Column: Education columnist inspires changes

Joe Nathan’s weekly columns published by this newspaper are making a difference, potentially helping save families of college-bound students millions of dollars while helping improve public schools.

Don Heinzman
Don Heinzman

ECM Publishers is proud to publish Nathan’s columns. His messages are shaking up content on state and school district websites, getting out information that state law requires schools to distribute.

Nathan, director of the Center for School Change and author of two books, is a former award-winning Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president. He’s a frequent commentator on local and national radio and television. He helped write the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options legislation, which enables sophomores, juniors and seniors to take college courses while they are in high school. High school students can earn a year of college credit, or more, thus saving on costly college tuition.

Nathan is determined that the Minnesota Department of Education and school superintendents obey the law and provide complete information for 10th graders who are eligible to take these college classes for the first time.

While monitoring the Department of Education website, Nathan saw incomplete information about the 10th-grade career and technical PSEO option that the Legislature approved in 2012. He wrote about it in his column and contacted Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, who directed that more complete information be provided on the state’s website. Earlier she had encouraged school superintendents to provide information about dual-credit courses by March 1, as required by state law.

What vital information about post-secondary options is revealed in these changes?

–Low-income families can get funds from the state to pay for their child’s transportation to take PSEO courses at four-year universities and two-year community or technical schools.

–Tenth-graders who have passed the state’s eighth-grade reading test are eligible to take a free career and technical college course. If they earn a C grade or better on their first semester course, they can take additional classes in the second semester.

–Some PSEO courses also are online.

Contact the Department of Education with questions about dual-credit courses. The department’s Web page with PSEO information is at

To Cassellius’ credit, after reading Nathan’s concerns about lack of updated information on the department website, she had it changed.

Nathan monitored 61 websites, mostly in ECM’s reader area, and noticed many of them, too, had incomplete information about PSEO opportunities for 10th graders. He contacted school district superintendents before he wrote his column. Some said they didn’t know their website information was incomplete and thanked him for the alert.

Last month, Nathan also looked at more than 25 Minnesota two-year college websites and found that almost half did not mention the 10th-grade career tech option. He contacted Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steve Rosenstone. Again, to Rosenstone’s credit, updates were completed.

Nathan regrets there is such a disconnect between the time laws are passed and when complete information about the law is put on school district websites.

Nathan says he is determined to spread the word about dual-credit courses, including Advanced Placement, College in the Schools and PSEO, because research shows students who take these classes can save thousands of dollars and are almost twice as likely to graduate from some form of higher education.

On another front, Nathan is pressuring the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Office of Higher Education and administrators of Minnesota public colleges and universities to obey the state law and release the figures for how many Minnesota students from each public high school are taking remedial courses in college. State law requires the Department of Education and the public post-secondary groups to work together to produce an annual report on this. But despite the requirement that there be a yearly, public report, no study has been produced since 2011.

He continues to ask the department and Office of Higher Education, which apparently has taken over for the public university officials, about the study.

This report is important because the state’s educators need to know how many public high school graduates are taking remedial courses so they can change strategies to reduce that number.

Parents also should be concerned because they might be paying the costs for their students to take these remedial courses taught in college. They also can compare remediation rates for various high schools.

Nathan cites research showing that nationally only 25 percent of students who have to take remedial courses in two-year colleges earn an associate degree in eight years.

He says that, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 22 percent of full-time, newly enrolled students graduate from Minnesota’s public colleges and universities in four years, compared to the 48 percent who graduate in six years, in part because they had to take remedial courses and had problems with post-secondary education costs. Dual-credit courses could help with both problems.

Nathan’s agenda going forward as he writes columns is to have more students graduate from high school, have fewer high school students need to take remedial courses in college and boost the rate of one-, two- or four-year college graduates.

ECM Publishers is pleased to partner with Nathan as he writes well-documented columns that get results and improve the quality of education of students.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.