MDE urges districts, charters to follow law on PSEO / Joe Nathan’s Column

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The Minnesota Department of Education recently has taken a strong stand for students and families. MDE’s actions followed and were a response to the release of a new report detailing the lack of “up-to-date” information about Postsecondary Enrollment Options on many district websites, as required by state law.

PSEO, a state program, allows students in grades 10-12 to take college courses for free, either on college campuses or via the Internet.

On Aug. 14, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius wrote to each Minnesota district and charter leader. In part, she was responding to a report by the Center for School Change, where I work. We reviewed 87 district websites, one in each county, to see if they followed state law requiring that by March 1, websites provide “up-to-date” information about PSEO. Most weren’t. The report is here:

Josh Collins, MDE director of communications shared Cassellius’ message:

“Yesterday’s Weekly Superintendent Mail contained incorrect information about what districts may post to their website to fulfill statutory requirements. In an effort to provide clear and helpful guidance, below is a paragraph that can be used on district websites to satisfy the obligation to notify parents and students about PSEO. Please note that by March 1 of each year, a district must provide up-to-date information on the district’s website and in materials that are distributed to all pupils and their parents in grades eight through grade 11 about the program, including information about enrollment requirements and the ability to earn postsecondary credit. To assist the district in planning, a pupil shall inform the district by May 30 of each year of their intent to enroll in postsecondary courses during the following school year. A pupil is bound by notifying or not notifying the district by May 30.”

She continued: “This text is suggested as a minimum, and may be copied and pasted to your site: Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) is a program that allows 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students to earn both high school and college credit while still in high school, through enrollment in and successful completion of college-level, nonsectarian courses at eligible participating postsecondary institutions. Most PSEO courses are offered on the campus of the postsecondary institution; some courses are offered online. Each participating college or university sets its own requirements for enrollment into the PSEO courses. Eleventh and 12th-grade students may take PSEO courses on a full- or part-time basis; 10th graders may take one career/technical PSEO course. If they earn at least a grade C in that class, they may take additional PSEO courses.

“There is no charge to PSEO students for tuition, books or fees for items that are required to participate in a course. Students must meet the PSEO residency and eligibility requirements and abide by participation limits specified in Minnesota statutes, section 124D.09. Funds are available to help pay transportation expenses for qualifying students to participate in PSEO courses on college campuses. Schools must provide information to all students in grades 8-11 and their families by March 1, every year. Students must notify their school by May 30 if they want to participate in PSEO for the following school year. For current information about the PSEO program, visit the Minnesota Department of Education’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) webpage.”

Let’s be clear about several things.

First, PSEO is only one of several great options. Many students wisely decide to take college-level courses offered in their high school. PSEO isn’t for everyone.

Second, I hope districts and charters respond to MDE’s request by the end of December because students in many districts start registering in January 2016 for classes in the 2016-17 school year. Websites will be reviewed again in December to see what’s happened.

Third, although the law currently does not require it, students and families need accurate information about dual-credit courses offered in high school, like Advanced Placement, College in Schools or Concurrent Enrollment, and Project Lead the Way. Accurate information helps students and families make wise decisions about what’s best for them. The Center for School Change is preparing a comparison chart. We’ll share this with MDE, districts and charters for their possible use.

Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, is sending out a note, a portion which reads: “Charter schools are expected to post the legally required information about PSEO. … Failure to do so reflects a failure on the part of the school to provide its students and their parents with the information to take advantage of programs that enable them fulfill their aspirations.”

I hope other statewide education leaders send out notes similar to those from Piccolo and Commissioner Cassellius. Their actions will help more Minnesota students and families learn about PSEO, a remarkable opportunity.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.