Left behind


One of the most important issues our state government will need to deal with in the next several years is education. Quite simply, education has been left to decay during the Pawlenty administration, with reduced funding and a deeply wrongheaded focus on high-stakes testing – one started by George W. Bush and lamentably continued under Barack Obama.

Even if I didn’t have a daughter in elementary school, I would be very concerned about the educational plans of DFL candidates in this race. And I have to say, what Margaret Anderson Kelliher is saying disappoints me greatly:

Democrat Margaret Anderson Kelliher is taking aim at fellow Democrat Matt Entenza over his education policy. In a news release, Kelliher pointed out that Entenza’s plan to scrap the federal No Child Left Behind law would cost the state $440 million in federal funding.

“My opponents have proposed unrealistic education plans that either dramatically cut school funding or throw it down the rabbit hole of a broken school funding formula,” said Kelliher. “Neither plan addresses the challenges facing our schools.”


Entenza has repeatedly called for Minnesota to get out of the federal No Child Left Behind standards. He’s argued that Minnesota won’t lose out on federal funds because he’s talked to education officials within the Obama Administration and is confident the state will get a waiver. He refused to name the officials he’s talked with.

Kelliher said in December that the federal government needs to fix No Child Left Behind and that she wants more rigorous testing to ensure students are learning. When asked if she’s in favor of scrapping the plan, Kelliher said at the time that “we need to talk about it” if the feds don’t fix it.

[Mark] Dayton told MPR that he would do everything he can to convince the federal government to produce a waiver.

Entenza and Dayton are flatly right on this issue, and Kelliher is flatly wrong. No Child Left Behind has been a disaster, forcing schools to put finite resources into helping students test well, rather than helping students learn to think.

This is not to say that testing has no place in education, of course. But it should be one tool in the toolbox, not the only one. Unfortunately, the Bush and Obama administrations have fallen in love with shiny, easy-to-measure test scores, making them the only important metric in defining school success or failure.

Having a governor willing to stand up to the federal government, to at the very least push for a waiver that will allow Minnesota more latitude in setting its own educational agenda, is therefore important. Both Dayton and Entenza have signaled a willingness to do that. Kelliher, contrawise, is doubling down on testing to guarantee federal money.

Leaving aside that Kelliher herself previously voted to get Minnesota out of NCLB, the simple fact is that not every federal dollar is worth the string attached to it. Yes, I know that we’re in a budget crisis. And Dayton’s nuanced view – that he’ll seek a waiver before continuing – is probably the best approach. But refusing even to try, and indeed, defending an indefensible program, is not the educational leadership this state needs.

Kelliher is flatly wrong on this issue, and this is one of the most vital issues facing our state. I have been supporting Kelliher up until now. I don’t think I can anymore.