When I attended Jamestown College and received my teaching degree in English, I never considered that my path in education would lead me to pouring over Minnesota state statutes. In fact, I thought I would teach grammar and literature until either I turned blue or my students did. It did not take me long to realize that the classroom was no place for me. As much as I love to read, motivating the unmotivated in terms of reading, writing, and correct grammar and punctuation really left me unsatisfied. Classroom management seemed tedious, and I often felt like I had 150 children instead of my own two. I felt badly for few the students who wanted to learn when I could not wrangle in the many who did not.
Over the past six years, I have blazed through the online learning world with a passion that I did not know I had. Even though for the better part of those six years I still had to teach a bit of English, I put up with that for a while because other things on my plate were fun. Helping students get into college, arguing with army recruiters that an online diploma from a certified online learning provider in Minnesota had come under more scrutiny that one from the nearby high school and therefore warranted my student a spot in the infantry, and essentially creating a framework for truancy in the online world gave me life. In my most recent employer change from Wolf Creek Online High School to Minnesota Virtual High School, I have learned the difference between a small online school and a very large one. Problems are multiplied. There are more students who need more of the same.
The past six years have also provided me with quite a lesson in Minnesota state statutes as they pertain to all things education. Whether truancy law or charter school law, concurrent enrollment definitions or PSEO age restrictions, open enrollment permissions or independent study funding – I have learned a lot. Much of that is due to my the director at Wolf Creek. She positioned me to be on committees, working groups, and even a drug court in Chisago County. I represented the school, but more than that I was learning about Minnesota education law. And there is plenty – and at times conflicting items – to learn.
Although all of this has served me quite well professionally, the area where I find myself the most thankful is in educating my own children. Minnesota is Pandora’s box of educational opportunities. From the time a child starts kindergarten, there are choices and decisions to be made. Who needs a private school when we have Minnesota education? There are district magnet schools that focus on the arts, science, math, or computing, charter schools that promote language immersion programs, online schools, and even project based schools. This is all in addition to the typical traditional school district that resembles my own Grand Forks Public School District back in North Dakota.
As children grow older, there are more opportunities, more literature to sift through, and more decisions to be made. In the current charter school where I work (Minnesota Transitions Charter Schools), there are more than ten programs alone – each with a different focus. These choices overwhelm parents, and I even hear some them say, “What if I choose poorly?” I understand this feeling as I have struggled with the same question with my own children. What if I choose the wrong school district, program, or emphasis? And, of course, there are other things to consider – school size, programs offered such as International Baccalaureate, advanced placement classes, or pre-professional training such as EMT certification, sports, theater, choir, language…oy vey! I get tired just thinking about it, and I work in this system!
The one thing that I have valued most as I maneuver these “halls” of choice in Minnesota is that the law is the law. Schools will try to limit the number of students who attend college during their junior and senior years (a program called PSEO – post-secondary enrollment options), but they cannot limit that number except for what is allowed in law. They will try to tell students that they cannot take up to half of their coursework online with an online provider in Minnesota, but they cannot limit students except for what is allowed in law. Schools may try to keep that seventh grade student from taking advanced math available online as a high school credit, but they cannot. The law allows that seventh grade student to take advanced classes as long as there is evidence to support that the student has the ability to do it.
In the most recent Minnesota legislative session, changes were made in the areas of PSEO, concurrent enrollment (ie: College in the Schools), and early graduation incentives. I am thankful that I am on a listserv where I find out these changes as they occur. This past week, as I worked with Josiah’s counselor to set up his schedule, I brought up the newest legislation changes as it would benefit my son greatly. Most schools are not even telling their guidance counselors about these changes, and that is a tragedy for those younger, more able students who would benefit from these programs. In fact, the website for the Minnesota statutes has not been updated. I had to get the newly approved language sent over to me from the department of education.
The law is the law, but if no one knows about it – what good does it do? The intent of the lawmakers who authored the bill that became a law (check out the Schoolhouse Rock video for a refresher course on how that happens) was that students would have more opportunities open to them. However, if no one is telling students and parents about these opportunities, what good does it do? While I am thrilled that I know what I know and that it will benefit my son (and possibly my daughter…still waiting to hear back from her counselor!), I am a little annoyed that others may not know about this.
And this is not the only instance of this…online learning, PSEO, alternative learning, open enrollment, charter schools, homeschooling – each of these areas have laws that pertain to them but they get pushed underground in the muck and mire of traditional schools. I am not against traditional schools. Beth goes to a traditional school and does very well in it; however, she has taken advantage of some of the options allowed in law so that she can personalize her education. That is what these laws really are about. They seek to undo the cookie-cutter approach to education because they recognize that we are not all one shape. If that were the case, these laws never would have existed.
Oh my – I have stood on my soap box! The bottom line is that I want others to know about the choices out there so that all students in Minnesota can seize what the law permits them to seize – an education that differs from their siblings if that is what is best for them.