Stunning report and proposed PSEO changes can help every high school student

This column originally was published by the Morrison County Record,  Monticello Times and other APG of East Central Mn newspapers during April, 2022

Stunning report and proposed PSEO changes

can help every high school student

High school students like Wayzata’s Rani Mukherjee, and college students like Little Falls’ Zeke Jackson, could produce a big victory for Minnesota high school students and their families. So far, thanks to a strong bipartisan coalition of Minnesota legislators, they’re making progress. Their efforts will help close achievement gaps, expand opportunity and save Minnesota families millions of dollars.

Beatrice Handlin, Zeke Jackson and Rani Mukherjee testifying in

Minnesota Senate K-12 Education Committee, March 2022 (photo by Joe Nathan)

 

Jackson, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student and PSEO alum, wrote a March 2022 report, “A PSEO Information Gap.” It cites MDE research showing that students taking Post Secondary Enrollment Options or concurrent enrollment courses in high schools from 13 different groups were far more likely to graduate from high school and some form of post-secondary education than those who didn’t participate. He quoted research showing that these programs are especially helpful for students from low-income families, American Indians and students of color. Earning free college credit helps students understand what college is like, and shows they can succeed.

Jackson testified why changes are needed. He cited PSEO law requirements that every district and charter public school share “up to date information” about PSEO on its website and in materials given to 8th-11th grade students and families by March 1, or three weeks before students register, whichever comes first. For seven years, starting in 2015, MDE has notified public school leaders, they must provide complete information, described here.

However, Jackson showed this generally is not happening. His review of 390 Minnesota district and charter public school websites found:

  • 60% of the websites didn’t provide all the information that state law requires. Some didn’t mention that 10th graders can take PSEO career technical courses, that students can use their school computers to take PSEO courses online, that students from low-income families can apply for transportation assistance funds or that students must notify districts by May 30 if they are participating.
  • 25 websites didn’t appear to have any information.
  • Dozens of websites included factually inaccurate information.
  • 73% of charter public schools and 33% of districts fully complied with the law.

The report also shares information about each website.

Mukherjee and Jackson recently urged the Minnesota House and Senate to strengthen PSEO. In the House, DFLers like Rep. Ruth Richardson (Mendota Heights) and Republican Sondra Erickson (Princeton) support them. So do Senate Republicans like Sen. Julia Coleman (Waconia) and DFLer Sen. Chuck Wiger (North St Paul). No one testified against the proposed changes. (Full disclosure: I’ve supported PSEO since it passed in 1985)

Students suggested:

  • Increasing equity in how high schools “weigh” PSEO and College in the Schools courses to figure grade point averages. The bill allows districts and charters to decide if grades will be weighted. If yes, schools must weigh PSEO and CIS courses equally.
  • Increase public awareness of PSEO by gathering information about courses created via high school/higher education contracts.

I asked MDE Commissioner Heather Mueller whether she’d warn districts/charters that aren’t complying and if she would use existing state law to ultimately withhold funds.  She responded:

“Ensuring access to opportunities for rigorous coursework, such as PSEO, for students across Minnesota is a priority for MDE. PSEO is a critical part of our goal to reimagine the high school experience and to increase career and college readiness, outlined in the Due North Education Plan. Our approach is always to provide leadership, partnership and support to school districts and charter schools to meet the needs of students and families as well as fulfill statutory requirements. MDE regularly communicates and supports the expectation that up-to-date information about PSEO is available and accessible for students and families. We stand ready to continue to support ways to increase awareness, access and participation in PSEO for Minnesota students.”

Educator and former MDE Commissioner Bob Wedl, Edina, told me, “…students are sometimes accused of not understanding civics. Yet so many schools who teach how laws are made are the ones not only failing to follow the PSEO law but intentionally withholding information about how students can use the PSEO law. After 35 years one would think this would not be the case. For students from families living in poverty, PSEO may be their only shot at a college education.”

Connie Levi, Minnesota’s first female Minnesota House Majority Leader and a chief author of PSEO, along with then Gov. Rudy Perpich, responded, “I guess, in MN education, law is just a suggestion…otherwise it would be enforced.”

Advocates’ legislative suggestions increase information and equity. Yes, it’s a challenging time for educators. But providing up-to-date information is the law. Isn’t it also time for a warning, and if no correction, withholding funds?

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org