COMMUNITY VOICES | The world’s best work force? Huh?


When the Capitol lights dimmed and the ink dried on the E-12 Omnibus bill, the press quickly designated 2013 “the education session.” Indeed, the Education Omnibus bill provided expanded opportunities for students throughout their school career. Dollars for early childhood, all-day K, increased consideration of career and technical education, a smarter assessment system, and a DREAM act that is truly a dream are all garnering attention. But it may be the provision that offers a structure to engage our public in the work of educating Minnesota that will be the real game changer.

I am talking about the World’s Best Work Force statute and the amazing opportunity it provides Minnesotans. Working collaboratively with their community, each school district and charter school designs goals, defines strategies, aligns funding to those strategies and annually constructs a community meeting to share student results and gather further input from stakeholders apropos to the local plan.

Coordinated action

Collectively, Minnesota district and charter schools are to align their work to the goals of the World’s Best Work Force legislation: improve early learning, achieve third-grade literacy, increase graduation rates and students’ readiness for career or post-secondary options.

While work towards these goals has been in progress for years, I am struck by the intentionality and collective vision of this legislation. It includes high levels of public participation, local structure, and a statewide configuration to assist schools in achieving these ends.

A quick rundown of requirements for each district and charter school

Districts will take a deep look at student data to identify district goals that are clearly defined, measurable, developed collaboratively with stakeholders and supportive of the statewide goals outlined in the World’s Best Work Force statute.

Then research-based strategies to gain the desired results will be selected. The strategies must include a system to review and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction and curriculum. Practices are to integrate high-quality instruction, rigorous curriculum and a collaborative professional culture supporting teacher quality.

A district will align its budget to those strategies. It will be interesting to see if there are dollars that might be more productive if repurposed.

The last step in this model of educating of our children is communicating results. Sharing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat with stakeholders and seeking their input is critical to a better public understanding of what it takes to assure 100% student success.

To ensure community participation in all phases of planning and to make recommendations to the school board, each district is to establish an Advisory Committee, reflective of their community and inclusive of community members, students, parents, support staff and teachers.

Annually, each district and charter school will publish their local report, provide a brief summary for the Commissioner and host an annual meeting engaging with their public to continue the work. Another clever piece of the puzzle and an avenue for support is the formation of six regional centers of excellence – a mechanism that can network schools within a region to share efforts and expertise. When fully implemented, Minnesotans can expect a locally owned state accountability system developed with parent and community involvement, truly putting the public in public schools.

Another “New Thing”?

Most of us suffer from education policy fatigue. You know the feeling – “been there, done that.” For years, federal and state legislation has focused on telling schools how to do their work and minimized or dismissed local efforts. So why is this legislation any different?

The World’s Best Work Force legislation is an antidote to this past practice. It provides a structure for district and charter schools to work with neighbors to move the needle for students, it defines the role of the state as assisting the efforts of locals not driving them, it provides support and networking opportunities for districts to intentionally share their knowledge and it is not a competitive model but a collaborative one.

The public wants to be actively involved in our schools, and it is time to define what that means.

Before you think me a total Pollyanna, I know this legislation will only be as good as the implementation, and implementation will only happen if school folk AND the public take this opportunity to engage in the work of educating our children, understand the nature of what that will involve and accept the challenge. And that, my friends, is yet to be seen – and up to us!

“The alternative to engaging with the public will not be an unengaged public, but a public with its own agenda and an understandable hostility to decision-making processes that ignore them.” – Steve Coleman and John Gotze, Bowling Together, 2002