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Education Minnesota outlines plan to address achievement gap

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Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher outlined a series of steps that Minnesota should immediately take to address the state's achievement gap.

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"It is within our grasp to close the achievement gap in the state of Minnesota," Dooher said. "We can do this, but only if everyone recognizes the complexity of the issue and only if everyone agrees that we have a shared responsibility to solve it," he said.

Dooher recommended steps to address the achievement gap on two fronts: Current students and future students. For current students, Dooher suggested:

1) Creating plans in each school to enhance parent and community involvement in the school, using methods such as home visits to families and orientation meetings for parents.

2) Bringing support services such as medical screenings and wellness programs into the schools.

3) Lowering class sizes.

Dooher said all of those initiatives should eventually be in every Minnesota school. But as a start, he called on the state Department of Education to identify the 32 schools where students struggle the most academically, and focus initial achievement gap efforts there.

For future students, Dooher recommended the Minnesota Department of Education immediately assess the effectiveness of early childhood learning programs in all districts, and improve them where needed. He also called for establishing all-day, every-day kindergarten in all schools in Minnesota.

"There should be no controversy in establishing these reforms," Dooher said. "For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, society as a whole gets a 12 percent return. We can't afford not to do these things."

Dooher also recommended that Minnesota begin annual performance reviews of teachers to help develop and support strong teaching. He suggested using a wide variety of assessment tools, including in-class observations, review by fellow teachers, and various elements of student learning, including test results.

"The vast majority of Minnesota teachers do an outstanding job," Dooher said. "Our state's ACT scores and graduation rates prove it. But there is no room for ineffective teaching in our classrooms," he said.

Dooher also said that Education Minnesota will support responsible efforts to create alternative pathways into teaching, but stressed they must not shortcut quality in the classroom. "It makes no sense that when we're demanding more from our students, that we would demand less from our teachers and then expect better results," Dooher said.

Dooher said Education Minnesota has always felt there is value in alternative licensure under limited circumstances, such as filling shortage areas or in cases where mid-career professionals want to teach in their area of expertise.

"Candidates should have a degree in the field they're teaching," Dooher said. "They should have to demonstrate they actually know how to teach children, pass the content tests, and be supervised for at least 90 school days before they're fully in charge of a classroom," Dooher said.

Dooher also said it's important to keep in mind that Minnesota is one of the best education states in the country. "We're blessed with great students, great teachers, and great community support," Dooher said. "Our focus, and our vision, should be on making a good thing even better. We can do that if we all work together - and that is exactly my pledge today."

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