Before I write about something that is kind of boring, I want to comment about the school levies that failed this fall. Seventeen of 33 passed. This count marks the lowest passage rate — at just 51.5% — since 2008. It’s too bad. It’s a darn shame. What were we thinking? Let me tell you a story.
It seems this one philanthropist was willing to give $1 million to each of 50 ninth-graders in his local high school. To earn the million each of the 50 would have to graduate four years later. The rich man also said he would give all the teachers $1 million each plus each of the parents. Wow! How busy do you think the teachers and parents were in ensuring that all 50 students were progressing towards graduation?
After four years and within a month of graduation, the philanthropist appeared at the school board meeting to give them an update. With much distress he said that his investments took a big hit and he was not able to fulfill his commitment. After lots of moans and groans and gnashing of teeth, he said something quite profound that should resonate with every of us. He said, “Yes, I know this is a disappointment but aren’t our children worth more than a million dollars each?”
It’s a story I have told before but we need to remind ourselves that when it comes to dollars spent for education, every dollar is worth it. Your children and grandchildren are worth it and my grandchild is worth it. And, without a doubt, they are worth more than $1 million each.
Now, for the boring. I want to tell you about a state mandated educational program titled World’s Best Work Force that has been around since 2013. It has five critical goals and each school in Minnesota has to make an annual report on their progress. So, with all the balls that educators have to juggle, they have five more big balls to juggle.
I am going to comment on each goal and give my two cents worth. The goals are ambitious and Minnesota districts are doing their best to fulfill them. If you wish to see how your district is doing, just go to your school website and search for World’s Best Work Force.
The first of the five goals is: All children are ready for school.
Head Start and preschool programs are excellent choices for parents. There are only a handful of states that have aggressively moved to provide high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds. They include Oklahoma, West Virginia, Georgia and the District of Columbia. The push toward public supported preschools is critical especially for low-income families and before long you will find similar programs provided in every school.
The second goal is: All third-graders can read at grade level.
Of course, we want all children to be able to read. Unfortunately this goal assumes that all third-graders are on the same page. They are not. One of my favorite quotes is, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” In third grade you may have some students who are still at the kindergarten level and you may have some students who are reading at a fifth or sixth grade level. Where is the third grade? It’s spread out all over the place. Why? Because children do not learn at the same rate and to push may cause more harm than good.
The third goal is: Achievement gaps are closed by 2026.
As it currently exists the gap in reading between white students and non-white students is about 25%. In math it is about 29%. The goal will never be reached unless two things occur. Let’s first agree that all students are able to achieve, they are able to learn. Schools need to personalize instruction more, find ways for students to experience more success and connect reading and math to the interests of students. Second, our traditional model of schooling does not work for about 50% to 60% of our students. How do we know that? Only 40% of our students get A’s and B’s. We need more continuous progress programs, more schools within schools, more alternative programs and more charter schools. With more options the chances are greater that we can close the gap.
The fourth goal is: All students graduate.
The graduation rate for white students in Minnesota is around 87% and for non-white, around 65% and in many districts lower. We will never graduate 100% of our students unless we have more schools of choice and/or the total community becomes involved as we are trying to do in Beltrami County with Project Graduate. Continuing on our current path without significant change will not bring about the change we are all hoping for or looking for. Schools need to become much more creative. (If anyone is interested in my most recent publication "Creating Educational Change During the COVID-19 Era," please give me a call and I will send you a free copy.)
The fifth goal is: All students are ready for college and career.
This goal can be measured by ACT scores or, among others, how many high school students take college classes. How can this goal be achieved? In 1934 the Eight-Year Study began, which involved 30 high schools (3,000 high school students) and 300 universities. Half of the students attended traditional high schools and half attended schools that focused on personalized instruction and continuous progress learning among other innovations. All students were exempted from the usual college entrance exams.
After eight years, among other results, it was found that the experimental students did better regarding college grades, participation, critical thinking, aesthetic judgment and knowledge of contemporary affairs. More importantly, graduates of the experimental programs were strikingly more successful later in life. Time to ask you a question. How would you change high schools today to meet this goal?
The World’s Best Work Force program is an attempt to improve our schools. It has some flaws but it is on the right track. We continually strive to find ways to help students learn. We just have to be more creative when it comes to accomplishing the five goals and always remember there is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.
Riddle: What is better, an old $10 bill or a new one? (Answer: An old $10 bill is better than a new “one?”) Let’s never assume that because you and I graduated from traditional schools that this method is good for all students. Indeed, our graduation rates and test scores show that we need to still keep the old but try something new.
If the World’s Best Work Force wishes to graduate “all” students, why not just say “100%”? We report graduation rates in percentages, let's make our goal 100%. “All” is too feeble and spineless. Saying 100% of our students is more bold and meaningful.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.