Letter of the week

Regarding the DHS’s ‘State of our Students’

When Minnesotans think of a state agency in disarray, mismanaging millions in taxpayer funds while touching the lives of nearly one million Minnesotans, they could be excused for thinking about the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

After all, the Department of Human Services has seen the resignation of three top officials in three months, reports of employee intimidation, and millions of dollars mismanaged and misspent. The scale of the dysfunction is so breathtaking it would be understandable if most Minnesotans just started to tune it out–or simply not notice the other major state agency failing our state: the Minnesota Department of Education.

Shortly before Labor Day Weekend, while many parents were busy with the state fair and getting ready for school, the Minnesota Department of Education released “The State of Our Students” report, which coincided with the annual release of student performance on our state academic assessments.

The Commissioner of Education, Mary Cathryn Ricker, labeled the state of our students as “promising.” Yet it is not very promising when only 55 percent of our third-graders can read at grade level, continuing a downward trend since at least 2015. Nor is it very promising when only 45 percent of our high school juniors are proficient in math, yet we graduate 83 percent of our high school seniors.

Over the last several years and despite significant financial investment from hard-working taxpayers, the Minnesota Department of Education has presided over a constant decline in student achievement in both reading and math. Since 2015, the percentage of students rated proficient in math has dropped eight percent, and third-grade reading proficiency has dropped seven percent.

Commissioner Ricker pointed to rising graduation rates while ignoring downward trends in academic achievement. The commissioner pointed to rising rates of ACT participation while ignoring the large and dangerous disparities in performance between white students and students of color.

The commissioner says our students are more than test scores. On that, we agree, but they are also more than just a list of participation rates without any reference to achievement. Employers, parents, and especially our students are trusting that our high school diplomas are meaningful certificates of achievements, not simply certificates of participation.

There is so much potential and promise in our students, but it is incumbent on all of us to help our students fulfill that promise. We need to make parents a partner in the process, respect local control on curriculum instead of politically motivated mandates, and ensure that all of our students are exposed to our nation-leading, rigorous academic standards in reading, math, and science.

Education provides students with a foundation for their future and cherry-picked data to paint a rosy picture shortchanges not only our system of education but the children it is intended to serve. The dysfunction and waste at the Department of Human Services is serious but should not distract us from the dysfunction at the Department of Education.

Reps. Ron Kesha, R-Little Falls,and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton

Read Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint

Another simple suggestion: Read the Ukraine whistleblower’s formal complaint for yourself. The interpretations you’re seeing in the news are largely self-serving spin.

I’m certain that any reasonable person who is willing to take the time to read it carefully will see that the author is not a raving partisan with a grudge, nor is s/he a spy who should be put up against a wall. To me, s/he comes across as a thoughtful and concerned citizen who feels a duty to report something troubling that s/he witnesses. And you’ll also see that, even though s/he is reporting something not directly witnessed, it is a narrative assembled from multiple firsthand sources that are highly consistent and are backed up by the facts to a remarkable degree.

So, please, just read it.

Guy Roger, Isle

Democracy is slipping away

I fear our long-standing grand experiment in democracy is surely slipping away from us these last few years. Democracy is a government of the people–through the vote. Which necessitates the need to be well informed and understand what we are voting for and the ability to know a lie when we hear one because there can be no democracy without truth. And now, thanks to a deficiency of these so noted attributes, and perhaps one or two other single-issue views which I won’t get into at this time, we have at our head a lying narcissist who has only two cares in this world, and neither of them is the people of this country which he so repeatedly claims. It’s himself and his money.

And there lies my worry. He wants to be an all-powerful dictator–an autocrat just like his buddy Putin, who incidentally most certainly has kompromat on him involving money matters most likely and quite possibly other things.

But here’s what really bothers me: We have about 250 elected Republican politicians who seem to be just plain afraid to speak out against him and stand up for truth and place their duty to do what’s right for our country above their party, their career and billionaire donors. If they ever come around and face their conscience, I believe our wannabe king will be in handcuffs and orange pajamas in a heartbeat.

Tom Gibas, Isle

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