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Two Views of Education: "Education Summit" and EdWatch

September 29, 2004

Compare two views of education by reading this report about the "Minnesota Education Summit" and then attending the EdWatch Education 2004 Education Conference to find out what's really going on in education, and what to do about it.

"2004 Minnesota Education Summit"
Minnesota’s Alliance for Student Achievement held its 2nd annual “Minnesota Education Summit” last week in Bloomington. Alliance membership consists of every professional education organization in Minnesota. These include the teachers union, the PTA and the various associations of school board members, principals, and administrators. In addition, Parents United appears to be the group that pulls the Alliance together. Parents United is a tax-exempt non-governmental organization in support of the education status quo, supported primarily by private foundations such as the Minneapolis Foundation.
The Alliance intends to “speak with one voice” on education policies. In years past, the natural tension between the interests of the teachers union and the interests of the school boards and administrators provided some balance to the debate over education policy and finance. This second year of the Alliance Summit unity has some potential for public backlash against what may be perceived as a single education monolith setting itself up in opposition to the taxpaying public. The consequence may ultimately create less support for public education. In any case, it is vital for parents and taxpayers to pay attention. The Summit program gave some insight. 
To begin, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) was the chief financier of the event. DRC is a “full-service provider” of “large-scale, statewide educational assessment programs”. DRC is also the testing contractor for the testing services in at least 20% of the states, including Minnesota. Minnesota’s own No Child Left Behind testing system is headed up by a manager who comes directly from the DRC.
The dominant themes of the conference were the following:

  1. All high stakes tests should be opposed, primarily because cheating by teachers and students make them invalid achievement indicators.
  2. Insufficient money for schools is the single, biggest obstacle to high achievement and to closing the achievement gap for Minnesota students.
  3. Minnesota must launch a new $1.5 billion endowment fund for massive early childhood interventions in low income families. The endowment would be fueled by state, federal, and private foundation money. Advocates of the new early childhood system claim it will produce a 16% inflation adjusted rate of return on investment.
  4. No Child Left Behind will destroy public schools, but since schools need federal education money, the state can’t refuse to cooperate and they should be getting much more money for it.
  5. They consider Alice Seagren a breath of fresh air as the new Education Commissioner
  6. Minnesota’s high tax and spend policies under Governors Perpich, Carlson, and Ventura produced excellent schools. Tax cuts in the last two years have are the biggest problem confronting Minnesota.
  7. The POG (price of government = taxes divided by personal income) is down, and that hurts education.

All of the above themes were driven home to a large, overwhelmingly sympathetic audience of education professionals. The idea of leaner government was a great offense to those present. The solutions to the problems of schools were clearly and emphatically laid out by former state Finance Commissioner John Gunyou. His close to the event began to resemble a political rally to throw the tax cutters out on their ears in November. He recommended the following:

  1. Increase the gas tax.
  2. Expand the sales tax to clothing.
  3. Increase taxes on corporate incomes.
  4. Increase property taxes.
  5. Defeat the taxpayers bill of rights (TABOR).
  6. Do not make the federal tax cuts permanent.
  7. Initiate a massive new $1.5 billion state early childhood program.
  8. Increase spending on higher education.
  9. Increase spending on transportation.
  10. Spend more money on after-school programs.
  11. Have candidates sign a tax and spend pledge to counter the Taxpayers League “no new taxes” pledge.
  12. Stop talking about “Morning in America.”.

Julie Quist