Important info finally flowing to families

Important decisions were made in the last week. Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and a number of local superintendents have decided it’s time for thousands of Minnesota families and students to have better information about some key education opportunities.

Last week the Minnesota Department of Education posted a revised, updated and very helpful set of materials about Postsecondary Enrollment Options here:

PSEO responds to challenges students face regarding college costs and college readiness. Over the last several months, I’ve cited research and experience showing that high school students who take “Dual (high school/college) Credit” classes are more likely to graduate from high school, enter a one-, two- or four-year higher education program, and graduate from some form of higher education.

Minnesota has been one of the nation’s leaders in this area since 1985, when PSEO was proposed by the now late Gov. Rudy Perpich and approved (on a bi-partisan basis, with help from former Gov. Al Quie and State Rep. Connie Levi) by the state Legislature. Many Minnesota high schools responded to PSEO by creating new Dual Credit courses, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in Schools and Project Lead the Way.

Up until 2012, PSEO allowed 11th and 12th graders to take courses on college campuses, full or part time, with state funds following students, paying all tuition and book fees.  In 2012, the law was expanded to allow 10th graders to participate. Since fall, 2012, sophomores who had passed the state’s eighth grade reading test have been allowed to take one career technical course, and if they earned a “C” or higher, they could take additional courses. Also, some colleges developed online PSEO courses, and the Legislature allocated funds to help students from low-income families pay for transportation to PSEO classes.

Unfortunately, many youngsters, families and some educators did not know about the 10th grade option, the online PSEO courses and the transportation funds available. Over the last two months, I’ve looked at registration materials on more than 60 Minnesota high school websites. Less than 10 percent had information about the 10th grade option, and even fewer had information about online courses and transportation assistance.

Marisa Gustafson, with the Center for School Change, and I discussed this with MDE officials. They pointed out that the department held meetings around Minnesota last fall to discuss dual credit programs. More than 700 educators attended.

But meeting attendance often did not translate into information in registration materials. So, Commissioner Cassellius arranged for more comprehensive materials to be posted at the website referenced earlier.

Over the last three weeks, I contacted superintendents in about 40 districts, asking them to review materials they share with students. I acknowledged that they may be distributing information that’s not on their website. More than 80 percent of those superintendents responded favorably.  Those districts either have revised materials or are in the process of revising materials to meet state law’s requirement that information be shared with students by March 1. For example:

Forest Lake High School principal Steve Massey wrote, “I have updated the high school registration guide to reflect the changes with the PSEO program. You can see these changes at Linda Madsen, Forest Lake superintendent wrote, “we have a great combination of CIS, AP and PSEO options for students at Forest Lake. Those options have been, and will continue to be communicated to all students as well as specific career readiness options will be discussed and encouraged.”

In North Branch, Pat Tepoorten, responding for Superintendent Deb Henton wrote, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have spoken with the high school and all future revisions to the registration guide will include 10th grade PSEO options. I have also asked both the high school and middle school to be cognizant of the statute and make sure they disseminate PSEO materials to appropriate students by March 1.”

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe reported that she had talked with the high school principal. They felt that the missing information was an “oversight” which they would update. “Counselors will be talking to grade 10 students during student registration…and (will) have sessions during student conferences.”

Stillwater Executive Director of Curriculum and Secondary Education Ryan Laager wrote, “In Stillwater Area Public Schools we work closely with students and families to explore options and carefully consider plans for high school and beyond. We’re not just content with getting students into any course; instead, our focus is ensuring they get into the right course. Through our six-year planning process, which begins with planning for ninth grade and spans into the first two years of post-secondary, we share pertinent and relevant information to help them make decisions. We do this through class meetings with all students, and in personal planning meetings with students and their families.”

He continued, “Helping our students fully understand their options, including Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), is our goal. We have updated our website to include accurate information about the 10th grade PSEO option, as well as the online course options and the transportation assistance that is offered to low income students.”

“We are also making updates to our registration materials and the presentations that will be shared with families as students register for courses. School counselors are being reminded of the changes in state law to ensure they understand the opportunities now available to our students.”

I did not hear from officials in the Cambridge-Isanti or Braham districts.

Wise families will review PSEO along with other dual credit options, considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. Conversations over the last two months make clear that whether it’s the commissioner of education or district staff, there is a widespread commitment to helping more young people be better prepared, and more able to afford some form of higher education.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]



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