VOICES | My Sky is Blue

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I don’t mean to sound impolite but looking up from the State Capitol, what color is the sky? I ask because, clearly, conservative public policymakers see something different.

Recently, the Office of the Legislative Auditor released its Q-Comp evaluation report. After four years and $49 million invested, the result is, charitably stated, underwhelming. Despite this, Governor Pawlenty wants to impose Q-Comp, formally titled “Quality Compensation for Teachers,” on every Minnesota school district.

Q-Comp, Governor Pawlenty’s conservative signature alternative teacher compensation program, provides schools with additional per-pupil student funding provided they surrender their traditional teaching contract model. A merit-pay scheme, the Governor believes, will substantially improve children’s learning experience and school performance.

I see Q-Comp as union busting, pure and simple, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. I’ve learned to trust the Legislative Auditor. What does he say?

In a nut shell, the OLA finds insufficient data to properly evaluate the program, citing too few participating schools yielding too little student performance data to properly study and evaluate the policy initiative’s impact. There’s the first hint of a problem. Despite nearly $50 million committed to Q-Comp, the result is muddy, uncertain and unclear.

I can’t escape the feeling that Minnesota is being stuck with another expensive, out of control, barely monitored, Governor Pawlenty-preferred program like JOBZ. In both Q-Comp’s and JOBZ’s cases, Pawlenty’s commitment is ideological, not performance driven. Using the latter standard, he should’ve abandoned both years ago. But, he hasn’t. Instead, he’s doubling down on failure.

“Failure” is a strong word. I don’t use it lightly. But, when the OLA’s staff raises the red “insufficient evidence to determine the impact of Q-Comp on student achievement” flag, I pay closer attention.

The OLA report should give Governor Pawlenty pause, particularly since he wants to impose Q-Comp on every Minnesota school district. While apparently unconcerned with objective findings, Pawlenty’s team nonetheless took the opportunity to obfuscate the OLA’s findings. The day before the OLA’s report release, the Minnesota Department of Education preemptively released its own, $180,000 favorable Q-Comp report.

Let me summarize Education Commissioner Seagren’s perspective: Q-Comp is great!

However oddly disconnected from reality this perspective might seem, it neatly fits with the ideological conservative public policy worldview. Human behavior is only motivated by money. With Pawlenty’s state-wide Q-Comp mandate, he amplifies “carrot and stick” motivators to “carrot and guillotine.”

Now, taking the money motivator concept a step further, conservative State Representative Pat Garofalo proposes paying off high school students for graduating early.

Seriously.

Garofalo would have Minnesota pay students $2500 per semester for up to three semesters, provided they graduate and clear out. That’s $7500 in walking around money in return for cramming four years worth of work into two and a half.

Pitched as a cost-savings program, Garofalo’s “scholarship” idea subtly suggests that the net savings benefits schools because the scholarship cost is less than a school’s per-pupil instructional cost. That might be the case if Minnesota paid 100% of school costs but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s one more conservative assault on public education disguised, however goofily, as responsible public policy.

We’re not fooled. Not by Garofalo’s walking around money. Not by Pawlenty’s Q-Comp mandate.

Conservative educational policy seeks to undermine public education. Its precepts and report findings are simply window dressing, attempting to present an ugly policy as something somehow more attractive and desirable.

Minnesota can and must do better. We might start by asking conservative public policymakers, “what color is the sky?”

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