FREE SPEECH ZONE | Getting schooled

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It’s been an interesting school session for educational and social issues here in Minnesota since September. Along with learning that 1 and 1 make 2, E = MC Hammered, and that two wrongs usually don’t make a right, students, teachers, and parents alike in Minnesota have all been affected by and influenced from the social and educational changes that have taken place over the last 7 months.
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-Minnesota’s Largest School District, Anoka-Hennepin, has been thrust onto the national scene due to years-long bullying at some of its member schools. Last summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization, sued the school district on behalf of a handful of students who endured anti-gay slurs, harassment, emotional and physical, and the cold shoulders of some of the school staff. The district recently settled, acknowledging the student’s abuse and parents and several organization’s concerns, and modified its harassment policy. Against the backdrop of a national bullying epidemic, and especially because the Anoka-Hennepin case held allegations of several student suicides being linked to anti-gay bullying, this ongoing incident cast a glaring light on the way schools handle allegations and incidents of student to student bullying and harassment.

What it means is that we as students, teachers, friends, parents, and members of the community still have a lot of work to do to contain and hopefully eradicate school bullying. One would think cases like this one should never occur, but today, it seems, bullying is ubiquitous. A student should never feel threatened or harrased in a house of knowledge, let alone be driven to the emotional precipice that is suicide.

-The Minnesota Department of Education, the federal Department of Education, and local colleges announce a comprehensive plan to allow high school students, initially from Irondale High School, to begin to earn complete Associate’s Degrees before high school graduation. Noting that past programs served generally the top academic brackets at high schools, the new plan is supposed to be much more accessisble to students of all knowledge and income backgrounds. According to Mounds View Public Schools website, “Through an agreement with Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Irondale will launch the Early College program in fall 2012 for ninth- and 10th-graders, with full implementation for all grades by 2014-15. A form of the Early College program will eventually be expanded to Mounds View High School as well.”

What it means is that more high school students will finally have access to the preliminary tools needed to earning collegiate degrees, like Bachelor’s and Master’s, which is key in an economy that is steadily awarding intellect and certification, over menial job skills. It also means that those of who’ve had to attend community colleges in the past just to nab an associate’s are probably kinda jealous; that workshop may soon be offered statewide in high schools for a fraction of the current cost. In the long run, this is great for anyone who can take advantage.

-Fatal Four-Way: “Traditional” (public schools) vs private schools vs charter schools vs online institutions. Which is more effective at helping a student earn a sound eduaction? For years, this battle has played out, with online institutions recently joining the fray. But here in Minnesota, the future is being decided within these four educational stations, with surprising results.

  • Being allowed to borrow against public schools to finance state debt seems inconceivable to most, yet it continues to happen. Apparently, the state of Minnesota collectively owes the state’s public schools over $2 billion. The state legislature and the governor, over many years, have jostled over how much and when to pay back public schools, and many critics claim that this battle is being borne by students and teachers in the form of of cut programs, undefunded cirriculums, and a weakening school safety net. This last point is exacerbated by a stunning figure that claims there are over 700 students for every 1 counselor in the state. Nationally? Over 470 students to 1 counselor. (U.S. Dept. of Education). Thoughts? Solutions?
  • Private institutions may be great for greater parental-staff interaction and control over a student’s educational path, but much like in the public sector, most accounts seem to be that private educational costs are soaring. Against the backdrop of what seems to be a perinnial tepid consumer income base, can an individual afford the great tools a private education can give? Or in the end, is the experience really congruent between both educational paths?
  • The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools website states that it “is a membership association that promotes innovation, quality, choice and accountability in public education by promoting charter schools in Minnesota.” But to hear some speak of charter schools, they are of the malodorous… inexpedious, and never to be attended. Not knowing too much about charters, I’d love to learn more or hear from someone who attended. One thing that could be said is that the concept seems novel: a mixture of parents and regulatory educational officials should conceivably bring about new ideas, and balance. And specific charter schools should more effectively be able to focus resources on specific programs of knowledge, much like a college without the surrounding university, right?
  • Online education may be the thing of the future: it’s cost effective, trendy, and much easier to accomodate into a busy schedule, which could all also be negatives. Put like that, online school sounds like a mobile device or cheap fitness course. But increasingly, students are logging into online courses, and public, private, and charter institutions are rushing to accomadate the phenomenon. There are plenty of questions to be asked, such as how accessible are online courses to low-income, or technologically novice individuals, whether the lack of direct teacher-student contact is a detriment, and such. But for now, online schoolong seems to be trending upwards, with thousands of students enrolling in courses each year.

 

With about 2 more months of schooling left, who knows what other interesting developments and news will come out of Minnesota’s education sector?