Joe Nathan column: MDE offers great opportunities to help create education plans

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Give Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and her colleagues at the Minnesota Department of Education some credit. They’ve held more than 100 meetings around the state since January 2016 on one of the most important issues facing Minnesota: What is the state’s plan to “help ensure that all children have significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable and high-quality education” while closing achievement gaps. That language comes from a congressional demand that each state develop a plan and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education for review, comment and approval.

These are contentious, and for some, cynical times. Some of us are very concerned about the direction and details of many plans coming from Washington, D.C.

But in this case, it does not matter if you are a Republican, DFLer or independent – MDE has included insights from across the political spectrum in its meeting summaries. I’ve attended several of these meetings and seen an array of Minnesotans listening carefully and talking respectfully with each other. Good summaries of previous discussions are found here: http://bit.ly/2o0Pnxi.

That website includes a summary of what MDE has heard so far, including a meeting held on Feb. 25 in Brooklyn Center. That meeting focused on what it means to have a “well-rounded education”; read more about the conversation at http://bit.ly/2mP0Tuz.

Goals and a plan are only the first steps toward making progress. It’s not yet clear how much federal funding that previously has been available for an array of education programs in Minnesota and other states will be available in the future. Regardless of how superb the goals and plans are, some of them will require resources. I salute people who continue to plan for and with youngsters while recognizing that they don’t know how much will be available to support the work.

MDE Assistant Commissioner Hue Nguyen (MDE photo)

MDE Assistant Commissioner Hue Nguyen (MDE photo)

MDE will submit its plan by Sept. 18. Before then, as MDE Assistant Commissioner Hue Nguyen told me, “MDE officials will go literally anywhere in the state to discuss this issue with interested Minnesotans. “So far, meetings have been held in Bemidji, Brainerd Duluth, Marshall and Rochester as well as Twin Cities suburbs and the Cities themselves. MDE officials are not just promising to meet around the state – they are doing it.

Most of the approximately 120 meetings have been with legislators, educators and advocacy groups. Some have been with community, student and religious groups. I hope that civic, business, student and religious groups will strongly consider inviting an MDE representative to meet with them. This is a great chance to provide insights and suggestions for Minnesota’s plan. In addition to the MDE website, mentioned above, you can contact MDE for more information at [email protected] or 651-582-8800.

Nguyen told me that MDE is waiting for clarification from the U.S. Department of Education on what it wants in the final plan. (A preliminary statement of instructions from USDE is more than 25 pages long.) But given MDE’s wise and demonstrated willingness to listen and learn, this seems like a great opportunity for families, students and others who care about education to share their best ideas with state officials.

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].

 

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