State ahead of the pack
Panel's advice will help improve teacher quality
By Ashley H. Grant
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota, already among the best in the nation on school test scores, will be the first state to work with a national nonpartisan panel to improve the quality of its teachers.
"It's all common sense," Louis Gerstner Jr., chairman of The Teaching Commission and former chairman of IBM, told hundreds gathered at an education forum Wednesday.
The 19-member panel made of former governors, business executives, school superintendents and former First Lady Barbara Bush earlier this year released a 64-page booklet of recommendations called "Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action."
It's designed to provide a sort of blueprint on what the country should do to improve education in this competitive, high-tech world -- especially as two-thirds of America's teachers are expected to retire in the next decade.
If changes aren't made now to give U.S. students an edge over those in other parts of the world, it could create "decades of decline," said Gerstner.
"It's going to be too late 10 years from now," he said. "I want you all in Minnesota to show this country that this problem can be solved."
An official from Education Minnesota, the teachers' union in the state, said it is too early to know what the state's teachers think about the proposal.
Key proposals in the plan include:
Recruiting smart, motivated teachers, paying them more so they can afford to stay in the profession long term, and giving them more of a role in how schools are run.
Making it easier for people who have spent time working in other fields to become teachers in those fields without spending four years in college to get a teaching degree.
More rigorous college preparation programs that will draw higher-caliber students into the profession and better professional development programs for working teachers.
Paying better teachers more money and paying teachers in high-demand fields like math and science more than those who teach social studies and English, for instance.
The proposals will be the basis for possible changes in the way Minnesota's teachers are trained, scrutinized and rewarded for years to come, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.
"In the coming months, we're going to reach out with these ideas," he said, adding that nothing would happen unless education groups, Republicans and Democrats were working together to make them happen.
Pawlenty said he would propose directing more money toward K-12 education in the 2005 legislative session if lawmakers agreed that the money would be linked to teacher performance.
"That will clearly be on the table," he said. "That will be front and center in the upcoming session."
If all sides come together on the commission's recommendations, Pawlenty expects the entire package to be in place within a couple of years.
So far, it seems to have bipartisan support.