NEWS DAY | School news from “less bad” to grim / MnDOT still fails / T-Paw health care proposals

tc_schoolhouseSchools clinging to “less bad” as good news With this fall’s enrollment figures just in, the “less bad” news in Minneapolis Public Schools is that the student count is down, but not by as much as predicted, reports the Star Tribune. After the major enrollment declines of 2003-2007 — about a thousand students each year, Minneapolis lost only 250 students last year and only 300 this year. The district had predicted a loss of 880 students this year. District officials, according to the Star Tribune, cited “a slowdown in the number of Minneapolis students leaving the district for charter schools, and a slowdown in migration out of the district by families with school-age children.

St. Paul released the 2009 “State of the Schools” report yesterday, and it looks like more “less bad” news packaged as good news. The Pioneer Press accurately headlined the news as “grim:”

For the third straight year, St. Paul’s superintendent of schools gathered community leaders in a downtown meeting room and laid out where the city’s children stand on a variety of academic measures.

And for the third straight year, the data showed about three-quarters of the targets set for students in the district’s strategic plan are not being met.

The achievement gap is still large. The report contains 30 tables reporting student progress on various measures. In the important measures of reading, science and math achievement, as measured by the MCA-II tests at the elementary and secondary levels, news was not good.

Only one group reports overall reading proficiency – and that’s Caucasian students, showing 80 percent proficiency. No other group reports the 50 percent proficiency that was the district goal for this year. Latinos, moving up from 46 percent to 48 percent proficiency, come closest, but reading proficiency declined or remained steady for all other groups.
Math proficiency figures were similar, with only Caucasian students above 50 percent proficiency, though all student groups made some progress from 2006-2009. Science proficiency was even worse, with the district failing to meet the 28 percent proficiency goal that it set for itself.

Out of 30 tables reporting student progress (or lack thereof), only three showed goals that had been met — completion of honors courses, PSAT test-taking by 11th graders, and “accelerate MCA-II annual growth rate.”

Despite the year-after-year failure to achieve previously-set goals, interim superintendent Suzanne Kelly still insists that the SPPS goal for this year is a 10 percentage-point gain in proficiency on state tests this year among all student groups, according to the Pioneer Press.

Once more, with feeling: MnDOT still fails
No matter the goals it has set for a decade, no matter the inflow of federal stimulus funds, the Minnesota Department of Transportation still fails in hiring minority and women contractors and employees. MPR reports:

In fact, new MnDOT statistics show the number of minorities and women on state road and bridge construction projects has declined from last year.

Federal rules require that states report the number of minority workers on projects where federal dollars are used. A MnDOT survey of contractors in late July shows the companies employed 114 people of color, down from 159 last year.

The minority workers were just over 6 percent of the people employed, while minorities make up about 12 percent of Minnesota’s population.

(For more information on protests against MnDOT hiring failures, see TC Daily Planet reporting here and here.)

MnDOT’s solution, as we have previously reported, is simple: move the goal post. Instead of hiring more minority and women workers and contractors, MnDOT will take two important steps:

1) Hire a consultant – the bureaucrat’s answer to everything.

2) Cut hiring goals in half. Even though minorities make up 12 percent of Minnesota’s population (and women substantially more than that), MnDOT’s new goal will be directing just eight percent of the value of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses.

Way to go!

Health care reform and T-Paw Not ready for prime time. That’s a charitable assessment of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s proposals for state health care reform, which includemaking indigent patients pay more through higher deductibles and co-pays for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare enrollees and opening MN health insurance markets to out-of-state insurance companies and for-profit health insurers.

The Star Tribune quotes Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, on the Pawlenty plan for increasing out of pocket payments by medically indigent Minnesotans:

“The problem with co-pays and deductibles is that they do discourage people from getting medical care,” Huntley said. “That’s probably OK for most younger men, but our big cost is people with disabilities, and if they don’t get proper medical care, we get very, very big costs.”

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