Dave Jennings makes common sense


Anyone who listened to Gary Eichten’s interview with Dave Jennings last week had a rare opportunity to hear from someone who truly understands the myriad issues surrounding education and its reform.

Many years ago, as a new teacher, I attended a speech he delivered at Lakewood Community College (now Century College). I don’t remember the education issue or topic that he was addressing, but I came away very impressed with the man. He was then, and still is, the kind of politician and leader of which we have far too few. I regret that there was not enough time for me to reach the front of the call-in queue on Friday; I would like to have commended him.

His is the brand of innovative thinking, understanding, and management that there is a dearth of today. In answering a question from Mr. Eichten regarding the evolution of his views on education over the years, he replied that he has come to realize how complicated the subject is. He also recognized the value and wisdom of implementing change as “close to the classroom” as possible. He suggested that peer review might be a more effective means to higher student achievement than, for example, merit pay based on test scores.

Among teachers, his comments are probably right on point. To the general public and most of the talking heads–probably not so much. If I had been able to address Mr.Jennings I would have made a suggestion, which I will make here: This state desperately needs to hold a series of education forums that includes teachers as well as the usual suspects (Chamber of Commerce members, politcians, school board officials, and–yes–even union leaders).

The Saint Paul Pioneer Press once held an “Education Roundtable” that included only one teacher, Saint Paul Federation of Teachers President Gladys Westin, who was an instructor at Saint Paul Vocational-Technical College; in other words, there were no K-12 teachers present. Likewise, President Bush the First called an education summit in Washington in 1989 that included only governors.

I believe that Dave Jennings is just the person to spearhead the creation of a Minnesota education discussion, one that would include all the players: parents, students, teachers, legislators, state and district administrators, city and county government, teacher training institutions, student teachers, union leaders, the Chamber of Commerce . . . all of the stakeholders.

We all need to have a talk; our most important asset, the children, are in trouble. We have the power. Let’s exercise it.