Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Integration Revenue is Focus of Legislative Town Hall on Education

Opposition to integration funding cuts dominated an Omnibus Education Bill input session sponsored by the MN House DFL Caucus at Arlington High School in St. Paul on Wednesday, April 20th.

As policy observers know, omnibus bills are crafted by the Legislature, currently led by the Republican party, while the Governor's priorities are established in a budget bill brought forth by the Democratic party.

"This is my 19th year in the Legislature, but the first time I have ever carried the budget bill for the Governor," noted Rep. Mindy Greiling, District 54A, who has served under all non-Democratic governors prior to this year.   "There isn't one thing in it that I oppose."

Greiling could not say the same for HF 934, the Omnibus Education bill currently under consideration at the Legislature, a bill she cited as one that is moving opposite the equitable direction set by PS Minnesota. This organization has advocated for an entirely new state education funding formula-- one that assigns additional formula weight to "at-risk students"-- since the release of its first report in November 2006.

Following Greiling (and event-convening Rep. Debra Hilstrom's) lead, many of the approximate 300 district officials, school board members, and educational advocates in attendance voiced concerns on the tack being taken by the current MN House leadership.

Several speakers saw the notion of eliminating integration funding to fly in the face of closing the student achievement gap between white students and students of color.

"All Minnesotans can agree that what attracts & builds the economy is an incredibly strong workforce," said a St. Paul school board member. "But today is much different from 1960, as some districts have as many as 70% students of color, with 50% who speak a different language at home .... We have to have all people live and work together, and it's incredibly foolish to cut the integration funding," the board member added.

Beyond just the infusion of dollars for existing districts to use for integration-related activities like after school language programs, home-school liaisons, and teacher diversity training, there are a few districts in the metropolitan area that were voluntarily created for the sole purpose of integrating-- with the East Metropolitan Integration District (or EMID) being one.

Based on input provided by two EMID students who praised their educational arrangement as "providing a second home for students who find it too stressful at their first home," the elimination of integration funding in favor of statewide innovation  programs (as key Republicans have proposed) may put such districts in jeopardy of discontinuation.

St. Paul & Mpls. Schools Superintendents

Yet another reality of integration funding involves the most sizable  student constituency that it serves-- English Language Learners (ELL), which consists of students for whom English is not the primary language spoken at home. "In working with ELL students, we're not just talking about new arrivals, but refugees, and integration funding helps these people in a proper way," said Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

Bruce Hentges, a St. Cloud Area School District school board member, remarked that "some have tried to divide us" on the issue of integration aid, before adding his district "identifies with Minneapolis and St. Paul" on the potential that integration will be removed from the education bill under consideration.  According to Hentges, greater than 50% of St. Cloud's student population qualifies for the Free & Reduced Lunch program, and the district also has a significant number of of English Language Learners.

Hentges then encouraged the Dayton Administration to "hang tough" and asked: "What things will the Governor hang do to ensure equitable education funding across the state of Minnesota?"

"We will not compromise by pitting one group, school, or city against another," replied Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

"In 1971, Governor Wendell Anderson held out until November, and we got the Minnesota Miracle that funded our schools," Rep. Greiling reminded the assembled group.

A Brief History of Integration Revenue

While broad efforts to integrate school systems have been going on since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1957, Minnesota's integration revenue program specifically funded just the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth districts between 1987 and 2000-- to the tune of $56 million in the final year of this stretch.

Beginning in 2001, additional districts were added into the program based on new eligibility criteria set by the Minnesota Department of Education.  For the 2010-11 school year, about 110 school districts required to file integration plans received $93 million, with 70% (or $65 million) of it coming from state sources and 30% (or $28 million) from local property tax levies.

In 2005, the Office of the Legislative Auditor was tasked with the responsibility of evaluating MN's Integration Revenue program.  In its review, the OLA found the purpose of the integration was not clear, that school districts varied widely in how it used its integration monies, that the Minnesota Department of Education had not provided consistent oversight of the program, and that the integration revenue funding formula has had some unintended consequences.

Principal OLA recommendations included revising the integration formula, and also giving the Department of Education the authority to approve the integration budgets of the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth school districts, who together, received over 40% of the $93 million integration dollars spent statewide in the 2010-11 school year.  The Department of Education, which was led by Republican Commissioner Alice Seagren at the time, supported every recommendation the report contained-- a level of departmental acceptance almost unheard of in the realm of state government auditing.

In January 2011, the Minnesota School Integration Council performed a comprehensive review of the current Minnesota desegregation rule and Minnesota Statute Section 124D.86, which governs the use and allocation of integration revenue.  The Council's recommendations included:

1. Clarifying the purpose of integration policy
2. Establishing and enforcing accountability measures
3. Identifying and supporting effective practices tied to results
4. Seeking partnerships and supporting collaboration &
5. Distributing resources to meet outcomes

Now it is up to the Legislature and the Governor's administration to see where the program will go from there.

Primary sources for this integration report: 
September 2010: Minnesota School Finance, A Guide for Legislators 

A Framework for a New Minnesota Education Funding Formula 

OLA School District Integration Revenue Evaluation Report

Statewide Taskforce on School Integration Report

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MN's Top High School Orators Inspire Faith for the Future

Sharply-dressed contestants in hallways stand, gesture and rehearse their presentation before no one in particular.  Chanhassen High School's  central commons is filled with the energy of people who have completed a round of presentations three months in the making.  A special kind of spring is in the air--- it's the Minnesota State High School League's  Class A High School Speech Tournament.

Speakers talented and skilled enough to make it to state have given their particular presentation up to 100 times, with 40 to 50 of them occurring in ten, 3-round regular season meets,  a sub-sectional and a sectional competitions.  A participant generally selects and prepares a speech from just one of 13 different categories, each with its own set of ground rules:

1. Creative Expression: W   8. Informative Speaking: W
2. Discussion: NW   9. Original Oratory: W
3. Duo Interpretation: NW  10. Serious Drama Interpretation: NW
4. Extemporaneous Reading :NW  11. Serious Poetry Interpretation: NW
5. Extemporaneous Speaking :NW  12. Serious Prose Interpretation: NW
6. Great Speeches: W  13. Storytelling: NW
7. Humorous Interpretation: NW
For the Class A State Tournament, 24 different speakers begin in each of the categories.  A third of those will make the finals, with places being determined from a Finals round.  Just like the students who give the speeches,  judges, too, have their favorite categories.  As noted in the 13 types of speeches listed above, each category is further expressed as a "writing" or a "non-writing" category, which factors into whether a particular subject is "cut out" for her or him.  Ultimately, speakers need craft a piece that not only speaks to them, but to an audience as well.

After all the shaping & evaluating applied to the presentations of these state tournament speakers during the season, you can be assured their work will resonate.  Listening to them will be its own reward.

In fact, the "slate of eight" in the Original Oratory category was so persuasive, a content recap of them is included here for you.  Presentational deliveries by the students were crisp, clear, and commanding.

Here are the rules of Original Oratory: A speaker delivers his or her own persuasive composition, the makeup of which can only be 10% quoted material.   Not concerned with solving the great problems of the day, this presentational form is meant to supply an insight or guidance. 

1. Digital Devices & Effects on Sleep: Angela leads off with this statistical whopper:  90% of teens have cellphones, and an astonishing 60% of them frequently stay up late to text.  This practice has many harmful effects, most of which relate to a lack of sleep.  The lighting display of the message is bright enough to effect circadian rhythm, by impacting the retina for 1 hour after exposure.   Checking email is equal to taking a double shot of espresso.  Obesity increases due to drop in appetite-regulating hormone, and concentration is a challenge.

2. Vaccine War: America's Fight Against Science:  Brendan framed his work around this salient statistic--  25% of Americans believe thymerosol creates autism, despite this being disproven by science.  This is the primary cause behind an "anti-vaccination" movement in the U.S.-- which is also bolstered by the view that people have seen no outbreaks from diseases like polio since the 1950s, so why worry?  Disease rates in some areas are reaching 1800s level proportions, as many people disregard scientific fact, and misread the concept of risk.  Currently, there are only 10 different vaccinations required, while many medical experts believe that any one person could handle up to 10,000,  if they had to.

3. Our Sister's Keeper: Despite the courageous work of a Human Rights team and folks like Mozdah Jamalzadah-- the Oprah of Kabul, Afghanistan-- Nicole points out that women are still not equal in that country.  The speaker lays out the situation-dependent relationships the US has had with the Afghans.  After the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, the U.S. provided the Stinger to insurgent forces in 1988.  In the vacuum that ensued, the Taliban took control in 1998, creating turmoil and a set of continuing abuses.  Even today, only 18% of women in the country can read or write.

Concluding admonitions: to "look upon Afghanistan's women as a reflection of our past selves" and to serve as our brothers' and our sisters' keepers.

4. Echo Chambers: Carl provided a much-needed lecture for any increasingly modernized culture:  Be careful that media technology is not something that keeps you in a like-minded bubble and away from situations that allow for spontaneous interaction. While technology is meant to open up the world, too often it intensifies a barrier against being exposed to different ideologies, news, people and ideas.  Through things like Amazon, Facebook, and Tivo, unexpected topics are often filtered away.

Many practice little to no critical thinking.  This social malady breeds overconfidence, extremism, and contempt for others.

We insulate ourselves from opinions that might wobble our soapboxesOur opinions should not be immovable objects.

5. Nursery University: Begun in Manhattan, there's a concerning education movement afoot in Shelby's view : Parents are feeling the need to getting kids into premiere educational institutions in their preschool years, paying the equivalent of a year's college tuition to get them into the preschool  of their choice. Speaker questions whether these placements are truly critical for future success, as trends toward earlier competitiveness intensify.  The pattern is exacerbating educational inequalities.

Such parents might reexamine their educational priorities and let kids be kids.

The commons is abuzz between rounds of the MSHSL State Speech Tournament.
6. Geographic Illiteracy:   Maile asserts "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are where education reform efforts end."  In her view, Americans have grown tragically ignorant of the country & world at large. Among the basket of telling statistics: only 1/2 of U.S. Citizens can find Washington DC on a map.  Creating geographically proficient people is useful to understanding federal policy. In an increasingly interconnected planet, it is also useful for appreciating a raft of physical & cultural aspects of the world, including weather patterns, climate change, erosion, demographics, migration, language, and resources.

A definitive conclusion:
"If we are to keep our position as a world leader, we need to take the time to get a deeper understanding of that world."

7. Direct Election Dreams:  Isaiah would like to see a one person, one vote voting system in America. Our electoral system, the result of a political compromise over a 200 years ago, has had devastating effects on politics and is detrimental to our election process. Five Presidents from Jefferson to Bush have taken office without a majority of the popular vote.

Through it's "winner take all" effect, it distances too many people from the voting process. The electoral college doesn't allow third-party candidates to compete. As support, Isaiah provides the statistic that nationally in 1908, voter participation stood at 60%, while in 2008, that figure was just 41%.

Big backers of the notion include 1962 US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and John B Anderson who wrote "The Electoral College Should be Abolished."

8. I Kinda Maybe Sorta Like You
We aren't committing ourselves to quality, direct, or sincere communication posited Priyanka. Instead of expressing our thoughts and feelings, we are repressing them.  We are not always honest, for fear of being insensitive to others.  Being too nice/too caring can be counterproductive, and the thought of rejection keeps us imprisoned from addressing important situations.

A galvanizing 2009 statistic suggests that 67% of us either don't express what's on our mind or we "change" our minds to agree with everyone else.

There are worse feelings out there than "rejection" and "regret" is one of them.

So polished and so convincing are each of the Class A's Great 8 Original Orators in the final round of the tournament.
A person can't help but believe the future will be brighter when these people are in positions of leadership.

Read about the State's First 4-time champion in the informative speech category and the overall 2011 State Speech Tournament Recap. The first is under the "John's Journal" tab at the linked page.