause the proper official to act. That often means meeting with an official to get a change of policy or procedure. I’ll attend such meetings if that would help. Again followup is necessary to learn if change was made.
    Readers should respond to Nathan to indicate their willingness to work on one of these questions.

  • Darren Beck

    Nationwide, these are the questions that need to be asked and, as you pointed out, answered with a well-defined plan for the changes needed. Right, Left, Center, Ed Reformers or Traditionalists or Cutting Edge types, no one is exempt from seriously considering these issues as they impact our Republic.

    I fail to see how the next decade or so of effort to improve public education can possibly do so without leaving “sides” or “camps” behind. The camp we need to be in is to improve what our young people have as choices from Pre-K to post graduate studies because that investment of money and effort will shore up how we keep the promise of America in my humble opinion.

    And I agree with Wayne Jennings, as an outsider to Minnesota, but still very much in agreement that citizens need to organize around these questions in their localities, states, and on a national level. It is time for the revolution that always seems just a shot away.

    Great, thought-provoking piece. Looking forward to the upcoming pieces this year that seeks to keep the discussion and, more essentially, the effort going to answer these questions with action that is rational and effective.

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