I had the opportunity to listen to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday address a business group in St. Paul. Throughout his governorship, Pawlenty has expressed concern about the state’s education system. Pawlenty notes that many kids are not being properly prepared to succeed in the emerging globally marketplace. Here is was he said on Feb. 7 about education:
Just one generation ago, if you missed the educational rung or skill rung, there was still a large safety net. There was the large safety net of manual labor jobs that offered higher pay and better benefits than many of them are offering today. A lot of those jobs are gone now. They have migrated to different places.
It is more important than ever that we have as many children as possible with an education or skill that is relevant to the economy of the future, and yet we have an education system that we designed in the 1940s. We have an iPod world now. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all world. With the exception of some special needs and gifted kids, our schools work kind of like an assembly line. And that is not the world we live in anymore.
When you hear the education debate, almost all the discussion is about how much money is going in. That is one important measure. I will concede they need to get some more money in; they are getting more money in. We are proposing about an 8 percent increase for the schools in this next budget cycle for K-12; it’s well into double digits for higher education.
But in addition to how much money is going in, we are focusing on trying to get some reforms that also measure the results we are getting. Does the money align to the result? Is the money aligned to the things that are actually changing student performance? This, believe it or not, is a novel concept in government. I know it is not in business. In business you say: What is my business? Who are my customers? What measurements do we have to determine whether we are getting the results that we want? And, is the money aligned to those results?
We are just starting that, 20 years late in government. With carrots, not sticks, we are saying: Join us in a different kind of system where we pay you not just for how many years you have been around, but on whether you are getting training that is actually relevant to what you are doing in the class room. Are you willing to mentor a younger teacher who is new? Are you willing to put some time into that? If you are, we will give you some extra pay. And can you move the needle with your class, not compared to some fancy school district, but from your school district? Can you move the needle on student performance, and if you can, we’ll give you some more money for that. That’s the kind of thinking we need in our schools. And we are constructively, gently, moving that way, and it’s big cultural change.
In high school, we have some really gifted and talented kids who are doing great even by international standards. We have some children who need special accommodation.
But we have a lot of “in-betweener” students who are coasting. The academic progress of these in-betweeners has flat-lined. It is flat as a pancake. We are spending a ton of money on two or three years of high school for an experience that, for too many of our kids, is adding next to no academic progress. So we have got to get more of our kids into more rigorous programs, something that is more interesting, something they are passionate about. More AP classes, more IB classes, more post-secondary enrollment classes, more technical college, while they are in school.
We need to re-orient the high school experience. Not physically, but virtually to something very different from what it is now. Bill Gates says the American high school is obsolete… that we are preparing kids for the economy and citizenship of 40 years ago. He said preparing kids for the economy of today and tomorrow in today’s high school is like using a 50-year-old mainframe. So there is dramatic change that needs to come. There’s huge institutional and cultural resistance, but we are trying to do it constructively, but it is a very, very important reform.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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