- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 18.

Use Olympics as activity motivation

For the better part of two weeks, amazing athletes have done amazing things for our television viewing.

Gymnast Simone Biles flies, flips and turns through the air like a stunt pilot. Swimmer Michael Phelps hoards more gold than Fort Knox. Katie Ledecky won the 800-meter race by so much it was as if her rivals were in another pool. Usain Bolt (such a wonderful name for a sprinter) continues to be the fastest man in the world, even without any apparent effort.

These athletes have been fixtures of prime time viewing during the Rio Olympics, and they are so good at what they do that they seem almost to discourage couch potatoes from activity. That would be the wrong lesson, of course. Americans need more exercise, not less; one-third of us are considered obese. You don’t have to be Phelps or Ledecky to benefit from laps in the pool.

As the Rio Games entered their final days, Minnesota’s high school athletes started their official practices to prepare for the coming fall seasons. Volleyball, football, cross country … Mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body, is the long-time justification for an athletic component in academia, and there is no shortage of research connecting exercise with energy levels and mental focus.

But, again, those benefits are not just for the best in the world, or even for the varsity athletes. Every one of us gets better when we put down the remote and go do something, even if it’s as simple as walking the dog, pulling weeds or shooting hoops in the driveway.

So get going. Those Olympians you’ve been watching didn’t get there by channel surfing.

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, Aug. 18

Tackling stubborn teacher-licensing problems

Important work to address teacher-licensing problems - and do right by Minnesota students - is happening this summer on two tracks: in court and at the Capitol.

-An appeals court panel last week rejected a request from the Minnesota Board of Teaching to dismiss a lawsuit filed by educators who say they have faced undue barriers on the path to state classrooms.

-The 2016 Legislature created a 12-member study group to develop recommendations for the best way to restructure the system. It meets again next week.

The state’s teacher licensure problem is a stubborn one that has played out in recent years, frustrating out-of-state teachers seeking regular, renewable licenses to serve in our classrooms. It’s a problem made urgent as the state faces teacher-recruiting challenges and a daunting gap in school success that falls along racial lines.

Among those expressing frustration are teachers who took the legal route beginning in the spring of 2015.

A Ramsey County judge ruled in December that the Board of Teaching broke the law when it stopped processing applications for teaching licenses through a portfolio system. The ruling ordered the board to immediately begin processing applications for teaching licenses through the portfolio system it abandoned in 2012, the Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan explained. The decision also rejected claims that district courts do not have jurisdiction over the board’s administrative decision to stop using the portfolio licensing system.

The appellate ruling means that the case, now involving 18 teachers, likely will head to trial, Daniel Sellers, former executive director of the education reform group MinnCAN, told us.

As the court proceedings play out, the teachers remain committed to making their point.

A number of them have been granted licenses since the initial filing “but still argue that their constitutional rights were violated,” Sellers said. They want that to be affirmed but they seek no further relief.

Those who still don’t have licenses are not seeking them through the lawsuit, he explained, but rather what they want “is an agreement from the Board of Teaching that going forward they will change their policies and practices to align with the law.”

The objective of those teachers, Sellers said, is relief “in the form of changed practices, so that other teachers don’t have to go through what they went through.”

The board has argued that teachers should navigate the system using an appeals process that’s laid out in state law. “That’s not what this case is seeking,” Sellers emphasizes: “We’re seeking systemic reforms, and we’re asking the Board of Teaching to follow the law.”

Earlier this year, a six-month investigation by the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor concluded with a report that called the system “broken.” It said laws are complex and unclear and that - because the Board of Teaching and the state Department of Education share responsibility for licensing teachers - accountability “is diffuse and decision making is not always transparent.”

The report also observed that multiple exceptions to licensure requirements have led to loopholes and meaningless standards.

The lawmakers’ study group acting on the recommendations is co-chaired by Sen. Charles Wiger, a Democrat from Maplewood, and Rep. Sondra Erickson, a Republican from Princeton.

Wiger, Senate Education Committee chair, concurs that the process is “fractured, confusing and time-consuming.” He told us the study group’s focus is on streamlining the process under one entity and that its work will take shape as a recommendation for lawmakers’ consideration in 2017.

As for the urgency, we’ve been told that teacher shortages now extend beyond traditionally harder-to-fill positions - in math, science and special education, for example - to elementary-school positions in some areas. The profession also faces the challenges of finding candidates to fill positions vacated by retiring baby-boomers and recruiting more teachers of color.

As we’ve observed, a teacher-licensing process that confounds lawmakers, out-of-state teachers and the public has no place in a system that should put students first. Progress on changes that address it are welcome - and long overdue.

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St. Cloud Times, Aug. 17

‘Ghost panels’ further erode VA credibility

Yet another audit of VA patient care efforts last week found more incredulous deception when it comes to caring for America’s veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found two VA health care systems - in Iowa City, Iowa, and Black Hills, South Dakota - assigned more than 2,300 patients to primary-care physicians who were not actually working at those facilities.

That’s right. Veterans seeking primary care at these two sites had VA-assigned doctors who either had retired or resigned from those systems. The inspector general told The Associated Press there was no evidence patients were negatively affected because hospitals used other strategies to provide them needed care.

Rather, the audit delivers the message that these “ghost panels” were more about ways to make doctor-to-patient ratios look, at least on paper, more in line with federal requirements.

Several federal lawmakers are rightly calling for full accountability involving the VA staffers involved in creating and maintaining these panels. Remember, more than 2,300 veterans so it’s not like it was a simple oversight. Instead, it seems much more probable there was deliberate deception.

And while the same audit determined the St. Cloud VA Health Care System did not do create “ghost panels,” the inspector did find problems with how the local VA determined doctor-to-patient ratios. The investigation found the St. Cloud VA did not accurately represent the gains and losses of physicians and mid-level providers at the facility. The VA also failed to accurately report the number of primary care provider panel sizes at the facility.

The auditor did label the St. Cloud VA’s mistakes as inadvertent. Still, public confidence would be buoyed with a thorough explanation from local VA leaders.

As for the more egregious violations in Iowa and South Dakota, federal lawmakers should continue to push the VA to thoroughly detail what went into such an extensive effort to hide doctor-to-patient ratios. And accountability for those actions must be clear to all Americans, but especially veterans who rely on the VA for health care.

It’s no secret the VA system has been trying to rebuild public trust since reports broke a few years ago about endless wait times and other practices that showed veterans were not getting timely care.

The results of this audit rightfully renew concerns raised with those reports. Resolving them and rebuilding trust (again) will only happen if the VA’s next steps include clear accountability and evidence that the practice has indeed ended.

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