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of Meeting with John Hamann and Joann Knuth
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, December 5,
speakers: John Hamann,
president, Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP),
and Joann Knuth, executive
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Dan Loritz, Marina
Lyon (by phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Context of the meeting--Today's
is one of several meetings the Civic Caucus has been holding with
representatives of various interests in education.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced John Hamann,
president, Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP),
and Joann Knuth, executive director, MASSP.
Hamann received a BS
degree in computer science education from Moorhead State University,
taught for four years in Wanamingo and Browns Valley, MN, and returned to
Tri-College University and received his Masters and Specialist Degrees.
He has held two principal positions, the first in Wyndmere, ND and now
for 12 years in Underwood, MN.
Knuth has been MASSP
executive director since June 2006. MASSP serves more than1,300 middle,
junior high and senior high school principals. From 1999 to 2006 she was
an area superintendent in the
public schools. Previously she had served as principal of Highland Park
High School and Johnson High School in St. Paul. She has BA and MA
degrees from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and has completed course work
for a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.
Comments and Discussion--During
comments by Hamann and Knuth and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the
following points were raised:
1. Strong support for early childhood education--Minnesota
should provide pre-kindergarten education for all children who need it as
well as all day kindergarten for all children, Knuth said. Early
childhood education returns $7 to $12 of benefit for every dollar
invested, she said.
that pre-kindergarten years ought to be handled organizationally in the
public school system just as are K-12. The delivery of this education
should be coordinated with and through community education and must be
developmentally and cognitively appropriate. Pre-K teachers would be
certified just as all other teachers are. Non-public schools can provide
pre-K education, too, just as they now provide K-12, she said.
about where funding will come from for pre-K, Knuth said that education is
key to the state's economic vitality. Lawmakers need to set priorities in
a strategic way and fund early education for children of need to insure
that all who enter kindergarten are ready for it.
noted that many public schools already are providing education for 3, 4,
and 5-year-olds. Asked about whether funding for high schools would be
reduced so that pre-K children could be served, Hamann said the existing
formula for distributing state revenue to school districts is confining
because pupils of different grade levels are weighted differently. He
supports a proposal by Rep. Mindy Greiling and State Sen. Terrii Bonoff to
count all students the same, regardless of grade level, as included in
2. Certain high school tests are misleading--On
the question of how well high schools are doing, Hamann said that,
overall, high schools are doing very well in Minnesota. Minnesota is 9th
in the nation in high school graduation rates (http://www.edweek.org/media/ew/dc/2008/40sgb.mn.h27.pdf).
ACT scores are above the national average (http://www.act.org/news/data/07/states.html).
Hamann is greatly disturbed by a new state math test being given to high
school juniors to determine whether they will be allowed to graduate. The
portion of the math test to determine if they will graduate is called the
Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma (GRAD) test, and it is
incorporated into the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) test
required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The federal government requires
a test, but it's up to each state to design it. The new tests will be
enforced beginning with students graduating in 2010 when students need to
pass the GRAD part of the tests in reading, writing and math. However,
this past year the new math test was given to juniors on a pilot basis.
Only 37 percent of students in Minnesota passed the test. In Wisconsin, a
state not too dissimilar to Minnesota, 82 percent passed. A common test
wasn't given in both states. Instead each developed its own. Knuth said
that Minnesota school administrators did not see the test until after it
was taken by students.
situation doesn't change, Hamann said, school districts will have to
provide remedial education for 12th graders so that they'll be able to
graduate. Such a situation would mean shifting resources from other
legitimate parts of the curriculum.
met with the Commissioner of Education, Alice Seagren, and gave the
following recommendations to the department for their consideration:
--Create a band of test questions, indicating which ones are GRAD, MCA
or both. Use that bank to create practice tests and get those out to
--Have the GRAD portion and the MCA portion be two separate tests, with
the GRAD test being given first.
--Define what remediation would mean to school districts, both in fund
and resources (teacher and time).
---Give the tests at the end of the sophomore year to
allow time to remediate.
Commissioner of Education is aware of what Hamann called a "looming train
wreck" and is consulting broadly with educators in the state.
3. A call for federal standards--Hamann
said that if tests are going to be given, they ought to follow federal
standards, rather than being left up to each state. A Civic Caucus member
commented that it appears quite unusual that educators, who value local
responsibility and control, should be calling for federal standards. The
member inquired why Minnesota shouldn't want to hold its own students to a
high standard, regardless of federal requirements. Hamann replied that
Minnesota schools are doing a good job now, and that their performance
would be clear in any common test applied across the nation. Knuth said
that the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) has
adopted a position supporting national standards in literacy and
mathematics. Other curricular areas would remain under local
responsibility and control.
4. Are changes needed?--A Civic
Caucus member inquired whether, if the system isn't working, is more money
needed or a change in how students are being educated. Knuth said that
more money is needed. The coalition of education organizations, PS
Minnesota, commissioned a report on our state’s public education funding.
It expanded the work of an Education Task Force, appointed by Governor
Pawlenty, which determined that Minnesota schools are under-funded by $2
billion per year. Greiling’s and Bonoff’s bill, the new “Minnesota
Miracle,” addresses this funding shortfall in a systemic way over time.
Knuth replied that education is not a separate entity outside of the
political, economic, and social realm. She thinks that education will
probably be asked to share in the challenge of balancing the state’s
5. Relevance of NCLB—Knuth said that
the goals of NCLB are the right goals, that all children have opportunity
to achieve at high levels with quality teachers who hold high expectations
for all students. However, in the implementation of NCLB we have seen a
“shame and blame” approach. Susan Neuman, who was Assistant Secretary for
Elementary and Secondary Education under the Bush administration when the
legislation was implemented, is advocating a broader, bolder approach to
achieving the goals of NCLB which includes recognition that children of
poverty need extra support in terms of health care, nutrition, early
literacy. Schools by themselves cannot close the achievement gap, but
need a broader, systemic, approach
6. Is curriculum customized or standardized?--Hamann
was asked about the claim by Clayton M. Christensen in his book
"Disrupting Class" that public schools aren't sufficiently customizing the
curriculum for students and that, consequently, more and more young people
are turning to on-line courses, outside the public schools, to receive a
customized curriculum. Hamann replied that customization already is
going on. In a typical classroom of 20 students, there probably are seven
or eight methods a teacher is using, depending upon the individual
said that schools in southwestern Minnesota, where his school is located,
are using computers to implement long distance learning for special
classes such as Chinese that a few individual students want but can't
receive at their own school.
7. Developing small communities within a larger
school--Responding to a
question, Knuth said that both
and St. Paul already have created small communities within larger high
schools. The “4R’s” are central to the academic success of students:
rigor, relevance, relationships, and results. She believes that
relationships are most critical to student success and are a key goal of
smaller learning communities, as found in St. Paul, Minneapolis and other
districts with large secondary schools. These schools seek to personalize
the learning environment.
8. Staying permanently behind or catching up?--A
Civic Caucus member observed that at the beginning of each year, at all
grade levels, some students are lagging behind and some are way ahead of
the rest of the class. There's a challenge to bring some students up to
speed and keep others from getting bored. We need high school graduates
who are well trained to function as productive participants in the
economy, the member said. Another member said that keeping schools from
getting too large is very important.
Likelihood of a constitutional amendment for a schools-only tax increase?
It was noted in
discussion that the Legislature has an almost impossible job to balance a
budget satisfactorily in 2009, what with a $5.3 billion gap between likely
revenues and projected expenditures. In response to a question, Knuth
said she's not been involved in any discussion suggesting that education
might seek a dedicated revenue source from the constitution, as outdoors
and arts advocates received in a vote this fall. The outdoors and arts
amendment was adopted because proponents were frustrated by some
lawmakers' pledges not to raise any taxes, she said. She said she voted
for the amendment but doesn't think it would be good policy for the state
to follow that approach with other services.
contended that K-12 education expenditures have declined in recent years
as a percentage of personal income.
school districts raising operating income by referendum, Knuth said that
over 90 percent of the state's school districts have levies on their local
property tax for some portion of their operating budgets. Because of
differences in property wealth among districts, school tax burdens are
becoming more inequitable, she said. She'd not like the Legislature--in
balancing a tight state budget--to allow expansion of local taxing
authority. That would put an additional burden on local property tax
payers and create greater inequity.
highlighted the fact that school districts are finding major increases in
health care expenses for employees, plus additional expenses for fuel.
10. Should teachers accept changes in their
contracts to help balance the budget?--It
was noted that in recent years employees in many private firms have agreed
to significant changes in labor contracts to help keep their employers
afloat during difficult times. A member inquired whether teachers would
accept changes in their contracts to help school finances in the current
economic downturn. Hamann and Knuth replied that such a step would be
legitimizing the fact that schools have been under funded for many
years. Schools can't make more cuts in spending, they said, without
significantly impacting the quality of instruction and services,
especially in this era of greater accountability. Essential support
staff, such as librarians, nurses, social workers and counselors, have
been cut already. Minnesota ranks last among fifty states in school
student/counselor ratios; for example, in some of our urban high schools
with the most diverse populations, the ratio is 1 counselor for 450+
students. Class sizes are increasing; it is common to have 35 to 40
students in a math or English class.
11.Creative proposals for the future--Knuth
highlighted a report published by MASSP entitled “A Bridge to High
Learning: A New Vision for
High Schools in the Global Information Age.” Its vision is that Minnesota
secondary schools prepare every student to earn a credential or a degree
at a postsecondary educational institution—whether it is a technical
school, two- year college, or four-year college or university. This is an
ambitious goal, but necessary for maintaining the vitality of our state’s
economy, according to Knuth. The report details 10 building blocks that
provide the framework for transition from schools that focus on
postsecondary success for some students, to postsecondary success for all
students. (available online at
www.massp.org) “Minnesota’s Promise: World-Class Schools, World-Class
State” is a report developed by a small group of superintendents in
partnership with the Minneapolis Foundation and the University of
Minnesota that identifies ten strategies for achieving world-class
schools. The “essential elements of high performance” are:
--Investment in early childhood education
--Emphasis on high quality teachers and principals
--Rigorous academic standards
--Involvement of parents and the community
--Support and involvement of all cultures
--Good data and research
--Funding that is predictable and sufficient
--Schedules and calendars to help all students reach high standards
--Strong support for special education
--Ensuring that students come to school physically ands mentally ready to
member said that details of the Minnesota Management and Budget's forecast
for the upcoming biennium can be found at http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/doc/fu/08/handout-nov08.pdf.
The forecast illustrates a 9.4 percent drop in revenues and a 1.6 percent
increase in spending. Knuth said that the state's education finance
policy over the past 8-10 years isn’t working. Jobs are needed, and that
means education must have the resources to produce a quality future work
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Hamann and Knuth for meeting
with us today.