Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.


Another parent speaks out

Posted on Thu, May. 12, 2005

Is adequacy really the goal we want for Minnesota schools?

I am ever so grateful to have teenagers living at my house.

I know, I know, you're thinking I'm certifiable.

The real reason I'm grateful is that having teens means, as a family, we are crawling closer to the end of direct involvement with the Minnesota K-12 school system.

I feel my children have received excellent educations in Minnesota public schools.

But their achievements are made more remarkable by the fact that over these past 13 years, they've navigated a rocky path through a system that is increasingly underfunded at both state and federal levels — even as more costly accountability measures are demanded by all levels of government. These same years saw a dramatic rise in English language learners, students from single-parent families, and students from economically challenged homes — all huge and costly challenges for educators. The trail is steep and growing steeper.

When my children were small I used to buy their pants a little too big, because I knew they'd grow into them (and, amazingly, they always did). One day my daughter would come to me and say, "There's no wiggle room left." And that's how I knew when to buy a new pair. Recently my daughter mouthed those words again, and it brought a smile to my face, except this time she wasn't talking about her pants. Instead, she was browsing the list of budget cuts initiated by the school board in our district, ISD 834 in Stillwater. Teachers (some tenured) are being laid off. All media specialists (librarians) will be gone next year, supply budgets will be cut (again), new curriculum and books scheduled for purchase (science texts in use date to the '80s) will be delayed indefinitely. Cuts on top of cuts made over the past 10 years tell the story: There is no wiggle room.

In 1993 there were 126 faculty members for 1,770 students at Stillwater High School. In 2005 there are 96 faculty for 2,400 students. This high school will "take the hit" again next year by firing more teachers and reducing elective offerings. Class sizes will rise to more than 40 in some cases.

This same story, or some version of it, is being played out in public schools across the state. Meanwhile, our state legislators discuss the definition of an "adequate" or "basic" education. And I wonder, how far do we cut to get to "adequate"? Am I living in a parallel universe? Somehow this is not the Minnesota I know.

Our family places a high priority on education, and, hard as it is to believe, we've encouraged our children to be more than "adequate." Consistently their teachers and school administrators tell them they must strive for more than "adequate." Indeed, "adequate" and "basic" were fine back when I graduated from high school, because there was a factory in town that paid a living wage. Heck, it even provided a few benefits, enough for a family to live modestly. No more.

Lately I wonder about the values of my own generation — the baby boomers. Sadly, our "no new taxes" mantra leaves no wiggle room — no space for librarians or teachers or bold new programs to improve our communities.

And then I feel thankful to have teens. I see my friends who have children in elementary school and I wonder. I worry about how much harder it will be for them to be advocates for their children in a system with ever-decreasing resources. And I wonder, and I worry, about our shrinking community-mindedness in Minnesota.

We sorely need some wiggle room.

Murray, a 2005 Pioneer Press community columnist, is a parent volunteer for District 834, participating on communications teams at the school and district levels. She is also the Schools for Energy Efficiency volunteer coordinator at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo and a member of Stillwater Schools Take Action Network. Email her at rmmurray@mac.com.