Important info finally flowing to families

Joe Nathan

Center For School Change

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 bipartisan 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:

Caledonia Superintendent Ben Barton wrote, “The only correspondence from MDE that I am aware of is a recently sent superintendent update that had information regarding the 10th grade PSEO embedded in it. Our registration manual has already been disseminated to students to prepare for registration. We will need to provide an addendum to this and make students aware prior to the mandated March 1 date.”

Bloomington Superintendent Les Fujitake wrote, “Thank you for bringing all this to our attention. Not complying with the dissemination and notification requirements were oversights. JHS and KHS online registration guides will be updated with 10th grade PSEO information or links to 10th grade PSEO information by Jan 28. JHS’ and KHS’ hard copy registration guides have already been published; therefore, 9th grade students will receive additional information on 10th grade PSEO from one of their teachers. Our counselors will provide our 8th grade students with the same information received by our 9th graders.

Pierz Superintendent George Weber wrote, in part, “Thank you for the information and follow up. I met with our guidance counselor and went over some of the questions. The 2013-14 registration manual does contain more information about PSEO and CIS courses as well as the process for accessing those courses. We have provided that document directly to all students and all parents. We found more response when we gave them out directly than just saying it was on the website, although the latest version not being on the webpage is an oversight. We will also update our website with the new one.”

Shelly Landry of Minneapolis Public Schools responded, in part, “All high school websites will be updated with information by Feb. 14. PSEO is in the presentations and other materials about course options. It is usually not on the course selection sheets because counselors want to know what courses the student would want to take at the school in case PSEO does not work out. Creating a full schedule for students and then adjusting if a student does end up taking PSEO is less complicated than building a partial schedule and trying to schedule the classes students want or need at a later date.”

Landry continued, “MPS counselors were informed of this law when it was initially approved and are reminded annually that they must inform all students of dual credit options, including PSEO, by March 1. We have asked all counselors to include this information as part of the required My Life Plan milestone, ‘Academic Plan’. This milestone helps students plan their future educational plan (courses, experiences, goals) to work toward graduation and their post-secondary goals. Counselors connect with students at this time to ensure student plans are helping them progress toward graduation and prepare them for college and career. In the past few years, MPS counselors have used a publication by the MN Department of Education, ‘Dual Credit Optionss’ to inform students of the benefits and challenges of PSEO and other dual credit options, such as College In the Schools and Advanced Placement. We will reach out to the Minnesota Department of Education again this year to see if this publication is available.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions are welcome at [email protected]