There is no doubt that the 1950s factory model of education no longer works. The needs and expectations of our students is vastly different now than it was 60 years ago (subject for an upcoming post). Just like teaching our students out of 1950s textbooks would be useless, trying to force-fit the needs and expectations of today's students into 60 year old operational framework will only stifle innovation and impede our students' future success. We routinely update and remodel outmoded HVAC systems, electrical wiring and other physical plant features to keep up with today's needs. We need to remodel the framework of our public education system so school board, administrators, teachers and parents have flexibility to design modern operational systems that work for today's students.
Did you know:
1. Local school boards are not allowed to determine their school calendar - the school calendar is dictated by a "meet and confer" committee of classified employees.
2. There is no formal, standardized performance evaluation measurement system that school districts can use to evaluate teacher performance. Some districts have developed their own; most have not.
3. Education Minnesota, the statewide union that all public school teachers must currently belong to, consistently ranks in the Top Five of expenditures on lobbying the legislature, which does not include the union dues that are contributed to candidates for office.
We need to shift this balance if we are going to succeed in remodeling our public education framework to meet the needs and expectations of 21st century students. Here is what school districts need:
1. Decide whether teachers fall into the "essential employee" category that already covers firefighters, police and school principals. If they don't, we need to give school board the latitude to make significant changes to teachers' Master Agreements. If they do, the legislature needs to classify them as such, eliminating their ability to strike over contract disputes.
2. Upgrade teacher and administrator training programs to require mastery of data use to improve student instruction and outcomes.
3. Modify PELRA (state laws governing contract negotiations) to ensure that school districts can retain the most effective teachers, not just the teachers with the most seniority, and give teachers and other staff assignments that best fit their skill sets and the district's needs rather than simply by who has "bumping rights". Allow districts to modify or eliminate the "steps and lanes" automatic increases that classified employees now enjoy as needed to fit budgetary requirements without having to renegotiate the master agreement.
4. Create an independent arbitrator corps that can only consider "last, best total offer" proposals on contract negotiations rather than acting as a negotiator in their own right, or allow districts the ability to implement a contract without the labor unions' agreement. This modification would go a long way toward balancing the needs of individual school districts that must, by law, negotiate individually against the power of the statewide union organization.
5. Allow school boards to determine school calendars, including staff development days and other non-student contact work days. Set a minimum school year length (there is currently no standard; each district's number of student contact days is set by the teacher committee).
By remodeling the framework by which we operate our schools, we will go a long way toward modernizing our publica school system and meeting the Minnesota constitutional requirement of "thorough and efficient schools".