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The Education Innovator #36
Volume II
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The Education Innovator
 September 27, 2004 • Number 36
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Feature
Minnesota Division of School Choice and Innovation
What's New
OII awards State Charter School Facilities grants; OII sponsors a symposium on implementing school choice; 50 private and 6 charter schools named NCLB Blue Ribbon Schools; the Education Commission of the States issues policy papers on charter schools and NCLB; Fordham Institute reports that public school teachers send their children to private schools; Broad Foundation awards the 2004 Prize for Urban Education; U.S. News publishes the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Teacher; PBS broadcasts the performance of 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts; and teachers provide guidance in the Boston Globe's "Ask the Teacher" column.
Innovations in the News
New report says New York City charter schools act as seeds of change, plus information on magnet schools, closing the achievement gap, supplemental educational services, and Transition to Teaching.

Minnesota Division of School Choice and Innovation Unites Promising Reforms
The American pioneer spirit means going where no one else has gone before and inventing new things with a fierce sense of independence and self-reliance. Minnesota has fostered this spirit in education, and it is embodied in the state's new Division of School Choice and Innovation.

In 1988, Minnesota was the first state to develop a state-coordinated public school choice program. This statewide program built upon the choice program started in 1985 that afforded high school juniors and seniors, in both public and nonpublic schools, to enroll in colleges and universities using elementary and secondary state funds to pay the tuition.

Minnesota was also the first state to enact a charter school law (in 1991), and the first charter school in the nation was started in Minnesota. In addition, the state passed an education tax credit and deduction law in 1997 to help parents meet the cost of sending their child to private school.

Today, nearly 30 percent of all Minnesota K-12 public school students participate in one of the state's many public school choice options. About 11 percent of K-12 students (including those in home schools) are enrolled in nonpublic education and receive assistance in shouldering costs through the state's education tax credit and deduction program. Last school year, about 575 nonpublic schools (not counting home schools) served 90,000 children.

With so many choices available, research by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota showed that choice efforts needed to be better coordinated across the state. Governor Tim Pawlenty and Cheri Yecke, then-Commissioner of Education, reorganized the State Department of Education in early 2003, and the Division of School Choice and Innovation was born.

Led by Morgan Brown and a staff of 20, the division aims to better leverage or utilize the state's existing innovative programs to align with the goals of The No Child Left Behind Act. To do this, the division works toward three objectives:

  • to use choice to close the achievement gap;
  • to establish more consistent quality across educational choices; and
  • to increase access to choices, particularly for disadvantaged families.
The division manages thirteen state programs, which cover a broad range of choice approaches. In addition to administering the charter, magnet, and alternative school programs, and supplemental educational services, the division also oversees online learning schools and programs, the Learning Year program (that provides for extended day and extended year schools), and Indian education programs (Minnesota has seven state-funded education programs focused on providing opportunities for American Indians at the preK-12, as well as postsecondary, levels).

Additionally, the division is responsible for three federal grants from the Office of Innovation and Improvement: a charter school grant, a state charter school facilities incentive grant (see "What's New"), and a voluntary public school choice grant.

The division was established to mirror, at the state level, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement by facilitating research and development of promising innovations within the state. To do this, the division is charged with identifying successful programs and building bridges among schools to share practices that appear to help close the achievement gap. To date, the office has brought all the state's choice programs under one roof and has conducted energetic outreach for these programs. The office has also worked collaboratively with Education Evolving—a Minnesota think tank—and others to develop a resource guide for charter school sponsors. download files PDF (1MB)

To carry out its programs, the Division of School Choice and Innovation coordinates with other parts of the Minnesota Department of Education and community organizations to provide information and technical assistance to schools and the public about the school choice options in Minnesota. For example, multiple sample letters about choice for school districts to use to inform parents about schools in need of improvement are available on the state department of education's website. The letters are written in seven languages: English, Spanish, Hmong, Lao, Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese.

Sample letters that school districts can use to inform parents about their right to access supplemental educational services are also available online. Supplemental educational services are the free tutoring and other extra academic help available to low-income students who attend a Title I school identified as in need of improvement for two years or more . The Division of School Choice and Innovation coordinates the process of approving and maintaining a list of supplemental services providers, and oversees the monitoring of these providers. Currently, 43 providers are approved to serve the state, including several providers that can serve the Spanish, Hmong, and Somali Communities.

Much like the Office of Non-Public Education in the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the office also provides information about private education. "Nonpublic School Choice" is provided as an option on the State Department of Education's website menu. This menu item lists nonpublic school accrediting agencies and policies affecting Minnesota nonpublic schools. The website also gives the roster and meeting schedule of the Nonpublic Education Council, which is composed of leaders from nonpublic schools (including home schools) who make recommendations to Minnesota's Department of Education.

Where does Minnesota stand after almost 20 years of school choice? Although school choice does not necessarily account for all education success in Minnesota, according to the 2002 Center for School Change report on choice in the state, "Minnesota's public school choice plans have produced many benefits for participating students, as well as for the overall public education system."

The pupil-to-teacher ratio is 16 to 1—the same as the national average, but lower than California's, for example, which is about a 20 to 1 ratio. Per pupil expenditure is about $7,645, which is close to the national average, but much lower than New Jersey's, for example, which is about $11,800. On the 2003 eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math, 44 percent of students were at or above the proficient level, compared to the national average of 27 percent. The average 2004 ACT composite score for Minnesota students was 22.2, compared with 20.9 nationwide, and 66 percent of students took the ACT in 2004.

Research has shown that Minnesota parents are very satisfied with the state's choice program. The new office will support and build on that satisfaction. According to Morgan Brown, "By making students and their families our primary customers and by working collaboratively with charter school resource organizations on such issues as authorizing, accountability, and facilities, for example, our office and the State Department of Education as a whole have improved our assistance to the rapidly growing number of public charter schools in Minnesota. We have also extended outreach to customers about the many other choice options, as well."

Resources: Note: This feature describes a state office that is dedicated to coordinating the state's educational choice options. It is offered as a case study from which other states might learn.

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What's New
OII Awards State Charter School Facilities Incentives Grants
OII has awarded grants to the Minnesota Department of Education, the California School Finance Authority, the Utah State Office of Education, and DC Public Schools under the State Charter School Facilities Incentives program. The grants support payments to charter schools to finance school facilities on a per-pupil basis. (Sept. 21)


Innovations in Education Symposium
OII will sponsor a symposium for school districts to learn about the strategies and practices in the Innovations in Education books on Successful District School Choice Programs (published May 2004) and Successful Magnet School Programs (forthcoming), November 8-9. WestEd and Edvance will conduct this informational session in Phoenix, AZ. Applications are due by Oct. 6 to Nikola Filby at WestEd or fax to 415-512-2024. (Sept. 27)


2004 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools
Fifty private schools and six charter schools (Ralph A. Gates, CA; Jacoby Creek, CA; Summit Middle, CO; Princeton Charter, NJ; Laboratory Charter School of Communications and Languages, PA; and Jefferson, Stevens Point, WI) are among the approximately 250 winners of the 2004 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools recognition. Gates is also featured in OII's Successful Charter Schools book. The purpose of the Blue Ribbon Schools Program is to recognize schools that have made progress in closing the achievement gap or whose students achieve at high levels. (Sept. 17)


Education Commission of the States' Policy Papers on Charter Schools and NCLB
The Education Commission of the States has issued a pair of policy papers on charter schools and No Child Left Behind. The papers recommend that states increase the supply of high-quality charter schools and convert schools in need of improvement to charter status. (Sept. 21)


Report From the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
A new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report download files PDF (57K) says that urban public school teachers are more likely than either urban households or the general public to send their children to private schools. (Sept. 7)


2004 Broad Prize for Urban Education
The Broad Foundation has announced the winner of the 2004 Broad Prize for Urban Education: Garden Grove Unified School District (CA), which was awarded $500,000 for college scholarships. Four other finalists were awarded $125,000 each. The four finalists have also received at least one OII grant: Aldine Independent School District (TX), Arts Model; Boston Public Schools, Teaching American History; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Magnet Schools; and Norfolk Public Schools, Technology Innovation. The Broad prizes recognize successful efforts to close achievement gaps. (Sept. 21)


Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Teacher
Ben Wildavsky and the staff of U.S. News and World Report have released the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Teacher, which gives the nuts and bolts of entering the teaching profession for recent college graduates and others interested in pursuing teaching. It also provides information on individual education schools, and includes a chapter on alternate routes to certification. (Sept. 22) (available for sale)


PBS Broadcasts Performance of Presidential Scholars in the Arts
Twenty Presidential Scholars in the Arts appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, during Arts Week. The performance of these high school seniors recently aired on PBS (Sept. 22)


Boston Globe's "Ask The Teacher Column"
Teachers provide guidance to parents in the Boston Globe's "Ask the Teacher " column, which was launched in May. Ellen Peterson, a fourth-grade teacher in Weymouth, MA offers some direction based on what she learned at the Boston Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston several years ago. [More-Boston.com] (Sept. 5)


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Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
A new report on New York City charter schools from the Progressive Policy Institute says, "Beyond improving student learning in individual schools, New York City charter schools act as 'seeds of change' for the entire school system in a variety of ways..." [More-Boston.Com News] (Sept. 21)

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has announced plans to enlist a nonprofit organization, Civic Builders, to develop new homes for charter schools. A portion of the costs will come from the school system, with the remaining money coming from private donations and bank loans. [More-New York Daily News] (Sept. 23)

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is the first nonprofit organization in Ohio to gain approval from the Ohio Department of Education to sponsor charter schools. [More-Dayton Daily News] (Sept. 13)

Magnet Schools
Two OII magnet school grants to Longview and Victoria Independent School Districts in Texas will have an impact on students, education professionals, and the community. [More-News-Journal] (Sept. 12)

Closing the Achievement Gap
About 30 public and private boarding schools around the country specifically cater to low-income children to bolster their academic achievement. Proponents say students are thriving under the round-the- clock supervision. [More-Washington Post] (Sept. 21)

Supplemental Educational Services
Some Washington, DC area school districts will begin to compete with private tutoring companies this fall, offering supplemental educational services (after-school instruction) to low-income students with money provided by the U.S. Department of Education. [More-Washington Post] (Sept. 21)

Transition to Teaching
The University of Louisiana in Monroe recently received a $2 million grant for its "Louisiana Transition to Teaching" program, which has the goal of increasing the number of certified teachers in classrooms, particularly in hard-to-fill rural schools. [More-Advertiser] (Sept. 20)

To help relieve the state's teacher shortage, as well as to make it easier for talented individuals to enter the field, Kansas adopted the Transition to Teaching program. The program offers restricted certification, and participants have three years to complete required courses. [More-Tonganoxie Mirror] (Sept. 15)

North Carolina Central University has been awarded a $2.1 million dollar Transition to Teaching grant to attract aspiring teachers to high-need areas, particularly Vance and Warren Counties. Each year, 25 aspiring teachers will begin a two-and-a-half year "distance learning" program of face-to-face, Internet, and teleconferencing interaction with the ultimate goal of earning teaching certificates. [More-Sun Herald] (Sept. 16)

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Last Modified: 01/25/2008