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3 strategies to close Minnesota's achievement gap

What can we do to ensure that all Minnesota students have access to a quality education?

1. Pursue research-proven strategies to close the achievement gap.

Invest in birth-through-kindergarten programs to ensure all children are ready for school. Numerous studies, including The Abecedarian Project and the Perry Preschool Project, have shown the long-range benefits of high-quality early childhood education and development. Economist Art Rolnick, former research director at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has calculated a double-digit inflation-adjusted rate of return on investments in such programs.

Reach out to parents. Numerous studies, including the Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education, cite the beneficial effect of parents’ and families’ involvement in children’s education, including better grades, school attendance, graduation rates and social skills. Schools must reach out to families, beginning when children are babies, by doing the following:

  • Expanding preschool programs to include parent education and outreach.
  • Coordinating community-based services for children and families.
  • Maintaining positive relationships among school, parents and community.
  • Working to make sure parents get connected with options in academic programs and social services.

Ensure the necessary conditions for successful school learning. These include:

  • Safe and orderly schools.
  • Class sizes appropriate to children’s ages and learning needs.
  • Rich curricula that support high academic standards and higher-order thinking skills.
  • School schedules that meet students’ and families’ needs.
  • Ongoing staff development and time for teachers to analyze student data, plan and collaborate with colleagues.

2. Support teaching excellence.

  • Create a framework, based on Board of Teaching standards, to develop and evaluate Minnesota’s teachers. The goal is to improve public education by helping promising teachers to improve, enabling good teachers to become great, and identifying teachers who should not be in the classroom at all.
  • Support teachers throughout their careers with professional development. This includes high-quality mentoring for beginning teachers and ongoing professional learning as part of teachers’ daily work.

3. Measure and reward the right things.

Three things that don’t work:

  • Tying individual teachers to test scores. The national consensus of education researchers is that student test scores or test score growth (sometimes called “value-added” methods) are not, by themselves, an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness. In “Problems with the use of student test scores,” a long list of respected researchers say value-added teacher rankings, among other problems, are too inconsistent and subject to change (depending on the statistical method used, the year or the class) for rating teachers.
  • Firing teachers based on test scores. There is no evidence that departing teachers would actually be the weakest, or that they would be replaced by better teachers, the authors of the same paper say. In addition, tying high-stakes decisions to flawed test data is bad for students, leading to excessive focus on tested subjects, excessive test preparation and narrowing of the curriculum.
  • “Merit pay.” The kind of merit pay programs offered in the private sector do not work well for teachers, who tend to value collaboration over competition and intrinsic satisfactions over external rewards. Merit pay in any field can lead to unwanted consequences, say the authors of “Teachers, Performance Pay and Accountability.” 

Two things that could work:

  • A comprehensive approach to evaluation. Teachers must be evaluated against clear standards of professional practice, using multiple measurement tools, as part of a system that includes ongoing research and training, says Penn State researcher Patricia Hinchley in “Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policymakers Can Learn From Research.” 
  • Five promising programs. A review by Olivia Little of the Educational Testing Service for the National Education Association identified several teacher evaluation systems as having potential to improve instruction and student achievement, gain teacher support and improve retention of teachers. All are comprehensive programs that combine evaluation and professional development.
    • Teacher Advancement Program (TAP)
    • Framework for Teaching (by Charlotte Danielson)
    • Denver’s Professional Compensation system (ProComp)
    • Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)
    • Connecticut’s Beginning Educator Support and Training Program (BEST)

Education Minnesota is an affiliate of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.

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