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 Response Page - McDonald  Interview -      

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


Tim McDonald, fellow of the Center for Policy Studies, associate with the research group Education|Evolving, and consultant to Civic Caucus, contends that the public K-12 school system as currently structured is no longer financially viable and as a result becomes increasingly inefficient each year.  He proposes structuring incentives for both lowering the cost and increasing the effectiveness of schools and argues that public policy should be designed to foster this dynamic.

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 McDonald. 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. Central control an obstacle. (6.9 average response) Large centrally controlled school districts are major obstacles to change in education because of excessive dedicated funding and other bureaucratic constraints.

2. Incentives lacking. (7.6 average response) The culture of control and regulation in public education leads to rising costs without improved performance because incentives for productivity are missing.

3. Teacher innovation hindered. (6.8 average response) As long as districts are controlled centrally, teachers will have neither the reason nor the opportunity to innovate because they do not compete for students, nor do they have an incentive to save money since they do not see or influence the budget.

4. Free district schools to compete. (7.2 average response) The Legislature should strengthen a law that was passed in 2009 but has yet to be used, that enables school districts to establish teacher-led, site-governed district schools, intended to be as independent as chartered schools, with authority over budget, staffing, curriculum and pedagogy.

5. Change board function. (7.3 average response) The Legislature should enable school boards to flip their management model from boards that both run and oversee schools, to boards that oversee schools that run themselves.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Central control an obstacle.







2. Incentives lacking.







3. Teacher innovation hindered.







4. Free district schools to compete.







5. Change board function.







Individual Responses:

Bruce A. Lundeen  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

1. Central control an obstacle. I do not think that bureaucracies are "automatically" bad.  Now that I am older (61), say what you want about my change of heart, I see value in experience!

David Gay  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

2. Incentives lacking. The teacher's union has had an unprecedented hand in driving this in the Minnesota State Legislature.

3. Teacher innovation hindered. They do have some say on the budget, by whom they support for their School Boards. However, this protects the status quo and destroys incentives to innovate.

4. Free district schools to compete. Convert all districts to site-managed. Make the district sell their services to each school.

5. Change board function. The site-managed model should allow for a board for each school.

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

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

1. Central control an obstacle. While I strongly agree with this statement, your speakers continue to support and cling to the basic top-down socialist structure and stand against return to real local citizen control. For me to vote in agreement is for me to also support that socialist (stance).

2. Incentives lacking. Again this statement is cleverly written to support the socialist control mechanism and stand against the return to the real local citizen control that once made us an education leader. For me to show any support for this statement will be interpreted as support for socialist, top-down system control.

3. Teacher innovation hindered. Again while this sounds like it supports return to local control and real competition, what it really does is to only add elements of competition into a socialist structure that is now void of any competition. These speakers are not supporting real return to a competitive, locally- (and) citizen-controlled education system; they are only speaking of a sham that will never return us to the greatness we once held.

4. Free district schools to compete. The legislature needs to get … out of education control and fully turn that control back to the local level. This … still shows a total lack of trust by education elitists in the people they supposedly serve.

5. Change board function. Your guest again totally ignores the history of public education in Minnesota prior to the failed socialist education reform movement. Tweaking garbage still leaves us with garbage.

Ed Oliver  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)

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

5. Change board function. How would schools in distressed areas be able to effectively oversee schools that run themselves?

Jackie Underferth   (8)  (5)  (8)  (9)  (8)

Gary Prest  (0)  (0)  (0)  (0)  (0)

Tim McDonald should do his homework.   His emphasis on charter schools as leaders and innovators is ludicrous and inaccurate.  Check the research on charter school "productivity."  How much time has Mr. McDonald actually spent engaged in the activity and work of school districts?   Has he been involved in the development and implementation of innovative and effective instruction and programming in public schools?  Mr. McDonald displays an ignorance of the budgeting procedures of school districts and the inclusive and transparent processes that districts employ.  This is not surprising as Education Evolving is a champion of the charter "movement" and despite the rather mediocre performance of charters as a whole continues to see charters as the answer to the challenges in education.

The questions 1-5 displayed above demonstrate considerable bias in their formulation.

Shari Prest  (0)  (na)  (0)  (0)  (0) 

1. Central control an obstacle.   I have worked with many educational organizations and school districts for many years. In some capacity I have had a connection with virtually every major educational organization across the state. Central control is not the obstacle to change and in some cases is the only conduit for change. I have many examples if interested. Mandates for bureaucracy from the state and federal government are obstacles. Parent/community fear of change also frequently retards a district’s capacity for change. The legislature and Department of Education make the change process often miserable and increasingly inflexible.

2. Incentives lacking.  I can’t answer this one because there is certainly a detrimental culture of control and regulation but rarely one that comes from the central system of school districts. In 22 years of working with or consulting with school districts across the state, there have only been 3-4 instances where district centralization has been suspect. Years ago site-based decision making was incentivized and site councils required. What I took away from that experiment was that most teachers actually want to teach and not administrate. Parents want their kids to have similar experiences and opportunities regardless of which school within a district that parent’s children attend. Define “productivity”. Does that mean standardized test scores, which are a painfully incomplete measure? Does “productivity” mean the number of kids each teacher turns out? Does it mean the percent of kids that graduate? For a kindergarten teacher (that) will take 13 years to document. Does it mean how teachers are able to engage parents or enrich a student’s summer learning? Does it take into account transience? What is “productivity?” A great business term, (but) unfortunately education is not an industry where raw materials meet quality control standards and a company manages the “product” from beginning to end.

This is an old, trite and indefensibly simple statement about a complex process and even more complex “product”.

3. Teacher innovation hindered.  Teachers’ “reason” must be the love of teaching and learning. While they expect (to be) and should be more adequately compensated and valued, it has nothing to do with competing for students.  What would that “competition” look like? According to naysayers our schools should be far better than they describe them because “competition” has been with us for the last 20 years. Some school districts do have incentives to save money at the program, school, and district level. Check around to find out how common this is. In most districts teachers do influence the budget. I don’t think I have ever worked with a district with no way for communities or teachers to influence the budget, although I have not worked with a district where they control the budget either.  I facilitate groups within organizations to innovate. My skills are usually engaged by central administrators or school boards as a means to encourage input and build consensus around a shared and compelling vision and the innovations that will make that vision a reality.

I have not witnessed any evidence of the presumptuous statement at the beginning of number 3.

4. Free district schools to compete.  We need far less state intervention in how to meet expectations and continual improvement and more informed consensus around what the actual vision and goals are and what resources are required to accomplish them. This vision and these goals cannot be political, shifting with committee chairs, or subject to lobbying done by private dollars to manipulate public resources. Generally the legislature is driven by a very few individuals with a personal or political agenda. As one former long-time Burnsville legislator told me,  “I just watch how my party votes and I vote that way. We can’t possible be informed on all the issues we make decisions on.” Our educational leaders are informed, experienced and educated on just those decisions.
Have we learned nothing from the failings of charter schools? When accounting for socio-economic differences of student populations, charter schools and private schools overall perform at or below the level of the regular public schools with the same student make-up. Additionally, a plethora of legal and fiscal shortcomings have been realized in the charter system. The state has actually identified a need for greater oversight and more established sponsorship. Exactly what is the research base for this suggestion? The countries that are often elevated for their test scores are more uniform and have greater parental support and more consistent calendars.

5. Change board function.  First, boards do not, nor should they, run schools. That is not part of their job description or elected role. Their most important task is to hire the best individual(s) with appropriate background and preparation to do so.

Second, Why? Would there be no standards? Who would do the actual “overseeing?” Would we switch from a volunteer/elected model of community school board members to a volunteer administration or do we pay for another tier of administration? Instead of economy of scale on procurements, programs, benefits, etc. would we break down the structures into mini-districts with insignificant leverage? Who exactly will take on these overwhelming tasks? Would school calendars vary so that three children from the same family could have three different calendars? Would each site contract individually for transportation and food services? Would they all have different expectations for outcomes? How would these individual schools ensure articulation from one level or school to another?  How would risk-taking and innovation be managed or evaluated. Who would say “the buck stops here?”

Schools do not run themselves but rather the “running” of them is a time-consuming and intense undertaking.

6.  Comment:   While I agree the current model is unsustainable financially because there is insufficient commitment to public education and flagging parental and community responsibility for kids, this is a very disappointing and regrettably trendy and naïve entry. It is convenient for those who are committed to lowering taxes (although they are at the lowest level as a portion of income than they have been at since the fifties) to be able to rationalize their desire to hold on to more of their money for themselves by saying we can improve educational opportunities by paying less and “innovating” more. I realize the desire to keep more personal money (especially for those who have a lot of it) is a reality, so I do encourage innovation and greater efficiency. Many schools and school districts are trying new models like more on-line learning, greater consolidation of services, district-to-district collaboratives, zero-hour classes, year-round school schedules, greater access to and dependence on technology, site-based management of resources, sharing of administrators, multiple districts sharing extra-curricular programs and resources, consolidation of entities, etc. But change is difficult for families and communities and staffs, and until we fix our sites as a society on the correct target—more well educated and better prepared students-- we will not be able to hit it.

The United States was recently rated 40th among 40 countries in innovation. That is not because of district-centralized education but may be because we are a society of people increasingly driven by short-term indulgence at the expense of long-term investment.
As a society we need to ask ourselves why the current system is financially unsustainable and if we identify ethical reasons we should address them—together.

Mina Harrigan  (8)  (10)  (10)  (7)  (10)

George Pillsbury  (5)  (5)  (5)  (8)  (10)

Fred Zimmerman  (9)  (10)  (8)  (9)  (8)

We have several teachers in our family; most are at the university level, but two are high school teachers. I agree with most of the underlying philosophies in the material Tim McDonald submitted. I am worried about one thing, however. Before we change the way we govern schools, it is in the community's best interest to discharge the many teachers we have in the system who are neither conscientious, well educated, nor innovative. The biggest complaint my teacher friends and relatives have is not generally with administrations and the constraints they levy, but teachers who are not very conscientious about what they do. This should be corrected before the autonomy is granted or the autonomy may accrue to the wrong group. We should remember that there are powerful undercurrents resisting change -- perhaps most extensively among our fellow teachers.

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Don Fraser  (6)  (5)  (7)  (7)  (6)

The new emphasis on how teachers are trained and supported could lead to substantially improved student outcomes - the change in controlling the school may not make as large a difference, but some experimentation could throw more light on this question.

Ralph Brauer  (5)  (5)  (5)  (8)  (na)

As someone who has spent the last fifteen years applying system dynamics modeling to education and other systems, I find this one of the more intriguing conversations with much to think about. However, it also illustrates the state of system dynamics as opposed to systems thinking in Minnesota. “Systems thinking” is a catch-all term that has a variety of definitions and methodologies. System dynamics, which is used by most major corporations for planning, insists that systemic assumptions must be mathematically modeled.  Jay Forrester and Peter Senge, among others, maintain it is impossible to understand the behavior of large systems without computer modeling. I put a question mark on the last (survey item), because I don't understand what he means. Perhaps I am mistaken, but boards already have this authority now vis-à-vis their oversight of local charter schools. What is missing from this discussion is the elephant in the room: the growing resource inequity in Minnesota districts. Until this is dealt with, ideas like the above will be mere Band-Aids and in fact draw attention away for the need for school funding reform. What Jonathan Kozol called educational apartheid is alive and well in Minnesota.

Wayne Jennings  (10)  (9)  (10)  (10)  (7)

Fresh thinking from McDonald. Much needed. He’s right about finance. I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to fix schools as there are. Principals and teachers are controlled by central offices and therefore strictly limited in what they can do. Old paradigms of classrooms, lessons, graded levels, academic achievement, teaching, standards need rethinking. They and their adherents severely limit real change.

Ray Cox  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

We’ve watched our school systems grow larger and become decentralized, while at the same time performing poorer and poorer. It is time to completely redesign our school delivery system.

Rick Bishop  (4)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Robert J. Brown  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)  (10)

John Rollwagen  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

I couldn't agree more with Tim McDonald's presentation, conclusions and recommendations.  I rate all five points at 15 (which I suppose is not too surprising given my association with charter schools).
I was also pleased to see Tim's reference to some movement in the legislature in this direction in the form of "Education Boards" monitoring locally run schools.  I sincerely hope that gets some traction.

Chuck Lutz  (9)  (7)  (8)  (9)  (9)

Lyall Schwarzkopf  (8)  (8)  (8)  (7)  (9)

In 1992 while working for the Metro Council I was proposing that we consolidate all metro school districts into one and that the main office's job was to keep records, do mass purchasing and negotiate with teachers.  Each school building would be run as a separate organization with the principal, teachers, and parents in charge of the education within that building.  Students could go to any school within the Metro area and the public school money followed the student.  This was known as a crazy idea at the time.  McDonald's presentation sounds similar to that old idea.

Bright Dornblaser  (10)  (8)  (4)  (10)  (8)

Tom Spitznagle  (8)  (9)  (6)  (8)  (7)

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

While Mr. McDonald is polite enough not to spit it right out, the reality is that Education Minnesota owns DFL education policy. Until this affinity and financial alliance dissolves or self-destructs, incentives for the choices needed to foster and serve Minnesota exceptionalism cannot be implemented. 

John Nowicki  (2)  (4)  (0)  (0)  (5)

4. Free district schools to compete.  Why fix a law that apparently is not wanted?

Question: Has Tim ever taught in a public school classroom?

Scott and Nancy Halstead  (10)  (9)  (8)  (10)  (9)

Many schools and districts are far too large.  Keep the schools in the neighborhood so parents and the community are involved.  Use the schools as entire community resources.  Have seniors assist in the education and support of youth (while) seniors use the school receiving a meal, exercise and community activities and services.  Get the community involved with their neighborhood school facilities and equipment.



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.

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