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 Response Page - Olson  Interview -      

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


Minnesota's longest currently serving Republican state legislator and a co-author of the nation's first charter schools law, Senator Gen Olson describes those characteristics that have set Minnesota apart in education policy in the past and suggests ways that the state can again become a leader. She contends that innovation in education is more likely to succeed if initiated outside the traditional system and cites the Minnesota Reading Corps as an example. She argues that teacher professionalism is enhanced when management decisions are made at the school level, not the district level. She discusses opportunities for progress in the coming 2012 legislative session.

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 Senator Olson. 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. Tutors essential. (7.9 average response) Volunteer tutor-assisted reading programs like the Minnesota Reading Corps are essential to developing literacy among vulnerable children.

2. External innovation more successful. (7.4 average response) Innovation in education is more likely to succeed if initiated outside the traditional system.

3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism. (8.0 average response) Professionalism among teachers is enhanced when management decisions are made at the level of the individual school, rather at the district level.


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Tutors essential.







2. External innovation more successful.







3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism.







Individual Responses:

Chris Brazelton  (7.5)  (5)  (10)

1. Tutors essential. It sounds as though this program has been very successful and supplements what parents can do to improve their children's reading skills.

2. External innovation more successful. Innovation can come from within as well, and if the process to develop innovation came from within the initial buy-in might be stronger.  I understand that people struggling to keep their heads above water with the work they're doing may not find ample time and energy to come up with innovations, so practically speaking they may come from outside for this reason.

Anonymous   (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)

W. D. (Bill) Hamm  (0)  (10)  (7.5)

1. Tutors essential. While these programs are needed in the present system, they were never needed in the pre-reform education model, (pre 1970's). It is all about returning to the bottom up model we had and eliminating the top down model we presently have. Get the State legislature and Federal government out of the education control model and return all that control to the local level.

2. External innovation more successful. This is true because the present system is not a student-based system but rather a system-based system. Until the reason for the education system existence is child-centered as it was under the old Independent School District system we left behind, education will continue to flounder.

3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism. It is not just management decisions that need to move back out to the local level but the education decisions as well. Local citizens are far better at making these decisions than legislators who have taken far too much on their plates, far more than they can effectively handle.

Bruce A. Lundeen  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

1. Tutors essential. Volunteer tutors may function as surrogate parents when parental involvement is absent.

2. External innovation more successful. "Disruptive innovations" come along and generate stimulus for more improvement, but site-based management and governance is also very important.

3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism. Strengthening the roles and responsibilities of educators "on the ground" frees people up to do a better job.

Peter Hennessey  (5)  (5)  (5)

1. Tutors essential. We have a program like this in Nevada and the people like it, except for the fact that we don't have enough volunteers to staff all the schools that want it.    I went to school in a different era. My reading and math tutor was my mother, long before I was old enough for first grade. She let me go to the store and bring home groceries, pay in cash and get correct change, when I was five. She taught me how to cross a street. And she trusted me to do it all by myself.    I am convinced that we are still trying to compensate with government and community programs for the fact that mothers can't do their traditional job anymore, because of political, cultural and economic imperatives that we have imposed on our families since the 1960's. We have embarked on a change from a family-centered to a community-centered society. That is another way of saying, from individualism to commune-ism. So guess what is at the root of all the societal ills that we have been struggling with ever since.

2. External innovation more successful. People outside the system are too busy with their jobs and careers to keep their focus elsewhere. People in the system are too busy running it. Innovation comes from wherever, inside or outside the system, and succeeds only if somebody takes the time to think it through, prove it, and promote it.

3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism. To borrow a phrase from a former President, it depends on what the definition of "professionalism" is. Management decisions are not the same as professional decisions. Do you become a better, more professional teacher if you also know how to run the school or the district? No. Do you become a better, more professional manager if you also know how to teach? No. These are totally different skills.  As in every organization, the best decisions are most likely to be made by people closest to the action. But the drive for centralized, top-down rule results from the fear that someone at some lower level might be doing something great that the others at the same level elsewhere are not doing, and therefore everybody is not in a position to benefit equally. So, impose uniform practices, reduce teachers to be nothing more than robots executing a prescribed lesson plan, stifle experimentation and innovation, and glorify equality even if it only enforces mediocrity. Then ask with a straight face why achievement levels are dropping, why the first two years of college are hardly more than remedial high school, why there is such as frightening level of ignorance and incompetence in math, science, English, history, civics, economics, etc., both in our general population but especially among our high school and even college graduates.

Michael Martens  (5)  (10)  (5)

Dave Broden  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

1. Tutors essential. Volunteer programs always get five stars from me assuming that they are quality and can be maintained over time and somewhat uniform over the entire state rather that spot locations. I strongly support these initiatives and recommend that there be some form of incentive to school districts to establish and utilize these programs. The incentive should be a measure of district commitment to establish and maintain the volunteer efforts.

2. External innovation more successful.  Initiation outside of any system has proven beneficial and results oriented. The trick however if the initiative does come form outside there must be an effort to transition and build inside the system "ownership" of the innovation, how it is applied, and how it is maintained and adapted over time. Without consideration of internal ownership the results will wilt in time and the system will become the old system or some hybrid within a short time.

3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism.  Like any organization the results are best when decisions are made and implemented by the lowest level and that level is involved in shaping and owning the process and results. Effort must be made to be results-focused rather than process-focused. There is far too much attention to process rather than results --this can best be done at the local level.

Don Anderson  (10)  (7.5)  (5)

1. Tutors essential.  Not only vulnerable children but all children can be helped by tutor-assisted reading programs.

John Cairns  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

2. External innovation more successful.  Insiders also have to part of the solution. Key for me is getting professional teacher/teaching input in contrast to union leadership input.

John Sievert  (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)

Robert J. Brown  (9)  (10)  (8)

Wayne Jennings  (8)  (10)  (10)

What a refreshing viewpoint! I just love that Sen. Olson wants to restore Minnesota's leadership position in education. Her views on educational outcomes for life can make an enormous difference if applied. Her well-informed ideas, openness, and willingness to work with everyone will have good payoffs.

Ray Cox  (10)  (10)  (10)

One of the biggest areas to address in meaningful school reform is at the administrative level.

Chuck Slocum  (10)  (10)  (8)

1. Tutors essential. The MRC is Minnesota’s best bet to make a permanent contribution to the literacy of “Achievement Gap” kids who are age 3 to grade 3.
2. External innovation more successful.  Serious efforts to create “within the system” changes should be undertaken.
3. Decentralizing promotes professionalism.  If this is what you call “site management” then I am all for it.  Serious efforts to create “within the system” changes at the board and district level should also be undertaken.
4. Comment:  Gen Olson’s long time spearheading of basic literacy and her successes in 2011, especially, have been important economic development achievements, largely unheralded.  The workforce of the future simply will not be there if kids aren’t reading and writing to scale by 4th grade.

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)

Shari Prest   (4)  (0)  (5)

Terry Stone  (10)  (10)  (10)

Richard McGuire  (7)  (5)  (7)

Very interesting. A subject near and dear to my heart with our own tutoring efforts,  We hope to expand our efforts to about 100 tutors this year but our people are all volunteers - no compensation for these folks.

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (7)  (8)

Three of the elementary schools in South Walton County, FL, where we spend the winter, one charter and two traditional, take advantage of volunteer "snowbirds" as tutors.  They tutor primarily in reading, but also in some other subjects including art and music.  Their measured results have proved such tutoring is successful.

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (9)  (8)  (7)


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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