Here’s the good news: The state has a website – Accountability Minnesota – that is promoted as a way to hold state agencies accountable to clear goals.
Here’s the bad news: The education goals are generic, the data is suspect and the “Learn More” web links send the reader to multiple sites that advocate school choice.
The website is www.accountability.state.mn.us. It’s run by the Department of Administration and was launched last December to “provide performance information from 94 specific goals among 25 Executive Branch agencies and offices,” according to a December press release.
Visitors can click on several buttons that lead them to sites focusing on goals for health care, public safety, education and so on. The sites state the goals, list how they are measured, offer some charts that explain the goals, and gives web sites where readers can go for more information.
Here’s where Alice falls down the rabbit hole.
On the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) page, the reader is offered six web links to access more information. One link is to the state education department home page, www.education.state.mn.us, and another is to the federal education department’s home page, www.ed.gov.
The other sites are from organizations that promote the charter school movement. www.mncharterschools.org is the home page for the state association of charter schools. www.centerforschoolchange.org is the home page for a pro-charter group, housed at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. www.edreform.com is the home page for the Center for Education Reform, a national pro-charter group based in Washington D.C.
Most bizarre is www.pcemn.org. The site had belonged to Partnership for Choice, a St. Paul-based pro-charter-school organization. The site domain, however, has lapsed and now links to a site offering free online job searches, credit reports and a dating service. Partnership for Choice’s telephone line has been disconnected.
A spokesman with the Department of Administration said the links came from the Department of Education and directed questions to Randy Wanke, the communications director for the Department of Education. Wanke is also the former president of the Minnesota Education League Foundation, which is an arm of the Taxpayer’s League Foundation, a group that advocates for charter schools, lower taxes and reduced state funding for education. Wanke didn’t respond to telephone calls, but another MDE spokesman said the web links were “simply to provide additional education information and resources.” The Taxpayer’s League also did not respond to phone calls so the current status of the Minnesota Education League Foundation, Wanke’s status with the organization and the influence the organization might have with MDE remains unclear.
Meanwhile, the site’s accountability goals are suspect. Accountability Minnesota says it tracks 94 goals. Four of those involve education. The first goal is to “prepare every Minnesota student to succeed in a highly-competitive global economy.” The state intends to do this by increasing participation in college readiness programs such as Advanced Placement, increasing academic rigor, and offering more Chinese language classes.
To make its case, the site offers several colorful charts about math and reading core proficiencies. The site lists results from 2006, 2007 and 2008, with overly ambitious projections for 2010 and 2012 that ultimately lead to 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
The state is also tackling the achievement gap. It intends to raise the gap by initiating more rigorous standards in math and science, more rigorous graduation standards, compliance with the No Child Left Behind law, and benchmarks for student subgroups.
Charts on graduation and college readiness are offered, with real information from 2006, 2007 and 2008 with targets for 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 with the goal of 100 percent compliance by 2016.
The site then refers readers to the same school choice sites.
The state then discusses the goal of “putting effective highly qualified teachers in every Minnesota classroom.” To do this, the state discusses Q Comp, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s merit pay program. No charts are offered and there are no links.
The fourth goal, “Educate to eliminate unfair discriminatory practices,” links the reader to the Department of Human Rights page that discusses how DHR educates Minnesotans about discriminatory practices via cable TV shows, the commissioner’s blog and an on-line column.
It’s difficult to know which is more insulting: No accountability from a government agency, bogus information that impersonates government accountability, or overtly biased information from a government agency. The only true information to be gleaned from www.accountability.state.mn.us is that A.) The state has no desire to be held truly accountable and B.) Information biased toward charter schools is more important than the truth.
If we were running the accountability site, we would direct readers to a site like www.parentsunited.org, an excellent site that offers a tremendous amount of unbiased information about Minnesota public schools. Hopefully the Department of Education is taking notes.