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MN2020 - Tuesday Talk: Closing the Education Equity Gap
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Tuesday Talk: Closing the Education Equity Gap

August 27, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Discussions about education reform simultaneously blame the teachers and laud them as the most important factor in a student's success. While educators play a central role, students need a wide array of community support to ensure they’re learning — a circle that many students lack.

In tackling this education equity gap, we must address a variety of factors including foreclosure prevention, living wage jobs, access to affordable health care, increasing the number of teachers of color, and stronger parent/teacher partnerships.

Join us from 8-9:30 am for a discussion moderated by Mary Cathryn Ricker, teacher and SPFT president, on what we should expect of our teachers and how we can best partner with communities.

 

Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments. 

Thanks for a great conversation this morning! The conversation continues all day, Mary will check back in here and there.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.

29 Comments:

  • Rachel says:

    August 27, 2013 at 6:26 am

    Good morning! Mary will be joining us at 8. If you can’t come join us then, please share a few thoughts and any questions you might have for her.

  • Karyn Thompson says:

    August 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I work for the Junior Achievement office that offers free programs to teachers in over 650 schools all over MN. When a teacher/school tells JA they want a JA program; JA finds a volunteer, generally from the business community, to come in to the kindergarten-12th grade classroom to teach the 5 lesson JA program, while the teacher remains in the classroom to the students. Each JA program is grade specific and focuses on teaching youth how they can impact the world around them as individuals, workers and consumers, and prepares students to succeed in school and beyond.
    In addition to inspiring youth with the JA cirriculum taught by a bussiness person who shares their career and educational path, providing a snapshot of what sucess looks like to the students, JA engages over 7000 minnesota volunteers each year in classrooms. These are people who learn first hand the challanges of our educators and in general become strong advocates for educators after thier expereince. The demand for JA programs/JA volunteers remain strong from educators each year. One way people can support youth and educators is to volunteer with JA in local schools. Our web site is jaum.org, go tot he volunteer page for more information or call 651-255-0050.
    Thanks for the opportuntiy and for all you do to support youth!

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Thanks for the background information,Karyn. My daughter had the chance to participate in JA in elementary school. I think it is important to find high quality programs that complement the work we are asking students to do in the classroom as well as give them a glimpse of the opportunities they will have so that when they hear adults say “college and career ready” it is not an abstract concept to them.

      Additionally, research suggests that students who are forward-thinking, can picture their future, are successful. Partnerships, like the one you are suggesting, can foster a glimpse of what a student needs to imagine a future for her or himself.

  • Kevin Terrell says:

    August 27, 2013 at 8:03 am

    In recent years, Finland made a number of changes to its education system and dramatically improved outcomes across the board. Perhaps the most significant change was that the country began recruiting primary school teachers only from the top ranks of college graduates. How do teachers in Minnesota compare to that global best practice?  Are teachers here typically from the top decile of their graduating class? Top quarter? Top half?

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Good morning!

      All logged in, so let’s get started. Thanks for joining me in this discussion this morning.

      mary cathryn

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 8:15 am

      Hi Kevin:

      Thanks for asking. I have not seen Minnesota’s teachers achievement levels broken down, however I did have the chance to study the Finnish education system last summer. The Finnish system is very selective, as you have pointed out. Additionally, they employ other global best practices such as:few teacher training institutions (the entire country has 7, whereas just in Minnesota we have over 30) and they have a very rigorous teacher preparation program that is the equivalent of a masters degree, with no alternative system.

      All of these things complement each other and create the solid teaching force Finland has, not just one or the other.

      • kevin terrell says:

        August 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

        Thanks Mary

        Amongst other things, I am a process guy. I would assert that what Finland has done is correctly diagnose the need for high quality inputs at the most critical juncture in the process of “making” good education. Much of what we do here seems to be about inspecting in quality, or massive rework on the back end of the process. I’d love to hear that conversation change, as it seems we could do more, for less money, for more people. Quality 101.

        • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

          August 27, 2013 at 8:40 am

          Kevin, I would completely concur with that assessment. I also believe we have a history in education of looking at something after all opportunities to influence the outcome have passed. For as long as I’ve been in teaching (20 years!) the most consistent recruiting method I have seen is:
          close your eyes
          cross your fingers
          hope the the people you want to go into teaching actually go into teaching.
          Any attempts to be more focused than that, in my research, have been terminal (usually where money exists to do something for a little while and then the money goes away so the practice goes away) or boutique—too small to make a large-scale difference.

          It is one of the reasons our union, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, began to work in 2009 to create our own alternative licensure program, so that we could create something sustainable. We developed three parts: a high school exploration component, a higher education recruitment component, and an alternative licensure component to fill hard-to-staff license areas. All three working to better diversify our profession.

          The high school exploration component is up and running. It is Future Educators of St. Paul and it got its start at Como Senior High School three years ago.

          I also think that is why Education Minnesota President Denise Specht is leading a process this fall to have a statewide discussion about improving the way we attract and retain teachers in Minnesota.

  • Rachel says:

    August 27, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Welcome! Our moderator, Mary Cathryn Ricker, will be joining us shortly.

    Mary is a National Board Certified middle school English/language arts teacher and serves as Saint Paul Federation of Teachers president.

  • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

    August 27, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I have heard this past legislative session referred to as the “education session” as someone has listed the revenue that was improved for Minnesota’s schools. I am excited by the prospect of all-day kindergarten and a stronger commitment to pre-K. Additionally, when I think of this past session as the “education session” I am incredibly grateful for the homeowners bill of rights, access to affordable health care, marriage equality, and other legislation that stabilized the lives of our students and their families. The stronger we can make a foundation for our community, the more our students and their families can focus on education. All of these things work together.

    • Grant Abbott says:

      August 27, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Thank you, Mary Cathryn, for your leadership and for giving me a copy of the excellent statement for education reform, “The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve,” that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers produced.

      I would like to ask you about assessments. The results of this year’s MCAs have just come out with mixed results. However, I don’t think a single summative assessment is adequate to know how well our students are learning. How are teachers involved with the Department of Education in developing a fuller representation of student learning and teacher effectiveness? And, if I can ask a second question, how well are colleges of education doing in preparing teachers to produce and analyze formative assessments of student learning to help them continuously improve their instruction?

      • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

        August 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

        Good morning Grant:

        Thank you for the compliment. For those of your wondering what Grant may be talking about “The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve” can be found at www.spft.org. And, yes, that really did feel like the shameless plug it was.

        To your questions: I completely concur that a single pulse-check is not an adequate measurement of the real work our students are accomplishing, especially given the documentation on the racial bias found in standardized tests. Additionally, the obsession we have with these snapshot measurements has stifled the attention we need to have to the valuable assessment data teachers collect on a regular basis, sometimes even moment to moment. Teachers spend an entire year collecting achievement data on our students, both formal and informal. That feedback is most immediate to our students and their families and research suggests that high quality student feedback is a powerful tool for student learning. And, I can say this as a parent, it is also the easiest for our students and families to understand when we wonder “How is my child doing?”

        As for the MN Department of Education, I feel that our Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius is the most accessible person with which I’ve ever worked. She has worked hard to listen to as many voices as she can, including teachers, and act on the great suggestions she hears. Her office can probably best describe how teachers are directly involved in discussions about developing a fuller representation of student learning, but I can tell you that she had teachers deeply involved in the working group developing the state default model on teacher evaluation. I had the opportunity to co-chair that group.

        I think the colleges of education are all over the map (teachers get the pun) in preparing teachers to produce and analyze formative assessments. We need to make sure that our teachers-in-training have some consistent preparation in high-quality assessment. It is worth the statewide discussion to determine what we all expect our teachers to be able to know and do before they are trusted with our students.

  • Sarah Lahm says:

    August 27, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Good morning, Mary. Thank you for your time. I like what you mention about the “education session” that restored some of the funding our schools have lost over the past ten years. It seems so critical to note, as you do, the other family-friendly bills that were passed. How do you think we can positively shift our education conversations to include not just teachers, unions, and test scores, but also jobs, health care, housing, etc.? It feels less and less useful to continually highlight the few “beat the odds” schools while not addressing the broader issues.

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Hi Sarah:

      That is a very good question, and I have been thinking about it for some time. First, teachers can be clear that when we bring up our concern about poverty, of unstable housing, of unaffordable health care, of the lack of living wage jobs, we are decidedly NOT bringing them up because they keep us from teaching. We bring them up because they keep us up at night. I do believe that teachers get gun shy at advocating for full community supports because the backlash is immediately, “you’re just making excuses.” Caring for the full well-being of our students, their families, and our community is not an excuse; it is the sign of a passionate educator. So the first thing we teachers need to do is to stop apologizing for caring for our neighbors. We should not stop there either though.

      Our union believes we have the responsibility to:
      1. Promote teacher quality
      2. Engage parents as partners in our work
      3. Advocate for those things that compromise our students and their families ability to succeed.

      That is the responsibility we can take to shift the conversation from just teachers, our unions, and test scores. Getting others to shift is a matter of education. It just so happens that, since we are professional educators, we’re up to the job. We spend time with parents and in the community. Nothing can replace advocating side by side for a stronger minimum wage in our community, for example, as a powerful way to demonstrate that we understand the interconnectedness of all of our work on making a vibrant community for all people.

  • Lynne says:

    August 27, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Good morning and we are excited to begin a new school year.  Minnesota has one of the biggest achievement gaps in the nation among our subgroups.  What are some policies or practices that you have seen or heard that could make the biggest difference in closing that achievement gap?

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Good morning Lynne:

      Thanks for your question. I will answer broadly at first and then narrow it down. In my experience, and in what I have been reading, consistency is one of the most powerful practices we can employ to close educational gaps in our students. Churning the employees closest to our students is not helpful, so having practices that keep the teachers and principals in our schools stable is one example of a way to provide consistency to our students. Those teachers and principals also need consistent instruction, so flavor-of-the-month professional development needs to be abandoned for consistent professional instruction on how to meet the needs of our students. Another would be to stick to consistent standards, measurements, curriculum as opposed to switching them out from under students, teachers, and principals all the time.

      When I have looked at success stories the common thread I see is that when a teacher, a site, a community has found a successful practice their decision to stick with it has made the biggest difference. The other big lesson from this is to find that successful practice first. I do believe it looks different in different places, but I want to make sure that the lesson of what I’m writing is consistency first. No. It is consistency after finding what works for your students (which means that a degree of autonomy is needed from school community to school community, but I’ll leave that for another post).

      If that consistency can be practiced across a community, in the other sectors that influence a student’s life, then we are all focused on working towards improving outcomes for our students and their families.

  • Mary Turck says:

    August 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I recently saw a suggestion (sorry, can’t remember the source) that schools should have different measurements of achievement. If a school has a largely ELL population, for example, the measure of success might have more to do with learning English than with proficiency in reading, according to the statewide measure. If a school’s goal is to work with students who have dropped out or been kicked out of other schools, then its measure of success should not be the same as the measure for a suburban high school.

    I know that classroom teachers also face varying student populations - I recall a fourth-grade teacher with a reputation for “being good with the bad boys,” and her class assignments reflected that, so I imagine that her class’s scores were lower than those of other fourth grade teachers in her school.

    What’s your take on the possibility/desirability of differentiated goals for schools and classrooms?

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Hi Mary:

      I appreciate your post. I think this is a fascinating topic. I am intrigued. To wrap my head around it I must separate measurement and standards. When we as a state have agreed to standards for our students, let’s use: know the difference between a simile and a metaphor as a rudimentary example, then the way we measure that understanding should be allowed to be differentiated. I actually believe that was part of the underlying assumption behind robust magnet and/or charter school programs. That those programs are all going to hold students to the consistent high standards we have agreed to for our students, but the measurement will be differentiated to best meet the needs of our unique student populations. That is why measuring a students understanding of similes and metaphors may look different at the High School for the Recording Arts, as from Ms Ricker’s class, which may also look different from my children’s Spanish immersion school experience. All of the students will be expected to demonstrate the same knowledge and/or thinking skill.

      That is one reason I expect to see better attention to the assessments our teachers give our students on a regular basis, rather than the exhaustive time, energy, attention, and money that we have been pouring into snapshot-in-time standardized tests.

    • Joe Nathan says:

      August 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Mary Cathryn invited me to join this conversation, so here are a few comments.  Some years ago the US Dept of Ed asked the Center for School Change to develop ideas about evaluation, assessment and accountability that would be useful for all public schools, district, charter, magnet, alt, etc.  We worked for a year with people like the president of the American Educational Research Association, authorities in the area of assessing students with special needs, students for whom English is not a first language, plus some other people.  We developed 6 vital and 3 valuable features that we felt (and I feel) still apply.  The report is available here:
      http://centerforschoolchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/What-Should-We-Do-Report.pdf

      This was a strong statement in favor of multiple forms of assessment, clear goals for each school and clear communication to faculty, families and students about those goals, periodic public reporting, use of the data to help strengthen/improve the school, etc. 

      We also identified district & charter public schools around the US that were doing some of the things we suggested.  That info is in the report.  One of the schools we included is a district public school in St. Paul.

  • norman hanson says:

    August 27, 2013 at 9:51 am

    How can we fix the so called academic achievement gap…assuming that it is not a matter of a difference in learning ability which I would like to assume that it is not but I do have to admit that it might be.  It is called parental involvement and caring about how their kids are doing in school, a well tested formula that appears to work very well in most of the school districts in the state except for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Note:  I could absolutely as in absolutely care less as to the claimed reasons for the absence of this time tested formula in those two cities!!

    • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

      August 27, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Hi Norman:

      Thank you for your note. Our union takes the family role in a child’s education very seriously. That is one of the reasons we worked to institute the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. At the heart of this work is the belief that families have real hopes and dreams for their children and we need to work in partnership to help students achieve them.

      Personally, in 13 years of parent/teacher conferences, phone calls, visits, meetings and chance encounters at the grocery store, I have never met a parent who doesn’t care desperately about her or his child. I suppose they may exist, but I am saying I have never personally met someone like that.

      I have met parents who demonstrate their deep love for their children in different ways. For some, it is working multiple jobs to keep housing stable. For some, it is volunteering in class or attending field trips. For some, it is taking an extra job to afford a special summer camp for their child. For another, it was moving to a shelter across town so that her soon-to-be 13 year old son could stay with her and not have to sleep in the adult section of a shelter. For some, it was coming to the United States with a dream of a better life than the one they left in another country. For some, it was making parent/teacher conferences a priority. Our parents are as diverse as our students and the myriad of ways they show their deep love for their children can be just as diverse.

      My question as a teacher and as a labor leader is: Are we doing every thing we can to accommodate parental involvement? I don’t think we are currently. That is not to say that we don’t have a lot of people trying to improve. We do. I mentioned our union’s work earlier, I know my school district, St. Paul Public Schools, is working very hard on many different ways to involve parents. We all need to keep trying. Much of the parent involvement is still designed the same was it was designed for my mom 30+ (gasp) years ago. We need the ability to diversify our opportunities to partner with parents so that it is meaningful. Differentiating those experiences is one way to sincerely make that happen, rather than expecting one-size-fits-all parent partnerships.

      One of the things I want prioritized is a change in the state law that supports parent involvement in school. Right now the state says that parents may take up to 16 unpaid hours off from work to be engaged in their children’s education. I want that changed to be up to 16 hours of paid time off. As it stands currently, there is a grossly uneven playing field where parents like me have a variety of options for paid time off to be involved in school: maybe you have flex time, vacation time, personal leave, etc. and parents working jobs without benefits must chose between losing compensation to be involved or collecting a full pay check, which may be what is keeping a family in their housing, able to afford school supplies or food, etc.

      It would be a remarkable sign of meaningful support for our students if employers offered paid time off to their employees to support parents involvement in school-related activities. It could very well open up opportunities for all of our parents to attend conferences, chaperone field trips, volunteer in class, meet with teachers, attend honor assemblies, watch a school play or band performance, and more rather than leaving all those opportunities only in the hands of parents who can afford it.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts. Let’s make this happen!

      • Joe Nathan says:

        August 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

        The Cincinnati Public (district) schools were able to eliminate the high school graduation gap between white and African American students (there is a huge gap in Minnesota between these students).  As the person who coordinated this effort with Cincinnati, I wrote several things about 10 key parts of the effort.  one of them was strong involvement of the Cincy Federation of Teachers.  Another was strong involvement of Cincy graduates in returning to the high schools to talk with students about the value of returning to high school. Here is a link to the column:
        http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2011/06/what-did-cincinnati-public-schools-do-close-high-school-graduation-gap

      • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

        August 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm

        Hi Folks:

        In case you were wondering what state law I’m talking about, here it is copied and pasted from the Revisor’s website: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=181.9412

        -mary cathryn

        181.9412 SCHOOL CONFERENCE AND ACTIVITIES LEAVE.
        Subdivision 1.Definition.

        For purposes of this section, “employee” does not include the requirement of section 181.940, subdivision 2, clause (1).
        Subd. 1a.Foster child.

        For the purpose of this section, “child” includes a foster child.
        Subd. 2.Leave of 16 hours.

        An employer must grant an employee leave of up to a total of 16 hours during any 12-month period to attend school conferences or school-related activities related to the employee’s child, provided the conferences or school-related activities cannot be scheduled during nonwork hours. If the employee’s child receives child care services as defined in section 119B.011, subdivision 7, or attends a prekindergarten regular or special education program, the employee may use the leave time provided in this section to attend a conference or activity related to the employee’s child, or to observe and monitor the services or program, provided the conference, activity, or observation cannot be scheduled during nonwork hours. When the leave cannot be scheduled during nonwork hours and the need for the leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide reasonable prior notice of the leave and make a reasonable effort to schedule the leave so as not to disrupt unduly the operations of the employer.
        Subd. 3.No pay required; substitute of paid leave.

        Nothing in this section requires that the leave be paid; except that an employee may substitute any accrued paid vacation leave or other appropriate paid leave for any part of the leave under this section.
        History:

        1990 c 577 s 3; 1992 c 438 s 2; 1996 c 341 s 1; 1996 c 408 art 11 s 4; 1999 c 205 art 5 s 21; 2002 c 380 art 5 s 1

  • Mary Cathryn Ricker says:

    August 27, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Thank you so much for engaging me in this morning’s discussion. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss all of the great topics presented. Today’s discussion is one example of how diverse our work needs to be in order to fully meet the needs of our students and our families. We need absolute attention to an environment of strong teaching and learning immersed in a community that meets the needs of our students, their families, and all of our neighbors.

    I look forward to going back and correcting any grammar or punctuation mistakes I made since I can’t tell you how difficult it is to post something without any editing. I take full responsibility for errors in the meantime.

    Thank you, all, for caring so much about meeting the needs of our students and families. I look forward to continuing this conversation and working alongside you whenever possible.

    Best wishes to all our students, their families, and our educators for a great school year!

    Mary Cathryn

    • Lyelle L. Palmer, Ph.D. says:

      August 27, 2013 at 11:19 am

      I say the following without excusing the gaps (there are several and we must address each separately):

      A certain statistical situation assures that the gap will widen under the current conditions as achievement rises for those who are unaffected by poverty, deprivation, English-learning, special needs, etc.

      The fact is that the low base will always be there (Low is and will be the beginning point) while the standards and achievement is rising with a trailing tail between proficient and low/beginning.  Example:  IQ test-makers must revise the norms every 20 years because students rising scores invalidate the aging norms. 

      In order to raise the achievement of the lowest the programming and teacher training must address those issues affecting the lowest.  We will always have a lowest, the questions are, how much individualization is required, and/or are there classroom-wide programs that show that highly-trained teachers can reliably and substantially boost achievement to normal levels by the end of the primary grades?

      For one possibility, look to the Minnesota Learning Resource Center in Minneapolis, that trains hundreds of pre and primary teachers in the SMART program that has demonstrated ability to bring Low SES students to levels equivalent to advantaged schools.
      Begin at the bottom, begin early and continue to boost throughout the primary grades.
      A seamless SMART team through the grades works wonders.  Train the teachers.

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    August 27, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I say the following without excusing the gaps (there are several and we must address each separately):

    A certain statistical situation assures that the gap will widen under the current conditions as achievement rises for those who are unaffected by poverty, deprivation, English-learning, special needs, etc.

    The fact is that the low base will always be there (Low is and will be the beginning point) while the standards and achievement is rising with a trailing tail between proficient and low/beginning.  Example:  IQ test-makers must revise the norms every 20 years because students rising scores invalidate the aging norms. 

    In order to raise the achievement of the lowest the programming and teacher training must address those issues affecting the lowest.  We will always have a lowest, the questions are, how much individualization is required, and/or are there classroom-wide programs that show that highly-trained teachers can reliably and substantially boost achievement to normal levels by the end of the primary grades?

    For one possibility, look to the Minnesota Learning Resource Center in Minneapolis, that trains hundreds of pre and primary teachers in the SMART program that has demonstrated ability to bring Low SES students to levels equivalent to advantaged schools.

    Begin at the bottom, begin early and continue to boost throughout the primary grades.
    A seamless SMART team through the grades works wonders.  Train the teachers.

  • Denise Specht, Education MN President says:

    August 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I missed the Tuesday Talk this morning.  Thank you for keeping the conversation going throughout the day.  This is a great discussion.  And thank you Mary Cathryn for mentioning Education Minnesota’s upcoming statewide conversations about attracting and retaining a quality, diverse workforce.  There are too many silo discussions and short-term, band-aid solutions out there about this.  I am looking forward to a collaborative, broad discussion that will hopefully lead to more sustainable solutions.

    • Dane Smith says:

      August 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      We at Growth & Justice agree with the basic premise in this conversation that our Minnesota youth on the wrong side of the gap need a wide array of community support to ensure they’re getting what they need.  More equitable nations like Finland (and most other countries that are pushing past us in education outcomes) actually do provide greater economic equity and security, living wage jobs, universal and affordable health care, and stronger parent/teacher partnerships.  One thing we see emerging in our work,  advocating for comprehensive and cradle-to-career solutions,  is the importance of personal relationships, in and out of school.  For voices of actual youth who emphasize this neglected dimension, check out this commentary, which ran recently in MinnPost and other publications:

      http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2013/08/personal-relationships-help-close-achievement-gap


      We’d also recommend a look at our Smart Investments in Minnesota’s Students policy agenda, built off a strategic framework that has emphasized birth-to-career investments and reforms, not just teacher quality, important as that aspect is.

      http://growthandjustice.org/images/uploads/2011_Ed_Agenda.pdf

      Finally, we really appreciate the rich discussion afforded by 2020 and the contributions of Mary Cathryn Ricker, Joe Nathan, and Mary Turck.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        August 29, 2013 at 6:58 am

        Thanks for the important work that you do, Dane.