Amending MN’s constitution won’t solve the achievement gap, but at least the conversation has started

A Star Tribune article yesterday revealed a proposed solution to Minnesota’s persistent academic achievement gap: amend the state’s Constitution.

The leaders behind the proposal, former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari, believe an amendment will “strengthe[n] Minnesota’s constitutional guarantee of a fundamental right to education by making the fundamental right explicit and by adding the word ‘quality.’”

Currently, Minnesota’s constitution reads:

UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

According to Page and Kashkari, the state Supreme Court interpreted the above language to mean that students have a fundamental right to an adequate education system. “No parent aspires for their child to have an adequate education. Under the current constitution, there is no mandate for quality education for all children and no accountability as measured by any objective standard,” Page and Kashkari continued.

Their new language would read:

EQUAL RIGHT TO QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION. All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.

If state leaders do not create “sufficient” legislative and regulatory changes, “families will be able to turn to the courts to have their children’s rights vindicated.”

Minnesota has a failing track record on solving the state’s educational disparities. And it is clear we are in need of real solutions, which do not include more funding as the teachers’ union Education Minnesota is calling for (how well has spending billions of dollars worked out?). But while I respect that the conversation on how to solve the gap is at least started by this proposal, I don’t believe it will result in the lasting change our education system needs.

Without quantifiable goals, efforts to close the achievement gap are only good intentions. And I believe opening up legal recourse against schools and the state is a slippery slope. What about the role students and parents play? What would safeguard schools and the state if students and parents don’t do their part? Taxpayers would be on the line to foot much of the bill.

Solving Minnesota’s education achievement gap is more complicated than an amendment change, but I believe the proposal will spark an urgency to identify solutions outside of the education “reforms” that have been tried ad nauseam.

Here are a couple that are worth pursuing:

  • Expand the educational choice continuum
  • Require more accountability for how current education dollars are spent
  • Include merit pay in teacher salary criteria
  • Allow teachers to negotiate wages if they so choose
  • Make it easier for poor teachers to be fired