What’s Plan B for educating Minnesota kids? (5×8 – 11/27/12)

What to do with kids who can’t, Lennon’s confirmation, Sandy’s disaster karma, the have-nots, and the jokes of holiday shopping.


For several years, Minnesota officials have wrestled with the fact a substantial number of Minnesota kids aren’t good enough at math to graduate from high school. For several years, schools have graduated the kids anyway because getting tough and adhering to the standards would mean a substantial number of Minnesota kids wouldn’t graduate, even though they get additional chances to pass the reading and math tests. A student needs to flunk the test three times not to graduate.

A solution, the Star Tribune reports today, has been found by a panel of educators: Drop the tests.

It’s not as if the Legislature hasn’t tackled this before. In 2009, it pushed the “we really mean it this time” date for enforcing the test back to 2015.

Rep. Carlos Mariani told the paper the tests were too much involved in judging the teacher. “We’re trying to find a more intelligent way to do it, knowing that some students don’t test well, which doesn’t mean that they’re not proficient,” he told the newspaper.

But some employers and some colleges disagree. Many of them say kids don’t have the reading/writing skills they need and, in college at least, they’re spending the early part of the academic career teaching the students what they should’ve learned in high school.

The curmudgeonly reaction to all of this: “What’s the matter with these kids today?” But we’re not talking about simple addition here. When’s the last time you needed to know how to figure out the prism of a cylinder to get through a day, let alone graduate from high school?

Or this…


Or this one from a 2009 MPR story from Tom Weber:

A rabbit population grew in the following pattern…2,4,8,16…If all the rabbits live and the pattern continues, how many rabbits will be in the 8th generation? (Answer at bottom of page)

A) 32

B) 128

C) 256

D) 512

The answer is “C” and, no, I don’t know the formula that led to this answer and I don’t need to. I write words for a living. Maybe the kid in my 11th grade class who went on to become an engineer doesn’t know what crime is committed when one splits an infinitive. I do.

All of this gets back to how we educate students in the first place. Do they all need to know the same things? Or can there be some specialization in recognition of the skills they’ll actually need? What’s the answer here?

Oh, and while you’re thinking about that, here are some more samples.

Related math: What’s the chance you’ll win the record Powerball jackpot? It’s a trick question: The answer is “zero.” Unless you couldn’t pass the math grad standards test.


A Detroit Lakes teenager has been denied confirmation because he posted on Facebook that he supports gay marriage. His parents have been denied Communion. Now, Forum Communications reports, the family of Lennon Cihak is considering an offer from a Chicago Catholic splinter group — the Evangelical Catholic Church.

Wilkowski describes the Evangelical Catholic Church as “separate but equal” to the traditional Roman Catholic Church. “We are a validly consecrated Catholic faith community,” he said. “We do have some pastoral differences between the Roman Church and ours.”

One difference is that priests can marry. Another is that women can become priests. The church also offers a quicker path to annulments after a divorce – a process that Wilkowski said can take up to 10 years in the traditional church, leaving members in limbo.

More religion: Dorothy Day as saint? The Catholic Left picks up an ally.


If your neighborhood doesn’t want to be part of the area that surrounds it, should you expect any help when disaster strikes? It’s a question that appears to be unique to New York where a gated community was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy’s seas and now residents say they can’t rebuild on their own. The neighborhood’s reaction? Tough.

“They seclude themselves,” one man on Coney Island tells the New York Times. “We don’t have problems with Sea Gate, but they put their noses down at us. We get treated like we’re second class, just because they live in houses and we live in the projects and we rent. They say they need assistance and, fine, maybe they do need assistance. But they have insurance on their houses. We don’t have insurance. We don’t have much out here.”

Breezy Point, the poster child for the disaster — it’s where more than 100 homes burned — is also a gated community, the Times says.


“There’s been plenty written over the years about poor wages and working conditions in Asian countries, such as China, that produce cheap consumer products for American retailers like Walmart,” Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman writes. “But some questionable labor conditions exist right here at home, where those imported goods are funneled into the domestic supply chain. ”

He takes an inside look at making ends meet on $10 an hour.


I am required by FCC law to write something about holiday shopping. So… here:

And here’s how they put it together.

Here’s a special NewsCut shopping tip: Unless you really want to, don’t wear your red sports shirt with your khaki slacks when you go to Target.

Bonus I: A man goes to work every day catching ticks. (NPR)

Bonus II: Should schools be allowed to electronically track students? It’s about a court case in Texas (Tech Dirt)

Bonus III: What makes you happy?


Some Republicans who signed a pledge not to raise taxes are showing signs of being willing to raise taxes after all. Grover Norquist, the organizer of the pledge effort, is denouncing them for “impure thoughts” and says their pledge is still binding, no matter how long ago they signed it. Today’s Question: What do you think of the campaign to get politicians to promise they will never raise taxes?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Inside Obama’s high-tech campaign.

Second hour: Should food be considered and treated like a drug?

Third hour: Four-time Grammy nominee and former Minneapolis resident Karrin Allyson plays from her latest album, Round Midnight, and discuss her decades on the road as a jazz musician.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Jeffrey Toobin at JFK Library on “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – As a ballot issue, pot won this year. Voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational use of marijuana. What hasn’t been decided, however, is a medical issue. How harmful is smoking or eating weed?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Ramsey County is expected to sign off on a deal to buy the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site at a meeting this morning. It’s the largest tract of undeveloped land in the Twin Cities and once eyed for a Vikings stadium. Ramsey County plans to clean up the polluted site to prepare it for redevelopment. MPR’s Tim Nelson will report.

Student need for financial aid is up, and university revenues are down. That adds up to schools rethinking how much — if any — tuition assistance they can provide. Even schools with deep pockets now say it’s getting harder to help students who need financial aid the most. NPR will report on how colleges contend with unsustainable generosity.

  • Alanna in WI

    1. The answer is C because you keep doubling the population until you get to the 8th generation. I’ve seen much harder series problems, but then, I’m an engineer 😉

  • BJ


    Thing missing from story – How many or what % correct is considered ‘proficient’?

    If I recall it’s a pretty low number.

  • Jamison

    I would hope that his family does their homework about that “catholic” group. They’re not a part of the Roman Catholic church in any shape or form. They trace their roots back to a bishop who rejected the Catholic church and wanted nothing to do with the Vatican. By self-definition they are a “Protest”-ant church. His family could very easily join the local Lutheran church and get confirmed there as well. Neither one would put them in proper standing with Rome though.

  • PaulK

    1- My son, a junior at Central HS, is doing more math than I did in HS. It is not his best subject by far, but he will pass the grad test. I suspect that what the failing kids have in common is lack of support at home, due to far too many single parents, two-job parents, etc. The failure in math is just symptomatic of so many other shortcomings of our society.

  • Jim!!!

    @Jamison Why would anyone want or care to be in “proper standing with Rome” anymore? That just seems bizarre to me.

  • BJ

    More #1

    My daughter was top in math (and reading) at a school with 84-87% of the students on free and reduced lunch.

    Her new school is only 40-45% on free and reduced lunch and she is average.

    PaulK is right on track.

    (PS I also got the answer, but it’s a binary memory bit size thing)

  • Pat M

    It seems to me that I’m constantly reading employers lamenting workers lack of math skills just as in the sample questions here. Just because I don’t do that for my job doesn’t mean it isn’t worth teaching or understanding. Not to mention being able to perform in a work setting. We can continue to give lower standards and can continue to ship jobs to countries where workers have those skills.

    My 3 kids each use higher math on a daily basis in their respective positions. Only one is an engineer.

  • Bob Collins

    From what I glean here, the school should continue to require people to understand the length of an arc of a circle.

    So what do you want to do with the 31% who fail under the present system?

  • Jamison

    @Jim: It’s the same reason anyone chooses to be a member of any religious organization. “Proper standing with Rome” is basically the same as “being a member”. So if you want to belong to the organization you chose to join it. Even most Protestant churches ask people to become members.

  • BJ

    // “So what do you want to do with the 31% who fail under the present system?”

    I suggest betting their teachers and all the school administration they ever had.

    I would guess, but don’t know, that the 31% are almost exclusively poor (family income under 30,000 per year).

    I would also guess that they have attended 3 or more elementary schools and multiple schools in middle (Jr High) school and Sr High.

    Educational consistency and family income are very strong predictors of poor test scores.

    So what is the fix? Crazy way out idea?

    Suggest that we give free after school programs – till 9 PM, with tutoring and meals for all students K-12.

  • Pat M

    I’m not sure what the fix is for the 31%. I would have to give it some thought. But lowering standards should not be the first step. Lowering standards means giving up on jobs and innovation for the future of our county. We need to be more thoughtful than a knee jerk reaction of saying it the test’s fault.

  • TJSwift

    I spent almost 10 years offering solutions to the failing Saint Paul public schools…the present toxic combination of feckless parents, self-serving unions, politically motivated opportunists and a weary public don’t leave one with much room for hope.

    The idea of dropping any requirements of proficiency may make us cringe, but at least it’s an honest appraisal of the status quo.

  • TJSwift

    Jim!!! I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess the worlds 1.2 billion Catholics would be just as befuddled by what you think it is about yourself that requires any exclaimation points, much less three.

    Just sayin’

  • Robert Scott

    “We’re trying to find a more intelligent way to do it, knowing that some students don’t test well, which doesn’t mean that they’re not proficient,” he told the newspaper.” I have great respect for Rep. Mariani, but, as an educator, I’m afraid of the excuse that some students are “poor” test-takers. How can we possibly assess proficiency without a test of skill and knowledge? Is it anxiety that leads to poor performance on exams? Is it lack of preparation? Is it an inability to structure information and to self-test in advance of exams? We ought to focus on the reasons for the performances, not the excuses why we can’t perform.

  • ce

    Isn’t part of the reason that we continue to get our rears handed to us on a platter by workers in specialized fields abroad in large part because their talents are identified at an early age and they’re steered toward educational tracks that support those proficiencies? How am I the only person that sees this as logical?

    Yes. Basic proficiency in all subject areas is vital. But look, I got an undergraduate degree from a school over in St. Paul that makes all the lists and in order to earn my BA I took exactly two classes in the fields of science and math – stats and physics for poets, essentially. I have been gainfully employed ever since. I earned an MBA without any additional formal math schooling.

    No one, ever, has asked me anything about calculating the arc of a circle. If we want kids to succeed then we need to start looking at curriculum that provides them a basic foundation while allowing them to actively pursue what they’re good at. It doesn’t have to be that complicated, does it?

  • TJSwift

    I appreciate your concern Robert, it’s rare to hear such public candor from teachers these days, and I’m sure you don’t find yourself seconded among many of your colleagues.

    My concern with tests of academic proficiency in the present public school environment extends beyond the outright “banning” of them.

    I’ve seen what clever, determined school administrators are capable of when it comes to defending the status quo, or pushing an agenda. The pinnacle of such machinations has to be reflected in what happened at Capitol Hill Magnet school.

    In order to promote racial diversity (not enough black and Latin kids were being accepted), the accelerated curriculum school changed their admission test to a “multiple intelligences” test created by June Maker.

    Succinctly, the test protocol revolved around the idea that if a kid couldn’t conclude that round pegs fit into round holes, it was probably because he or she was an artistic genius, and thus eligible for admission.

    The results were, of course utterly predictable.

    I’m at the point where I’d agree that no test is preferable to a bogus test that gives kids, and their parents a sense of accomplishment that gets dashed at the very first job interview.

  • Chris N.

    ce said: Isn’t part of the reason that we continue to get our rears handed to us on a platter by workers in specialized fields abroad in large part because their talents are identified at an early age and they’re steered toward educational tracks that support those proficiencies?

    In what way are we getting our rears handed to us? This is not a facetious question. I can think of a few ways to interpret that statement and I want to understand what you meant.

    I think that bringing specialization and tracking into the conversation is a great idea, but that in implementing such a thing we should be very, very careful. Specialization and tracking could lead, I imagine, all too easily into railroading failing kids into crappy career tracks.

    You would also ideally want to be able to match the kid with their interests and talents, so that the specialization was something they chose rather than a set of walls imposed upon them.

    There is also a risk of your track options going stale. The available tracks would have to be reviewed each year for changes in the job market. Or rather, in the best case they would predict the job market 5+ years into the future, which is a tough nut to crack. Also, who would be responsible for determining the tracks? How do you deal with the staffing issues that would come up when tracks change?

  • Craig

    What should a diploma from a Minnesota high school certify? The sample questions given, including the one on split infinitives, seem pedestrian. If the supporting material has been presented, the answers can be had without special insight or long chains of deductive reasoning. Answering them correctly attests only to an openness to instruction (teach-ability), not a capacity to say something new and true.

    We could change the sphere of knowledge to manual arts, or Latin grammar, or Confucian analects, but the level of the questions seem correct, it reflects an ability to be a good employee. And I’m not disparaging that goal, we should not set the bar so high that only those with analytical and creative talents can obtain one; that’s what publishers and patent offices are for.