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Five Ways Forward: Policy Ideas to Move Minnesota Forward in 2013

January 30, 2013 By Minnesota 2020 Fellows

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Balancing the budget, restoring tax fairness, and reforming the state education funding formula will capture much of the attention this legislative session. However, there are other important, but lower-profile, issues lawmakers on both sides must work on over the next five months.

Five Ways Forward explores five bold policy ideas lawmakers should also consider in the 2013 legislative session covering a wide range of topics that include, reducing medical errors, expanding opportunities for solar investment, increasing transit funding, better evaluating teacher performance, and reviving main streets.



Reduce Medical Errors through More Transparent Reporting
Medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. To curb this, Minnesota 2020 proposes a hybrid free market-regulatory approach requiring health care providers to disclose a wider range of medical errors allowing patients and insurers to make more informed treatment decisions.

Expand Opportunities for Solar Investors
Despite potential, Minnesota hasn't capitalized on its solar resources. By raise net metering limits solar array owners can sell more of their unused power back at the average retail price. Also, remove restrictions on third-party investors would help more moderate income Minnesotans avoid high upfront solar costs.

Repurpose Unoccupied Storefronts on Main Streets and Urban Neighborhoods
Every one of Minnesota 854 incorporated cities has at least one mid-century building sitting vacant that’s too young to declare historic, but can still provide value to the community. We should explore ways to convert such buildings to multi-occupancy work spaces, where small businesses cold share common areas to reduce overhead. Provide tax credits to building owners who make sustainable building retro-fits.

Broaden Statewide Transit
Minnesota transit ridership continues growing, yet transit investment falls short of what's needed for a 21st century transportation system. Policymakers should ensure funding to guarantee federal matching dollars for southwest light rail. For Greater Minnesota, follow the Minnesota Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s report recommending $45 million annually to meet statutory requirements, which are partially designed to accommodate an aging population that’s more transit reliant.

Find Fairness in Evaluating Teachers
Minnesota’s legislature passed a law—which goes into effect in the 2014-2015 school year—mandating 35% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement, which would likely be measured by a high-stakes test. Educators say this is an unrealistic and arbitrary performance measure aimed at diminishing the public’s trust in teachers. Instead of student achievement based on testing, teachers say the evaluation should be based on proof of learning, which takes into account a wider variety of assessment and is a more accurate measure of student progress.

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  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 30, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Re: Transit.  The newly-re-opened (and gorgeous) depot in downtown St. Paul will serve both local and intercity buses via Jefferson Lines.  Perhaps Jefferson could/would expand its service to smaller towns now pretty much accessible only by car.

    Re: Education. In Seattle, teachers are demonstrating and refusing to accept the teacher “evaluations” that standardized tests—under both Bush and Obama—supply to the enemies of public education as justification for punishing teachers and schools.

    The goal is to weaken or kill teachers unions, close “poorly performing” schools and replace them with charters, preferably private charters financed with public dollars.

    We should refuse the funding rather than submit to this blackmail.

  • Clark Bergman says:

    January 30, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Regarding evaluation of teachers:  I have difficulty understanding how teachers can be fairly evaluated based on their students performance on standardized tests.  If I were in this situation I would lobby hard to teach only honors students.  What if someone is teaching students at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The greatest teacher in the world may not look so good if they are teaching students having little capacity to learn.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 30, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Exactly, Clark. 

    Google Diane Ravitch, former assistant sec. of education under George Bush, for articles on why she quit her job after seeing the harm No Child was doing to children, teachers and public schools.

  • Charlotte Meinz says:

    January 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Improving transit, developing solar energy and making medical errors more transparent are all great ideas.
    Testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness with it counting as 35% of the evaluation is an UNFAIR measure.  Teachers get a wide range of diversity in their students—-academic ability,  student effort and interest in learning, varied economic and cultural backgrounds, family support systems and the situations/problems students face at home. These factors greatly impact what a student does in the classroom and the teacher is one factor. 
    The goal of destroying unions and berating public schools and public school teachers has been a focus in recent years.  It is a Republican objective to weaken unions and public education.  How do they explain how the use of vouchers to send money to private schools and to take money AWAY from underperforming public schools is an effort to improve them????  How does that make sense?  Do private schools educate EVERYONE that enters the door?  Schools need to be fairly funded to be successful.
    Through the years, MN has had excellent student scores in ACT tests and we continue to do well on them even now that the pool of students who take those tests has expanded. 
    We burden teachers with so many NEW GOOD IDEAS and NEW RESPONSIBILITIES every year that it limits their time to use their skills and teach in the way they can best benefit their students.  The amount of time spent on testing is outrageous—-taking hours of classroom instruction time.  WHEN the results of the tests are used to HELP teachers do a better job it makes some sense.
    Making teachers accountable can happen with good observations and support from administrators and mentor teachers.  The first three years before a teacher is tenured gives ample opportunity to determine the potential of a new teacher.  Getting rid of teacher tenure is not the answer, improving the performance of administrators is.  If they do their job and observe and become involved in what a teacher is doing, they should know where the problems lie and if the teacher has potential.  Until a teacher earns tenure they can be released for no reason and when tenured, documented problems can lead to the dismissal of an underperforming teacher.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Re:  Medical Errors

    A couple (a few?) years ago, a famous surgeon significantly reduced surgical errors in his hospital by producing check lists to be consulted by all operating room personnel before surgery began.

    He was astonished to see how many important steps in most procedures were forgotten when the check lists were not followed. (He wrote a book about it, but I can’t remember his name. Sorry.)

    This seems like an excellent way to prevent rather than report at least some kinds of medical errors.

  • Rachel says:

    January 30, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Bernice, I think perhaps this is the one you were talking about:

    The book was written by Dr. Atul Gawande—titled The Checklist Manifesto—and the doctor is Peter Provovost at Johns Hopkins.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you, Rachel!  You are correct.

  • Vici says:

    January 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Medical Errors:  Agree with usefulness of Checklist by Atul Gawande.  Reporting errors needs to be part of helping hospitals with process improvement.

    Energy:  Add wind.

    Teacher Evaluation:  Agree with need to use broad measures.  Most helpful would be assisting (where needed) in strong professional development and mentoring programs.  This would include careful look at students’ progress.

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    January 30, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    More focus on serving students with poverty, nutrition, development and language issues will raise the averages more than anything else.  Raising standards may sound like a good idea to politicians, but we should be mastering the standards already in place.  Raising standards at the secondary level just assures that gaps will remain. We are never much concerned about the top half of students, but the bottom half you will always have with you unless mastery standards are in place.
    Our curricula should be basic, with explicit standards of mastery perhaps similar to a catechismal layout.  The core curriculum is meant to accomplish recognition of the basic expectations.

    Standardized tests might not even be testing what the teacher has taught.  Criterion-referenced tests are most practical for teachers.  Standardized tests are broad measures that are of interest to legislatures. 

    We have yet to have recognized measures of the teacher actions, but those measures will come.  We have some idea of what a teacher teaching should look like.  Brief rubrics for self-evaluation are most helpful, especially when related to effective instruction principles. 

    New members of the teacher corps have a lot to learn in terms of training and searching out effective teaching practices that engage their interests.  It is always confronting to notice that when a teacher retires forty years of training walks out of the door, often to be replaced by a neophyte.  It takes ten years of professional development topics to bring a teacher to master teacher level.  Train teachers for the biggest payoff from our public investments.

    “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”  Gene Autry

  • Eric Andersen says:

    April 22, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Teachers do not have a problem with being evaluated and being held accountable.  Just do this on things that we have some semblance of an ability to influence.  The teacher evaluation program starting in 2014-2015 does not have anything in it that should scare teachers.(Unless you have power-crazed administrators.)  The biggest beef is to put a $290 million teacher evaluation program in without giving the school district a dime to fund it.  Oh wait - some legislators were talking about kicking in a whopping $10 million.  Enacting this will put schools further in the financial hole even with the increases to school funding.  If it is so important to the business community that teacher evaluations be put into place lets have a special business tax to pay for it.  If the business community does not want to pay it must not be that important to them.