Minnesota law requires helping students plan for the future

The following column appeared in a number of ECM newspapers during March, 2018

In Minnesota, helping students plan for the future is a law

Minnesota state legislators have given youngsters and families an important opportunity and responsibility: A state law requires that, beginning in 2013-14 and starting in the ninth grade, educators help students develop a post-high-school plan that is “reviewed and revised at least annually by the student, the student’s parent or guardian.”

Unfortunately, some students report they are not doing this. Some parents have told me they didn’t know about the law.

Families may identify special talents or interests youngsters have that educators have not yet discovered. Families also may have community contacts that can help their own and other’s youngsters develop plans.

Award-winning author Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

My goal today is to inform and encourage, not criticize. Planning and then making decisions about life after high school are some of the most important decisions that youngsters make.

To help refine its program, St. Paul Public Schools wisely surveys graduating seniors. I encourage each school to do this. Among other things, SPPS asked its 2017 seniors, “Did you develop a career or post-secondary education plan while in high school?” Only 45 percent said “yes.” The percentage responding “yes” varied from 29 percent at one district school to 97 percent at another.

In early March, I asked 35 Minnesota suburban and rural school districts and charter public schools whether they followed this law and whether they surveyed seniors to ask if they had created such a plan. All 23 that responded report they are following the law. Most are not surveying seniors.

Several agreed that that parent involvement in planning is, as Julia Espe, Princeton superintendent, wrote, “an area upon which we can improve.” Cambridge Superintendent Raymond Queener told me, “Parent sign-off occurs annually (minimally) with registration.” Braham Superintendent Ken Gagner believes that “we definitely have room to grow” with family involvement in the process. Bloomington Superintendent Les Fujitake pointed out that developing a plan is a graduation requirement for students, but “parent sign-off is not a requirement.” Jana Hennen-Burr, ISD 728 (Elk River area) assistant superintendent, explained, “At this time, we do not require parents to review the plan, but this is a next step in our process.”

To help, the Minnesota Department of Education has compiled a vast array of information that families and schools can use to help students develop plans. Information is here: http://bit.ly/2Fo6It7.

Planning helps make whatever a youngster wants to do much more likely to happen. Youngsters who want to consider joining the military can make part of their personal plan learning what the various branches seek. Students who want a particular job can develop the skills or knowledge to prepare them for it.

The 23 districts and charters that responded to my questions use different approaches. Some require a plan for graduation. Some imbed planning in classes, while others make student plans a central part of counselors’ jobs. Here’s part of what some of them reported.

Most families ask high school students what they’d like to do after high school. But success requires more than a conversation.

Olympic gold medal winner Mia Hamm said, “The backbone of success is … hard work, determination, good planning and perseverance.” While most of us won’t win a gold medal, families and educators can help youngsters explore, select, work toward and, in many cases, achieve their goals.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.orgor @JoeNathan9249.