Providing a nonpartisan model for generating and sharing          

    essential information on public issues and proposed solutions              

Shining a light on Minnesota public policy since 2005

                                                                                                  About Civic Caucus   l   Interviews & Responses  l   Position Reports   l   Contact Us   l   Home  
 Response Page - Bacal  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Jon Bacal Interview of


Outgoing director of the state's first district new schools office, Jon Bacal discusses with the Civic Caucus what other states and metropolitan regions are doing to develop environments that encourage and support new, innovative schools. Bacal senses a considerable lack of urgency to improve education and believes the state is falling seriously behind other locations, particularly for its most vulnerable children. He outlines steps Minnesota must take to change its static education system into one in which both the chartered and district sectors engage in successful innovation.

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Bacal. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Lack of urgency pervades.  (7.2 average response) While taking comfort in the state's increasingly distant past achievements, Minnesotans demonstrate a considerable lack of urgency to improve preK-12  education.

2. Minnesota ranking lags. (7.0 average response) In reality, the state is falling seriously behind other locations, particularly with its most vulnerable children.

3. Consider other models. (8.4 average response) There is not one single answer to the question, “how do we build a better school?” Rather, we need to learn from all the best new school and learning models being tested across the country.

4. Use staff creatively. (7.4 average response) A model in northern California, relying upon fewer, better paid, licensed teachers with more use of non-licensed educators, tutors and online education, is producing significantly better results for low-income minority children.

5. Last in, first out must go. (9.0 average response) The current LIFO (last in, first out), seniority-based treatment of teacher lay-offs, that is, the notion of last teacher hired, first teacher fired, must change.

6. Pessimism unworthy. (6.9 average response) The idea is poisonous and not worthy of Minnesota to assert that schools can't lead in making up for deficiencies elsewhere in society. 


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Lack of urgency pervades.







2. Minnesota ranking lags.







3. Consider other models.







4. Use staff creatively.







5. Last in, first out must go.







6. Pessimism unworthy.







Individual Responses:

R. C. Angevine  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (5)  (7.5)  (5)

3. Consider other models. I agree that we need to learn from others what is working well but we also need to find ways to get parents and care givers more involved in the process.

4. Use staff creatively. Not really knowing how the California model is working makes it difficult to respond to this question.  I do agree that we need to pay the good teachers better, get rid of the poor teachers, and make more and better use of on line education.  I also agree that there is a place for non-licensed staff and tutors but this area needs to be carefully managed so that we don't end up with poor instruction models.

5. Last in, first out must go. I agree although as usual the process to get to this stage will be difficult.  In this tight economy we will need to find better ways to judge teacher staff and results and not simply end up with a method for schools to reduce the cost of staff.

6. Pessimism unworthy. As a strong believer that student respect for staff and others, discipline, and good learning habits needs to begin at home, I am concerned with the idea that schools need to take on this task.  Schools should be a place for reinforcement of these good habits, not the leader.

Ray Ayotte  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

Don Anderson  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (5)

2. Minnesota ranking lags. I think the political climate was much better when we were one of the top states in education -- but given today's situation, vulnerable children have no advocates.

4. Use staff creatively. It is worth a try, not only in charter schools but also in public systems.

5. Last in, first out must go. The concept is OK, but how to you control partiality on the part of administrators?

Peter Hennessey  (2.5)  (2.5)  (0)  (0)  (10)  (0)

1. Lack of urgency pervades.  If Minnesota is anything like other states, then I would say that it is a huge mistake to confuse "lack of urgency" with reluctance to go along with more of the same … politically correct ideas that got us in this mess in the first place.

2. Minnesota ranking lags. Every other state is "falling behind," so how can you tell?  What we all are falling behind are the educational standards and achievement levels that were the norms in previous generations.

3. Consider other models. No, we need to learn from the teaching models that have worked for centuries before it became the obligatory fad to grasp at anything "new" just because it is "new." What …is so great about that … very destructive "new" idea coming from Arizona in the last couple of days, and adopted in California, that degrades the value of homework, on the basis of "new" studies that show no correlation between homework, test scores and achievement? Given that "practice makes perfect" in every endeavor from academics to sports, how can anyone possibly be so obtuse as to devalue the one means that kids have to practice what they learn? Not everyone is blessed by photographic memory and instant expertise in everything they see once.

4. Use staff creatively. 1. The guest speaker has not identified specifically what he is referring to.  2. I would definitely not ever imitate anything done in that politically correct (state) called California.  

3. Yea, fewer teachers, what a great idea...How about better teachers? 

4. Silicon Valley was (but) no longer is the last bastion of free enterprise left in the USA. It was deliberately destroyed by the government's war on independent contractors, the big guys’ endorsement of anti-competitive socialist regulations that made it increasingly impossible to start and do business in the US, and the off-shoring of everything from manufacturing to engineering to R&D.

5. Last in, first out must go. Anything that erodes the power of the teachers' and government employees' unions is a good thing. We might eventually get back to that old American idea that you are given a job and you keep your job because you are good at it.

6. Pessimism unworthy. The idea that is poisonous is the one that says that schools must make up for the deficiencies in the rest of society. No, schools must educate, as radical as that idea seems to be nowadays. Schools have no business to be in the transportation business, in the restaurant business, in the health care business, in the day care business, in the entertainment business, in the sports business, in the social welfare business, etc. -- certainly not before they can show they can take care of their own business first.

Becky Schack  (2.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (2.5)

1. Lack of urgency pervades.  I believe that Minnesotans do feel an urgent need to change education, so urgent in fact that we continue to chase the next big thing rather than make measured decisions regarding how to best move forward.

6. Pessimism unworthy. It can be difficult and near impossible for children who are hungry, homeless, or subject to violence in their homes to concentrate and learn. Parents, low-income parents in particular, need to have the tools to help their children succeed.

David Dillon  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

4. Use staff creatively. Who could possibly be opposed to such creative thinking?  More people involved, volunteers, on line technology.  All good stuff.  Who could possibly oppose such efforts?  Oh, whoops, I forgot, the teacher's union.

5. Last in, first out must go. Of course it should.  The idea of keeping your best teachers and laying off your worst teachers, when reductions must be made, is so obvious and so (much) a normal part of our economy everyday, that it's hard to imagine opposition to at least trying to do the best thing for the students.  Ooops.  I forgot about the teacher's union again.

6. Pessimism unworthy. Conservatives need to drop their "the old ways were the best ways" default thinking and take the world as it is not as it was.   I am a conservative, so it pains me when my side puts on their blinders and won't make education the priority it should be.

W. D. (Bill) Hamm  (0)  (10)  (0)  (10)  (5)  (5)

1. Lack of urgency pervades.  That may very well be the case with Jon's upper middle class crowd, but it is absolutely not true for (us) of the losing 62% (described as not poor or middle class) who are seeing each progressive generation for the last two getting a worse education. Something Minnesota never (have) stood for before the present socialistic top down …public education system we have now. This is blatant racism and economic depression. The rich and middle class children are doing as well as ever….

2. Minnesota ranking lags. Again, the two ruling classes are still doing quite well, while (unfairly treating) our kids.

3. Consider other models. The single answer he doesn't want to hear is return to local control and local academic competition. Your speaker is so entwined in the “educrat” establishment as to offer no real solution that is not under their control.

4. Use staff creatively. Empowering parents and grandparents to again become the primary educators in children’s lives should never have been discouraged and undermined by the education establishment as it was and still is.

5. Last in, first out must go. End the legislated unionization that has so miserably failed two generations of our children.

6. Pessimism unworthy. Schools have one purpose and one purpose only, to teach our children. Their tools are our Phonetic language, Math, Science, our History, and perhaps a touch of the arts promoting a touch of entrepreneurial encouragement.

Dave Broden  (7.5)  (2.5)  (10)  (5)  (10)  (10)

1. Lack of urgency pervades.  The situation has become how to respond to the constant chatter that Minnesota is falling behind rather than a purposeful statement of moving forward in a positive direction. If we continue to whine about how bad it is no one believes the situation and thinks it is only an excuse to get more funds and add more people. We need a shift in approach and message.

2. Minnesota ranking lags. See above. Education must improve but so must many other programs and activities. Lets begin by stating that there is a solid foundation and opportunity for improvement. Then get specific. Do not  say how bad we are in every speech and statement.

3. Consider other models. We must learn not only from others but also from ourselves in Minnesota. There are a lot of ideas and far too many so called experts vs. real impact-making leaders. The schools need the flexibility to tailor to the local needs while having some reasonable and simple metric of success.

4. Use staff creatively. This is but one model --how does this stack up with others? We must be cautious to not jump to a solution rather than seek to adapt to the local area.

5. Last in, first out must go. LIFO is not quality focused and should not remain in any way a criteria. Layoffs must be capability- and quality-based.

6. Pessimism unworthy. Schools, teachers, community leaders, and the students themselves set the stage for society’s image and message and attitude. These can be coupled with or replace weaknesses in family or other areas.

Anonymous 1  (10)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

John Sievert  (2.5)  (0)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (10)  (7.5)

2. Minnesota ranking lags. Recently sending my oldest off to college, it's clear to me that his education in Minnesota was a superior education.

4. Use staff creatively. California schools are a mess.  Why would we care what they do?  Anything they do would be better than what they currently have which would be worse teachers in large classes.  When you are trying to get better, don't waste your time looking at the systems that failed and learning their "best" practices.

5. Last in, first out must go. This is obvious.  Competency is influenced by experience but experience is no guarantee of competency.

6. Pessimism unworthy. That said, it's unreasonable to hold schools accountable for deficiencies in parenting.  For example, a school and the parents agree on the proper plan for improvement for a student with issues (IEP).  The school does their part and are held accountable but the parents, should they not uphold their part of the bargain, have no skin in the game.  This needs to change because these parents are the parents of the most at-risk kids and also consume and waste the most resources.

Tom Spitznagle  (9)  (8)  (8)  (8)  (10)  (6)

Don Fraser  (8)  (5)  (8)  (8)  (7)  (7)

John Adams  (10)  (10)  (10)  (8)  (9)  (8)

Wayne Jennings  (6)  (5)  (8)  (9)  (8)  (10)

David Alley  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Right on, Jon!

Alan Miller  (7)  (7)  (8)  (5)  (na)  (7)

It is not fair to criticize "a considerable lack of urgency" and attribute it to "Minnesotans" which is a broad categorical defamation.  There are legislators (the majority unfortunately) who don't see education as a priority, whether is pre-school, K-12, or higher education where tuition is driving students to drop out.  However, Minnesotans of conscience, from the Governor, to the unions, to the teachers, to the progressives recognize and prioritize the need for cutting-edge educational policies.  Your broad statement penalizes all those of conscience who don't control our legislative direction under the current House and Senate leadership.

Steve Kelley  (5)  (2)  (10)  (5)  (na)  (0)

Jon sets up an apparent false choice about the role of schools in leading efforts to overcome the effects of poverty on children and families.  Many of us believe schools can and should continue to improve and that they can improve outcomes for kids if given sufficient resources. However, it is shortsighted to think that schools by themselves can make up for the effects of poverty. Disparities between rich and poor, whites and people of color show up in health care and other indicators. Why would we expect schools to fix this by themselves? The early childhood folks know that health and education interventions with parents are important to the success of the kids. Do we think that suddenly isn't true anymore when the kids enter kindergarten? Yet no one, except Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods and Hennepin County are acknowledging that all our social systems (e.g. health, housing, transportation, workforce) ought to be working with schools instead of insisting that schools are responsible for fixing a broad social problem on their own (plus they have to do sex education, feed the kids nutritious meals from local farms and make sure kids get a chance to play). Where are our health care institutions on this?

Clarence Shallbetter  (7)  (5)  (7)  (na)  (8)  (na)

Bright Dornblaser  (8)  (10)  (10)  (8)  (10)  (5)

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Robert J. Brown  (8)  (7)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (8)

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (8)  (6)  (9)  (7)  (10)  (10)

Terry Stone  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

It is alleged, in question 6, that schools can lead in making up for deficiencies elsewhere in society and that thinking otherwise is poisonous. The undefined term poisonous is an emotionally charged propaganda word that does little to forward the dialogue. Mr. Bacal also mentions this idea in closing, but the idea is simply not supported by the interview.
With finite education resources, the real question becomes, “Does Minnesota get the most return on educational investment by dumping money on a cultural issue that might be better addressed elsewhere?

Shirley Heaton  (na)  (na)  (10)  (na)  (na)  (na)

The “na’s” indicate areas that I feel are beyond my expertise to adequately respond. However, what the presentation shows strongly to me is that until there are education innovators willing to bite the bullet and let the chips fall where they may and 'take the bull by the horns', those who prefer the status quo will continue to win out just by using past accomplishments to prove that there is no need to make any changes by starting over, taking advantage of today's tools.


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

contact webmaster



Hit Counter