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Executive Director, Minnesota Association of School
Friday, June 11, 2010
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle #920,
Minneapolis, MN 55437
Present: Verne Johnson, chair;
David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Marianne Curry (phone), Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland (phone), Jan Hively, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie (phone), Dan
Loritz, John Mooty (phone), Wayne Popham (phone), Clarence Shallbetter,
and Bob White
Summary: Great opportunity is
present for educational innovation; public expectations of school are
high; different groups vary in their sense of need; more quiet
consultation should occur; small rural districts might be more open to
innovation; federal testing requirements aren't so helpful; many different
ideas are likely to surface in 2011, including whether to tap pension
funds for current operations (which Kyte opposes) and whether to turn
extra-curricular activities over to community organizations.
Context of the meeting: The Civic
Caucus is meeting periodically with several individuals and organizations
in the state concerning possible rethinking and redesign that would
maintain quality during a time of severe revenue constraint.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Charles Kyte, executive director,
Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), an organization
representing of school superintendents. Kyte has held his current position
since July 2000 Previously he served 12 years as superintendent of the
Northfield Public Schools and before that eight years as superintendent of
the Eden Valley-Watkins Public Schools. He is a former teacher and
principal. An Iron Range native, Kyte has a bachelor's degree from the
University of Minnesota-Duluth, a master's from Mankato State University,
and a Ph.D in educational administration from the University of Minnesota.
Comments and discussion--During
Kyte's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
Minnesota's Promises report outlined--Kyte reminded the group of a
report issued in 2008 by several education organizations in Minnesota,
with recommendations on 10 elements of high performance, early childhood,
educator quality, academic rigor, family and community involvement
multicultural community, data and research, funding, time, special
education and health and wellness. The report is available at:
http://bit.ly/cpJRej. The report was chaired by Darlyne Bailey, dean,
college of education, University of Minnesota, and Kyte, with Kent Pekel,
executive director, college readiness consortium, University of Minnesota,
as facilitator. The report's recommendations are as applicable today as
they were in 2008, Kyte said.
2. An opportune time for innovation--Based
on experience over the last 80 years, with innovation coming on the heels
of recession, Kyte said that coming out of the 2007-09 recession, the
state and nation is ideally posed for enacting innovations. Following a
recession after World War II, the big innovation was the automobile
assembly line; after the 1930s depression, government re-invented itself
with programs such as Social Security; in the early 1980s, following a
severe, but not-so-well-known agricultural recession, the big innovation
was the movement from smaller (320 acres) to much larger (3,000 acres)
farms; and in the late 1980s, coming out of a mild recession, was the
innovation in personal computer technology.
3. Innovation requires close collaboration--Innovation
in education today can't be accomplished by education alone, he said.
There must be close collaboration with other groups.
4. New strategic discussions just getting
under way--In various parts of the state, educators and community
persons are starting strategic discussions on improving education, with
encouragement and support from MASA, he said. Most often when such
discussions commence, you will find non-educators--mainly from the metro
area--thinking first about cutting administrative expenses and
consolidating school districts. But such ideas won't get you past first
base in the rural areas, he said.
exciting innovations he sees in rural Minnesota is a growing tendency for
a blended approach of online learning and classroom learning.
districts are often better equipped to be flexible than are urban
districts, he said. It's not unusual for a superintendent in a rural
district to teach a class or drive a bus--which is unheard of in the metro
5. Cooperation with a technical college in
southwestern Minnesota on timing of classes--Some 27 school
districts in southwestern Minnesota have gotten permission from the State
Commissioner of Education to start fall classes this year on August 24,
which is before Labor Day and is opposed by the resort industry and State
Fair officials. But these school districts want to align their schedules
with that of a technical college in the area which starts school on August
resort owners, however, are showing less opposition to pre-Labor Day
school. He quoted a conversation he had with a veteran resort-owner in the
Brainerd area who noted that resorts have had to change their own
schedules to accommodate changing desires of vacationers. It used to be
that the resorts insisted on a seven-day reservation, but now they'll
happily take three-day reservations for weekends.
are 800,000 students in Minnesota, of which perhaps 1,000 of them are
actively participating in their own state fair exhibits. That small group
ought not be determining the calendar for the entire state, he said.
the meeting Kyte said that technical colleges--many of which are largely
empty during the day, while serving most of their student body at
night--have incentives to work more closely with school districts, which
6. The changing nature of public attitudes
toward schools--Kyte recalled that growing up in Gilbert, MN,
everyone largely accepted what the school district required of its
students with little question. Later, when he was rearing his own
children, parents wouldn't hesitate to contact teachers about their
concerns. And today--as he sees his own children rearing their
children--parents won't hesitate to send their children to a different
school if dissatisfied with what their children are receiving at their
unlike the past, there's a much greater concern over doing something about
the meeting Kyte returned to this discussion. When he was young, a school
system was expected to see that 30 percent of the students were
well-educated; 40 percent, literate, and the remaining 30 percent, as much
as could be done. Today, he said, schools are expected to see that 40
percent are well-educated; 50 percent are literate, and 10 percent, as
much as can be done.
7. Various groups are at loggerheads--But
it's difficult to make change today because strong forces are poles apart.
Forces trying to drive radical quality reform are at one end of the
spectrum, with defenders of the status quo are at the other end. Kyte
finds himself trying to work quietly behind the scenes, particularly with
Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union. He's currently trying to
put together a small group of superintendents, principals, and teachers to
come up with an agreed-upon plan for how to deal with under-performing
teachers, which probably aren't more than 2-5 percent of all teachers.
It's not going to do any good for the teachers union to oppose all
changes, he said. He noted that the state will need to develop proposals
more acceptable to teachers than a failed effort in 2010 to require
teachers to be recertified for tenure every five years.
has the most powerful teachers union in the nation, he said, because both
the Minnesota Education Association and the Minnesota Federation of
Teachers have merged. Moreover, the combined organization, Education
Minnesota, has been very successful in supporting the election of
teacher-friendly school boards. He estimated that about 20-25 percent of
school board members in Minnesota have close ties to teachers, either as
retired teachers or as family members. A few such school board members
are unabashedly spokespersons for the teachers, he contended.
8. Difficulty in energizing veteran teachers--Unlike
many other occupations, there's very little that can be done in schools to
help renew and energize teachers, he said. For example, higher education
grants sabbaticals to veteran professors, but such a benefit isn't
available in the K-12 system.
shared a conversation he had with a person in the private sector who noted
that many more opportunities are available in non-teaching occupations for
people to advance within the system. You advance in education (other than
gaining higher salaries through longevity and post-baccalaureate training)
by going into administration, not by staying in teaching.
9. A highly political arena--It's
difficult to accomplish change in education because you don't have all
that many leaders interested in change. Even among superintendents you
have a few who are very progressive, a few that will go along with change,
but a very large group that don't want change.
when you make a change, opposition can come from surprising quarters. He
remembers that while he was superintendent in Northfield, a change was
made to produce a more rigorous math curriculum. Within 1 1/2 years a
group of parents, including professors at Carleton College, were
complaining that the school system was pushing the kids too hard.
10. Impact of a shortage of money--It
is interesting that small rural districts might be able to do much better
than their larger counterparts in regional centers and in the metro area.
You might be paying a veteran teacher around $80,000 in the metro area,
while a teacher with comparable experience might be making only $51,000 in
a rural district.
it might be the cities that serve as regional trade centers in rural
Minnesota will be the hardest hit. In the first place, the small rural
districts surrounding those centers never want to be absorbed by the
regional trade center district. The rural districts will cooperate with
one another, but not with the trade center school district These rural
districts receive certain aids--for large geographic areas and few
students, for example, and for certain transportation needs--that aren't
available to the larger, more concentrated, districts. In addition, it's
unusual for the rural districts to gain from open enrollment. Families in
larger cities sometimes opt to send their children to the rural districts
because they like that environment for their children
11. Little chance to modify teacher salary schedules--Responding
to a question, Kyte said it is very unlikely that you'll see changes in
the basic approach to paying teachers--based on length of service and
number of college credits--without support from Education Minnnesota.
Education Minnesota has effectively teamed with the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) which represents many of the non-teaching staff
in school districts. In such an environment you'd have the teachers
joining SEIU employees in opposing, for example, if you were to suggest
allowing private firms to bid for cleaning of school buildings.
12. Incredible dependence of the state on
federal money--The federal government is increasingly calling the
shots at the level of the State Department of Education, Kyte said. More
than one-half the revenue flowing through that department now comes from
the federal government, he said. He cited an example where the Department
vetoed a change because of opposition from the federal government. He also
mentioned the case of a popular principal in Brooklyn Center who has just
lost his job because of inflexible federal requirements See:
13. Why worry more about pushing
under-performing teachers out the front door, when many more are
voluntarily fleeing out the back door?--Kyte challenged the
assumption that more teachers are leaving the system for
other-than-traditional reasons. Many teachers never planned to work more
than five or seven years, he said. He went on to say, however, that
teaching is not the highly esteemed occupation is once was.
14. An innovation idea that didn't get off
the ground--Kyte recalled that he had hoped to accomplish a
significant change in a new middle school in Northfield, but he left
before having the change to implement the change. He had hoped that a new
middle school could have been four schools in one: first, a middle
school, emphasizing the importance of dealing with pupils at a very
vulnerable age; second, a more traditional, academically rigorous, junior
high school; and third and fourth, two teacher-run charter schools within
distinguishing between the term "junior high school" as a rigorous
academically-oriented school, and the term "middle school", emphasizing
the issue of the special needs of children approaching or in puberty,
prompted more discussion about whether schools shouldn't be paying more
attention to children's internal needs. One person noted, for example,
that Minneapolis has only one counselor in its middle schools for every
interesting, too, Kyte said, how the age of maturity is changing. He
remembers when school dances took place in the 9th grade, but not earlier.
Now, he said, he's heard of dances for sixth graders. And at the other end
of the spectrum you have 25-27-year-olds who are still trying to find
aside, Kyte said he understand the state of Utah is thinking about making
the 12th grade optional.
15. Role of school boards--We've a
very strong history of local control of schools and, therefore, keeping
school boards as central policy makers. But with strong union influence
you need to think of how school boards should function and are
functioning, he said.
16. Give more respect for more traditional
testing, as against that mandated by the federal government--Responding
to a question on testing, Kyte first referred to testing that has been
going on for decades at schools in Minnesota. He cited a math test that is
given three times a years, with teachers adjusting their approach to
individual students based on results of each test. All "Q-comp" school
districts are using this testing approach, he said Q-comp is a voluntary
program that allows local districts and exclusive representatives of the
teachers to design and collectively bargain a plan that meets the five
components of the law. The five components under Q Comp include: Career
ladder/Advancement Options, Job-embedded Professional Development, Teacher
Evaluation, Performance Pay, and an Alternative Salary Schedule
said state schools are spending something like $25 million a year to
administer tests required by the federal government. He contended the
state could produce the same results for about $5 million, using the
long-established state testing program
17. Importance of local business community
involvement--Kyte agreed with a member's comment on the importance
of close school relationships with the local business community.
18. Interesting development among immigrants--Responding
to a comment about the importance of family involvement in education, Kyte
said it has been a fascinating experience to see how well Hmong children
have done in Minnesota schools. Their parents and grandparents were
surprised at the availability of schooling and have provided strong
support. That's not the case with some other ethnic communities. This
discussion produced a brief mention of the fact that refugees, as distinct
from regular immigrants, appear to have major needs because of the
emotional trials they endured in coming to this country
19. Outlook for 2011--Kyte isn't yet
ready to say that the 2011 session will see a drop in school funding, as
others have expected, given a possible $6 billion budget gap. He agreed
that "smoke-and-mirrors" changes have largely been used up. One
area--which he hopes the Legislature doesn't touch--is to tap $120 billion
in pension fund reserves. He thinks some additional revenue will come
from economic recovery, given the fact that the biennium will run until
June 30, 2013.
reasonable level of new revenue will be needed, he said, along with
austerity and efficiency. One possibility is to seriously examine how
much from school extra-curricular activities could taken over by local
communities, for example, by community sports clubs, instead of the
school's athletic program.
possibility is to treat high schools more like college campuses, with
students coming and going, but not being at school for a set number of
hours, five days a week.
20. Potential of online learning--Responding
to a question, Kyte said that 40 per cent of high school learning will be
online in five years. More progress might occur in rural districts, many
of which will find that certain courses wouldn't be available unless
students take them online. The Ada-Borup district in northwestern
Minnesota is a good example of the extent of online learning today.
There's some poor quality education available on the web that needs to be
snuffed out, he said. But with collaboration and good oversight he is
optimistic about the future of online learning
21. Changing educational levels of boys and
girls--It used to be that we worried that the girls weren't getting
an adequate education. Today it's more the other way around, he said. Kyte
noted that at some colleges about 65 percent are women students, and only
35 percent, men. That prompted him to mention the case of a Lutheran
college that is admitting women who must have at least a 3.9 GPA, be
active in several sports, and have demonstrated leadership in community
activities, while any young man will be admitted who happens to be
22. Closer relationship with post-secondary?--In
light of his comment earlier about school districts in part of the state
aligning their time for opening school with that of a technical college,
Kyte was asked whether he sees closer relationships with technical
colleges in the future. He replied again that the technical colleges are
filled at night but are largely looking for students during the day.
Technical colleges are different from community colleges, he said, with
the latter having perhaps less of an interest in the local school system.
23 Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Kyte for meeting with us today.