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Education Secretary: Minnesota Can Do Better

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota can do more to shrink the achievement gap between its white students and poor, racial minorities, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a speech in Minneapolis on Friday.

He said Minnesota had one of the largest gaps in the country and while no state has figured out how to eliminate it, “there are lots of states that have made more progress.”

In his address to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Duncan encouraged business leaders to get more involved in their local schools and advocate for education reform policies.

He said that while Minnesota has a strong history of education reform and its students do better than those in many other states, it has lost a “sense of urgency” on educational reform.

Specifically, Duncan said the state should create more ways for talented people to become teachers. “We need to open this up and get great talent, wherever that talent may come from,” he said.

The lack of those alternative pathways to the classroom cost Minnesota points last year when it applied for money under the federal $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program. The state didn’t win.

Several bills that would change the state’s teacher licensing laws are moving through the Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton repeated Friday that he would like the state to re-apply for Race to the Top, if Congress funds a third round of the grants. He met with Duncan before the speech, but said it’s not clear if that will happen.

“It seems like it is very much in the formative stages,” he said.

In the speech, Duncan also made the administration’s case for overhauling the federal No Child Left Behind law. He called the 2002 law “fundamentally broken.”

He criticized the law for being too punitive, narrowly focusing education on math and reading and giving federal bureaucrats too much influence in the schools. “We need to get Washington out of the way,” he said.

Duncan’s proposals followed the blueprint for reforming the law that President Barack Obama presented in March. Obama is expected to discuss his plans for re-writing the law in his State of the Union address next week.

Duncan was scheduled to discuss the overhaul with Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, on Friday afternoon. Kline is the new chairman of the House Education and Labor committee.

Kline has said he supports many of Duncan’s education reform policies, including the support of charter schools and alternative teacher licensing, but he’s uncomfortable with giving Washington any more influence in classrooms.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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