An education solution? Look East!

This week’s school levy votes around Minnesota have reignited a debate that’s been going nowhere for years: why aren’t our schools better and why is it costing us so much not to be?

The post-levy rhetoric has offered few solutions, and plenty of accusations.

Perhaps the answer lies in Boston, where today a report on so-called “pilot schools,” will reveal that students in these high schools perform better on tests, are suspended less frequently, attend class more often, and graduate in higher percentages than students enrolled in regular high schools, according to the Boston Globe.

Pilot schools have a governing board that pretty much decides everything about the school. The staff can override the board by a two-thirds vote on matters of staffing. The school day is longer, the school year is longer, the teacher can write the academic curriculum, and students (along with their parents) have more responsibilities. The schools are not run from the top down.

At first blush, it sounds like a charter school. But the program is set up to compete with charter schools, somewhat odd since charter schools were set up to compete with public schools.

Does it work? It’s not flawless but today’s report will say that students enrolled in the Boston pilot schools had a higher ninth-grade attendance, higher promotion rates to the 10th, and higher tenth-grade test scores.

Critics, and you can bet there are some, say the results are better because the pilot schools have taken the most motivated students. And in two recent cases of schools trying to convert to pilot schools, the teachers voted it down.

Is there a lesson for Minnesota here? Perhaps. There was a presentation on Tuesday night, according to the U of M’s Center for School Change as part of a series looking at ideas for improving inner-city education.

Change? Sure, why not? But is it really possible to change something like the education system in Minnesota — or anywhere else — without blowing it up and starting over?

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