Carlson says U must lead state in education

Peter Kauffner

and Jennifer Niemela

At an Institute of Technology Forum on Wednesday, Gov. Arne Carlson said the University should take a more assertive role in kindergarten through 12th grade education, saying that the University can’t continue to be “an island unto itself.”
Speaking to the audience of about 120 IT faculty members, administrators and alumni, Carlson said, “This is the system that ultimately makes your (jobs) possible. These kids are truly your future.”
Carlson unveiled his budget for information technology which he said is designed to help Minnesota progress into the information age. It includes plans to make Minnesota the national leader in computer technology education.
The governor said he will request $216 million for the 1998-99 biennium for information and technology-related programs. The speech gave listeners a preview of Carlson’s full state budget proposal, which will be released Thursday.
Nearly half of the money, $102.7 million, will be devoted to linking public schools to the Internet and increasing the number of computers in the classroom.
However, Carlson said this investment will be in vain if Minnesota doesn’t improve its college feeder programs.
After citing the results of a recent statewide standardized math test, which 24 percent of Minnesota high school students failed, Carlson implied that not enough people are concerned with educational excellence. Carlson said only one education reform bill — his own — currently sits on his desk because no other policy maker has bothered to draw one up.
“Higher education has largely sat the (K-12 reform) debate out and pretended it would rectify itself,” Carlson said. “It won’t.”
Electrical engineering professor Steven Chou agreed with Carlson’s assertion that the University should be more active in K-12 education reform.
“That’s very significant because without (quality) K-12 education, we can’t recruit the best students,” he said. “That eventually will affect the reputation and competitiveness of the University itself.”
Mostafa Kaveh, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, said that although he agrees with Carlson’s vision of improving K-12 education, he said he thinks the responsibility lies elsewhere.
“Are we the best people to contribute to the improvement of basic math? Personally, I don’t believe so,” he said.
Kaveh said the University can better help the cause by providing students with presentations and seminars to get them interested in technological fields.
Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning math specialist Sharon Stenglein confirmed Carlson’s statistic that 76 percent of high school students passed the basic requirement math test. Last year was the first time the test had been administered. She said, however, that statistic can be misleading.
“We encouraged districts to test everyone, including special ed kids,” she said. “Some districts also had a less than optimal testing environment.”
Stenglein noted that in Connecticut, 37 percent of students passed the state-wide math test in its first year. In Ohio, 35 percent of students passed. And while these two states did not use the same test as Minnesota, students here usually place among the top three or four in national math scores.
When asked about Carlson’s request that the University be more involved in K-12 education, Stenglein said that she didn’t see the University playing a central role in the improvement of high school math scores.
“The best thing is for high school teachers to see business and industry, to see what skills students will need for the workplace,” she said.
Carlson said the University should also be willing to work with business and state government to improve education in Minnesota.
“We all know that the University of Minnesota is a state unto itself. They raise the flag of sovereignty when it is convenient and raise the flag of partnership when that is convenient.”
Carlson’s budget request will include money to raise faculty salaries. “This will allow the University to reward bright superstars, and bring in a lot more. In basketball, it’s called recruiting,” Carlson said.
That was welcome news to Kaveh. “We are really having difficulty in keeping some of our star faculty members from raids, as (Carlson) mentioned,” he said.
Electrical Engineering Professor Jian-Gang Zhu recently left the University after being offered a 15 percent higher salary by Carnegie-Mellon University. “His specialty is micromagnetics, which is of extreme importance to the Minnesota economy,” Kaveh said.
Micromagnetics has application in the production of computer disks, an important industry for several Minnesota companies.
Despite Carlson’s emphasis on computer availability, the governor admitted that he is not yet online.
“I have never understood the computer and I still don’t,” Carlson said.