- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Star Tribune, Feb. 2

State can learn much from new study on teachers

A recent report to the Legislature offers important data about Minnesota teachers - information that can drive decisions about how best to serve state students, narrow learning disparities and improve instruction.

The Minnesota Department of Education study found that school leaders and policy setters should boost efforts to recruit more diverse teaching staffs and either encourage more people to enter certain teaching fields or develop their own. The hope is that high school counselors and schools of education will use the data to advise those who may be interested in teaching careers.

One of the report’s primary findings documented the lack of racial diversity in the state’s teaching force. Though it may not seem apparent in the largest metro-area districts, where many educators of color are on the job, teachers statewide are far from representative of Minnesota student enrollments.

Out of a teaching force of about 58,000 in Minnesota, 96 percent are white and about 4 percent are people of color. That’s in a state where about 25 percent of 830,000 students are of color.

The population of minority students is growing at a rate of at least 1 percent per year. It is predicted that within the next couple of decades, minority students will become the majority. That’s already the case in some metro-area school districts.

While there has been a slight increase in the number of Hispanic and Asian teachers statewide, 900 are Asian, 600 are black, 500 are Hispanic and 250 are American Indian, according to the Education Department, which does the study every two years.

The report also shows the teaching areas that have surpluses vs. those where shortages exist. That’s valuable information for young people who aspire to teach. It may have always been your dream to work with kindergarten kids - but that might not be the best option for you in terms of where the jobs are.

The data can also help high school counselors and schools of education assist students who want to pursue careers in education and stay in Minnesota. The state, for example, has more than enough educators in K-6 elementary, physical education, social studies, and communications arts and literature. But there are shortages in about a dozen other areas. The greatest needs are for educators certified to teach kids with emotional, learning or development of speech and language disabilities. And there are not enough school psychologists and well-qualified teachers in English as a second language, math, chemistry and physics.

As a result, state school leaders sought special permission from the state to hire 3,500 teachers who lacked the necessary license for the subject and the grade levels taught. That amounts to only about 6 percent of the entire workforce - down from 7 percent the previous year. Still, it is not best for students to have so many school staff members teaching outside their subject areas.

District officials say that in some subjects, it is difficult or impossible to hire qualified teachers, the survey results noted. In addition, more schools are having trouble finding short-term and long-term substitute teachers.

That has prompted some metro-area school districts to launch “grow your own” efforts like the one recently initiated by the University of Minnesota and Intermediate District 916, a consortium of 11 districts in the northeast suburbs. In that program, teaching assistants and other paraprofessionals can earn their advanced degrees and become licensed to work with students who have emotional and behavioral disorders. Participants get on-the-job training and don’t have to quit work while they earn the degree.

The study pointed out another trend that should concern policymakers. District leaders reported that state testing requirements for teachers can be a barrier to recruiting, preparing and hiring educators.

State researchers suggest that further study is needed to determine whether the issue applies to all three subject areas (basic skills, pedagogy and content) and which portions of the test are most difficult.

It makes sense to review where the issues are, but the requirements should not be diluted as a result. The requirements, as well as a better system for teacher evaluations, were put in place in Minnesota because teacher quality and instruction are critical to narrowing achievement gaps - especially among those students who are struggling the most in school.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Feb. 1

Let’s agree on road plan this session

A surprise to no one in Minnesota is the fact that our roads and bridges have been neglected for years, even decades. Finally, a bold, albeit expensive, plan has been put on the table by Gov. Mark Dayton to fix this. The initial response from the GOP, which we hope is a feint, is to kick the can down the road and “study it further.”

And the chess game begins.

Dayton last week proposed resurfacing or replacing 2,200 miles of roadway, repairing 330 bridges and boost funding for local infrastructure projects - with a new 6.5 percent tax on gas at the wholesale level, an increase in license tab fees and another metro tax for increase bus service.

The gas tax could add 16.25 cents a gallon at current prices.

Regionally that means $2.7 million a year in transportation funding to Blue Earth County and $1.4 million for Nicollet County, increases of about 28 percent, by 2019. And with $1.6 billion commitment to the Corridors of Commerce, the likelihood of completing Highway 14 is high.

While Dayton said he initially balked at raising taxes, he added: “One guarantee I can make: If we do nothing more, conditions will continue to get worse.”

Rep. John Petersburg, a Waseca Republican and vice chairman of the transportation committee, said Republicans are still trying to figure out the scope of the problem. “It’s a little bit early to box ourselves in the corner with a solution” when the problem hasn’t been clearly defined, he told the AP.

Rep. Tim Kelly, Republican chairman of the transportation committee, told MinnPost, “It’s irresponsible to create a longer term plan if we don’t understand and agree with what the need is. We hear $10 billion, we hear $6 billion, we hear $54 billion. That’s the issue.”

Well, a 2012 report of the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee says there is a $6 billion revenue gap over the next 10 years just in bringing our roads and bridges back in shape. Admittedly the committee was assembled by Dayton, but the Republicans have had plenty of time since then to refute this claim or launch their own study. Instead, now they want more time. Meanwhile, they propose a short-term funding plan of $750 million over the next four years taken from the budget surplus.

State lawmakers have pursued a long-term transportation package for years. The last large-scale transportation plan was passed in 2008, when Republicans joined Democrats in overriding a veto by GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Kelly admits there is a need for investment in transportation and offered some hope that through negotiations an agreement could happen this year. This is essential.

To date, there has been no political courage in Minnesota to pick up the slack from declining federal transportation fund. The last time the Legislature acted decisively was when the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. Do we need another collapse before legislators come together? We certainly hope not.

Let’s put things in perspective. Looking at the 16 cents a gallon proposal, which may be high, the average cost to motorists (15,000 miles annually at 25 mpg) would be about 27 cents a day.

The $6 billion being sought is for roads over 10 years - not transit. The need is real. We will not spend $6 billion in one year but we need to spend dollars over 10 years. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. The fact that the plan is over 10 years means we have time to adjust even downward if necessary. But we need to start sooner than later before inflation makes costs rise even higher and conditions make it worse to fix.

Efficiencies are part of Dayton’s plan, so there is an appreciation we can do better. However, the GOP proposal doesn’t deal with this problem in a real way. We can hope this is a bargaining chip and that genuine negotiations will get this resolved this session.

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Winona Daily News, Feb. 1

No one should be catching the measles

There’s no excuse.

In recent weeks, nearly 100 people in Southern California caught a disease that should have been wiped out decades ago.

Measles.

The measles vaccine is virtually 100 percent effective. When everybody gets the shot, nobody gets sick.

The vaccine went on the market in 1963. Childhood vaccination has been required for children entering school for decades.

Unless their parents refuse.

There’s the rub.

Stupid parents.

OK, maybe stupid is too harsh. Let’s say misinformed … gullible … well-meaning … scared … malignantly misled.

That’s it, malignantly misled. By persuasive hucksters and fools - with pronouncements backed only by fraud, fear and ignorance they raise the specter of vaccine as a greater harm than the disease is will prevent.

It’s a tactic old as vaccination itself. When Edward Jenner demonstrated that vaccination with cow pox would provide immunity from small pox, naysayers warned that the process would lead to the vaccinated sprouting bovine horns, tails and a bellowing appetite for hay. Excusable enough in the 18th century, well before bacteria, viruses and the nature of infectious disease was known to science, but no longer.

Legitimate medical science has emphatically disproved and disavowed the charlatans’ baseless claim that protecting a child from infectious disease may result in autism or other debilitating conditions. Still, playing on parent’s love for their children and desire for their well-being, these medical flat-earthers have managed to create a large enough pool of vulnerable people for a mini-measles epidemic to take hold and spread.

Granted, 100 or so cases is a long way from the 481,530 cases reported in 1962, the year before the vaccine became available - the year 408 Americans, most of them children, died from the disease. Yes, measles kills people - an estimated 200 million between 1855 and 2005.

To repeat, the vaccine is virtually 100 percent effective. Everybody gets the shot, nobody gets sick.

A Minnesota legislator, Rep. Mike Freiberg, is proposing legislation that would make it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. It’s almost embarrassing that it should come to this, but no parent has the right to put their child, and by extension everyone else’s children, at risk.

No one should be catching the measles.

There’s no excuse.

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