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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the 
Brenda Cassellius  Interview of

Early childhood is the most critical issue in education


According to Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, early childhood is the most critical issue in education. She says investment in early childhood yields a 16-to-1 return. She believes the state's emphasis on early learning helped boost 2013 national achievement test scores for the state's fourth-graders. In fact, Minnesota fourth-graders ranked first in the country on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math assessment. She says the NAEP scores for fourth- and eighth-graders show that the state has made some improvement in closing the achievement gaps between white students and students of color.

She reports that under Minnesota's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the state has developed a new accountability system that uses multiple measures to hold all schools accountable, not just those receiving Title I funding. Also, Minnesota now has a state framework for a new, rigorous teacher evaluation system, which she calls "fantastic."

Cassellius calls on school superintendents to take responsibility for kids through age 21 who have not completed high school, since the state provides funding for those students. School districts, she says, should help those students earn postsecondary credentials, certificates or associate degrees while they are earning a high school diploma. She also believes that school districts should take responsibility for all students and not "warehouse" those who are credit deficient in alternative schools.

For the complete interview summary see:  Cassellius interview

Response Summary: 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.

To assist the Civic Caucus in planning upcoming interviews, please rate these statements on today's topic on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree):

1. Topic of value. (6.9 average response) The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study helpful. (7.5 average response) It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

On a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree), please rate the following points discussed during the meeting: 

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". (8.2 average response) Minnesota should offer a seamless education system from pre-kindergarten through two years beyond high school.

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  (7.3 average response) Early childhood is the most critical education need in Minnesota.

5. MN education ranks well. (6.6 average response) Studies of science and math achievement by fourth- and eighth-graders illustrate that Minnesota education ranks at a good level among states and nations.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. (7.7 average response) High school dropouts who need job training should take advantage of an under-utilized opportunity to enroll tuition-free to age 21 in career technical education at Minnesota colleges.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. (3.9 average response) Most youth who are credit-deficient or have behavioral and delinquency problems should remain in their regular schools and not be "warehoused" in contract alternative programs.


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Topic of value.







2. Further study helpful.







3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14".







4. Most critical need is pre-K.







5. MN education ranks well.







6. Dropouts should return for job training.







7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools.







Individual Responses:

Ray Ayotte  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (5)

Sam Eberhart  (0)  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (5)  (10)  (0)

1. Topic of value. Ms. Cassellius' insight is highly misguided in her understanding of alternative education.  Closing education deficiencies should not be reduced to either supporting early childhood education or closing "ineffective 'alternative' schools."  The state should absolutely play a role in helping to fund early childhood education, as well as programs that support students who did not thrive/excel in the traditional educational model, like "alternative" programs.  Her belief that a one-size-fits-all model should work is outdated, illogical, and is just not supported by what we know about student learning.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". It should offer these opportunities, but through a wide array of education and community resource options.  Government and large structural oversight is proving ineffective at improving student achievement through the traditional model, not because of data released surrounding test scores, but because they misconstrue improvement as being measured only through test scores, and the "drill and kill" teaching method leading up to those tests.  Let's focus on the large issues that go beyond tests.  My students lack access to basic life-needs, like routine healthcare, food, clothing and shelter-- the state needs to step in to support those initiatives as a start.  Student achievement will obviously be stunted when those things are missing.

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  It is extremely important, but students throughout high school should have the opportunity to apprentice in a variety of employment areas and trades to learn job-specific skills.  This is important for all populations of students.

5. MN education ranks well. As long as student achievement is measured strictly through standardized tests, we won't know how our students are truly performing.  The question should be how well are our students able to apply what they are learning in their classes to the real world?  What opportunities do they have to test their knowledge? Ms. Cassellius is lost in the rhetoric and hysteria surrounding jargon and buzzwords like "achievement gap," "teacher evaluation."  What we need are leaders that can push new and innovative ways of teaching and learning, as proposed by school leaders, not state leaders.  Let the experts (individual school administrators and teachers) do their jobs, and find ways to support them; that is Ms Cassellius' job.  Mistakes will be made, and we will be stronger for learning from them, not punishing teachers and those who dare to take risks.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. I strongly agree, but with the caveat that everyone should have these opportunities.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. I don't know where to begin.  First off, the use of the word "warehouse" to describe the work being done by administrators and teachers in alternative programs is not only extremely disrespectful, but it also shows that Ms. Cassellius has become far too comfortable in her office rather than visiting schools and talking to teachers and students in a variety of learning environments. I take umbrage with her lack of understanding, and I know my students would as well.  They take pride in the education they are receiving and the skills that they are developing. Second, "regular schools" don't have a choice about keeping their students-- students and families have choices about where they attend, and that is what makes Minnesota strong.  At my school, we encourage students to "shop around" for the best educational option for their learning style; often times, it isn't at a "regular school" and the students, and their families, find that an alternative program is far more superior in academic rigor, student support, and values.  For many other students, they rely upon alternative schools because they have been kicked out of all the regular schools in the area, often times for things they cannot control. At least three quarters of my students work at night, have siblings or children to take care of, or any number of other obstacles to getting to school on time, or completing homework.  Those "regular schools" are often happy to lose these students who maybe don't perform well on their standardized tests, and we are happy to have them because we believe in educating all students.

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

1. Topic of value. A good view of the status of education and education leadership in the state. Had hope for more of an innovation in education view and approach rather than the obvious. More political then needed if we really want change.

2. Further study helpful. Need to have someone who will show and commit to achieving real change through innovation rather than picking on the edges.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". This would be a great goal. Problem is can anyone agree on what “seamless” is ?

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  Early childhood seems to emerging as a key but is it the most critical vs. helping shape an understanding of work and work alternatives and how they are linked to education? I am strongly for early childhood [education] but the balance must be considered.

5. MN education ranks well. This seems to be a very positive measurement of achievement but we need to link this achievement with continued focus on science/math application in employment and continued education.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. This is very appropriate. Before jumping strongly to support this there should be some measure of how this has worked.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. Statement is too generalized to response. There likely is not a reason to prefer either case but to assess the individual and place that person in the most appropriate location.

Nancy Vogt  (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (0)

2. Further study helpful. Interview was confusing as to the point. Early childhood is important, helping students beyond age 18 is important, I agree; that part was clear. Where the money would come from to fund it is not, we can't ask for another taxpayer levy. Mainly, I don't think she has an understanding of what a good alternative program does. The part about it warehousing students was confusing and inaccurate. We do promote academic success, but also success in life often depends more than anything else on caring adults taking the time and an interest personally in someone as a person. A good ALC does that.  (PSEO and simply funding trying to get them employed doesn't do what a good ALC can do). ALC's offer PSEO now through 18, and probably no school district has funds to continue it beyond that age, although it would be great.  But it wouldn't be a difference between what she calls warehousing students and helping them to be successful?  ALC's work with students who have had issues with school (often including with their PSEO classes). These students came to us because they have not been successful in regular school for various reasons, or because they are parenting and need the flexible scheduling, child care and parenting support, including partnering with ECFE for early childhood. Our ALC offers evening hours for students past graduation year to complete their diploma, and we work with the whole person, including collaborations to help find housing or any other practical life-needs, including helping the student find grants, scholarships, etc., if they want to go to college, which some do.  We also have a collaboration with Minnesota Alternative programs.  We don't warehouse students; we work with the whole person to lead them towards the most successful life they can have.  I can't speak for all ALC's, but working with students is more than academics - whether it's traditional classes, or PSEO classes. We have counselors, and advisors to give the students the guidance they need and if they have further needs, the counselors help them find resources.    Although test scores look impressive and to some extent can show how competitive we are with other countries, test scores are not necessarily a measure of how well a person will succeed in life.  Some of our students have very high test scores, a lot do not.  There are various reasons, from actual learning disabilities, to stressful distractions (difficult home life, not enough sleep, etc.), to having missed so much school that their education so far is incomplete, etc. Or just disinterest in some school subjects.  We know our students well so can work with them on those things.  Success in life often depends more than anything else on caring adults taking the time and an interest personally in someone as a person - a good ALC does that -  (PSEO and simply funding trying to get them employed doesn't do what a good ALC can do).    It's true that many of our students are very practical people - they are successful in the real world often more than school because they want to see a practical result in real life, so they don't do well completing homework which they don't see as useful. (We explain that having a diploma is practical to get a better job, and also shows you can complete what you started).  Also a lot are kinesthetic learners - they learn by doing, which makes PSEO for trades helpful for some of them.  A high percentage of our students are also above average in creativity - some very successful people in arts, marketing, the computing world etc. don't even have a high school diploma (not something I'd tell a student, we want them to go as far as they can academically, and we aim to prepare them for college).  But to be successful, you need to have had caring adults to encourage and help you to channel your skills into constructive direction as well as being a helpful participant in community - another thing we stress.    As far as offering PSEO beyond age 18, that would be great.  But as far as seeing current Alternative programs as warehousing [is] no where near accurate.  Many lives are far more successful and constructive than they would have been without an Alternative program, both for themselves and the community.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". It would be great if the funding was there without further taxing the community through [levies].

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  It's very important to get children and their parents through parenting programs on the right track during early development of the child.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. This is a very strange question.  It doesn't ask what we can do, or what political decisions can be made on behalf of students.  It's a judgment on what high school students should be doing.  Like I explained above, whether they are successful in these programs depends on caring adults that they know and respect encouraging them.  The opportunity would be great, but no one can force a student to take a class and succeed at it.  My understanding is that this opportunity is not yet available, and the question is phrased as if it is currently available for students past 18.  This is a very badly written question.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. They were not being successful in a regular school setting - they wouldn't attend school, they would drop out.  The students are credit-deficient because the regular school setting didn't work for them. The schools offering to keep them longer or continue PSEO offering longer wouldn't change that. Some would be successful without a diploma, many would end up without an education. Without the assistance an ALC would give them in encouragement and resources -  resulting in academic success (a diploma and chance at getting help toward higher education and vocational training), and including the resources we help them with including counseling and resources, housing resources etc. and parenting assistance, many would end up on welfare.

John Watson Milton  (10)  (0)  (10)  (10)  (5)  (7.5)  (5)

1. Topic of value. Research now shows that if a child isn't headed in the right direction by age 3-4, the climb is much more challenging. Thankfully, the Dayton administration and DFL-controlled Legislature is addressing the issue of supporting pre-K children and their families. Former Governor Pawlenty, even by the judgment of his GOP colleagues, did his best to kill this effort.

2. Further study helpful. More study isn't necessary — it's just an excuse for inaction.

5. MN education ranks well. Since we persist in providing fewer classroom hours to all students —based on the agricultural calendar— our students will never be able to compete with those of other advanced countries.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. We need to change attitudes among parents of underachieving students who simply want their kids to "get a job."

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. I don't know enough about comparisons between these choices.

Kristyn Daly  (0)  (0)  (5)  (7.5)  (5)  (5)  (0)

1. Topic of value. Not every kid needs to be groomed for college.  The emphasis needs to be putting the honor back into working ANY job that utilizes their skills.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". Define seamless and explain how that is a guarantee with some kids with special circumstances.

5. MN education ranks well. It doesn't mean a thing.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. How are you going to enforce that?

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. That is the most idiotic things [sic] I've ever heard. [T]his is embarrassing for the department, MN, and especially the commissioner.

Don Anderson  (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)

Malcolm McDonald  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (0)  (10)  (0)

1. Topic of value. Cassellius would do well to focus on the 200,000 children of K-12 age not in any school in Minnesota and how high quality pre-K for each and every 2.5 year old together with complete physical and mental exams would vastly reduce this number over time and lead to more children completing school and having a life.

2. Further study helpful. Interview county commissioners and sheriffs as to having each and every child of school age in Minnesota in a school and how high quality pre-k could lead to achieving that goal.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". Have to have to have a future.  Not a matter of discussion but of implementation.  Not a choice but a necessity.  No possible high quality future until we do this.

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  Go broke tending to the needs of the children who don't.

5. MN education ranks well. [This s]hows that the author of such a statement does not read the reports showing how few of our young people there are with the necessary skills to meet the ever increasing needs.  Our companies and creative people are desperate.  We do not have adequate media understanding of how important this shortage is and what it will do to the creation of futures for us all.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. But must develop the soft skills, must want to work, must want to move off of having others take care of them, must have a mentor, must want to do all of the above and live accordingly.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. Not the choice. Ridiculous to discuss this as worded.  Question is what goes on inside this child and once knowing the answer proceed to what turns on this child and thence in what does this child have a passion and who will work with the child to develop a life pursuing this passion?

Josh D. Ondich  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". I believe Minnesota should find different ways to expand public funding of education past high school and help college-bound students graduate college without massive student loan debts.

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  Early Childhood is critical, but college education should have a vital focus also.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. Credit-deficient students without behavioral problems should be afforded an opportunity to stay in regular schools, a “second chance provision"; but students with records of delinquency and behavioral problems need more supervision, so a regular school for them would not support that need for extra supervision.

Bob Wedl  (10)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (2.5)

1. Topic of value. Indeed the Commissioner is right on with her comments.  But I do find it interesting that we make such a huge deal about graduating in 4 years but when we look at the 21st century population, so many students are immigrants and need more time...others take longer because of other issues.  The legislature wisely said that students have a constitutional right to a free public education until they are 21 or meet the secondary school requirements.  In her interview the Commissioner is saying that we must use the added time wisely provided by the legislature and both keep students in school if we can but for sure, bring them back if they have dropped out.  If we provide new models of schools that are highly motivating for students, we will not be able to keep them away.  And while we are at it, if high school education is so important, why do we say we won't provide it after age 21? [These are t]wo policies crashing into each other.

2. Further study helpful. 1. Linking pre-K to K-3 rather than operate them as independent programs as we now do.  2. Linking grades 11-14 into a new model of school...and students would complete in two or three years max.  3. Competency-based learning...where learning outside of school "counts."  This is the use of the "free school."  Outstanding learning options at no or low cost.  4. Having "fall semester" start the last week of school in spring and make assignments over the summer with tutorials online that students can access from anywhere in the world.  5. Having two-year pre-K programs in two or three languages so that kids come to kindergarten bi- or tri-lingual.  This is when language is learned; kids soak it up, all first languages and no accent.

3. Educate from pre-K to "grade 14". Up until 1980 or so technical college was free.  Grade 13-14 was part of K-12.

5. MN education ranks well. These are two (or perhaps even four) questions. One is how we do in comparison to the USA and the other is with the world. The real answer is that we do quite well with both.  But "how do we compare" is not the question.  The question is, "What do we want to be?"

6. Dropouts should return for job training. Why only dropouts?  Everyone should do this who aspires to this.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. Again...there are several questions rolled into one making this difficult to answer.  "Contract alternative programs" is not a program at all but a way to deliver education by contracting with a private non-profit organization to do so rather than the public school operating the school. We ought to do more contracting not less.  As far as "warehousing" not sure where that comes from nor what it means.  This question is kind of like saying you should be able to buy tuxedos and jeans in the same store.  Why would we want to have all kids in the same building regardless of their needs and aspirations?  If we want to increase the dropout rate, that would be the best way to do it.

Anonymous   (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (7.5)  (5)  (0)

1. Topic of value. The Commissioner’s comments on alternative programs are not substantiated with any evidence.

2. Further study helpful. Yes, but we need representatives from Alternative Learning Programs to clarify her misinformation.

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  The system should emphasize all students not just a few.

6. Dropouts should return for job training. Alternative Learning centers should be coordinating with career technical education at Minnesota Colleges.  This is not an either/or choice.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. Absolutely false.  ALC's work effectively with these students.  Unbelievably negative comment that is not substantiated by the evidence. Alternative programs should be coordinated with vocational training.  The regular schools have failed with these students.  These students will not attend regular programs and continue to fail.

Wayne Jennings  (7)  (8)  (8)  (6)  (7)  (8)  (3)

Students are not warehoused in alternative programs. This is a slam against hard-working teachers and administrators teaching students who have had severe problems in conventional schools, either because the system failed them or there were severe personal and family problems. These educators strive to help their students learn and graduate. This is not easy work as the students are often angry, frustrated or deeply ashamed. The alternative programs (aside from the few contract alternatives) are controlled totally by their local districts.

Fred Senn   (10)  (10)  (8)  (10)  (10)  (6)  (5)

5. MN education ranks well. Ranking high among the states is like being a tall midget.  We are being clobbered by other countries.

7. Keep difficult cases in regular schools. I don't know.  I hear horror stories from teachers who say they could teach the good 27 if they could get rid of the 3 that disrupt class all the time.  Do we want to force teachers to deal with the disruptive?  Or are you referring to some other solution within the school?

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

When regular schools have the resources needed to address the problems.

Chuck Slocum  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)  (10)  (5)

4. Most critical need is pre-K.  Focus on most “at risk” kids with targeted additional resources.

5. MN education ranks well.  Direction good but much more needs to be done here to provide quality candidates for the necessary new jobs in our workforce of the future.

Progress is being made; the Cassellius and the Dayton administration’s emphasis on early learning scholarships and a Parent Aware System to improve quality have been a big part of it. The business community is getting it, in large part because of the shortages now anticipated in Minnesota’s future workforce. Early learning, literacy and one-on-one mentoring delivered professionally though volunteers can be most helpful in doing so.

Tom Spitznagle   (5)  (5)  (5)  (3)  (6)  (5)  (5)

Chuck Lutz   (8)  (7)  (9)  (9)  (10)  (9)  (9)

Roger A Wacek   (na)  (na)  (5)  (0)  (5)  (5)  (5)


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