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Closing gaps to support the future workforce

Closing gaps to support the future workforce

By Marguerite Huber
July 22, 2019

How might the world of work change in the coming years? Will students be prepared to take their place in the future workforce? Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) legislation seeks to address this issue. This legislation requires that all public school districts develop plans addressing several strategic goals for preparing students for future careers.

To support these efforts, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is working with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), school districts, and other groups through the Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance (MCRRA). As part of this alliance, REL Midwest has worked with MDE to conduct two scans of Minnesota districts’ WBWF plans and facilitate trainings to share the results.

Scanning districts’ World’s Best Workforce plans

The first district scan covered the 2017/18 school year. This scan identified areas where districts reported difficulty, finding that they struggled with goals related to closing the achievement gap and ensuring equitable access to highly effective in-field teachers.

In partnership, REL Midwest and MDE completed a second scan during the 2018/19 school year. This scan included a representative sample of 200 districts’ WBWF plans. The focus was on districts’ progress toward three goals identified by MDE as top priorities: (1) equitable access to effective and in-field teachers, (2) equitable access to diverse teachers, and (3) strategies to address student achievement gaps. The scan revealed the following trends:

  • Districts reported gaps in equitable access to highly qualified teachers, and some districts were developing and testing strategies to address these gaps.
  • The teacher shortage in Minnesota presents a significant barrier to districts in hiring and retaining a diverse and well-qualified staff.
  • Three-quarters of districts reported achievement gaps between specific student groups as well as efforts to address these gaps.

Sharing the results with state and district leaders

To help MDE unpack the scan and think strategically about the results, REL Midwest facilitated a half-day training for staff across the agency, including the Division of School Support and the Office of Equity and Opportunity, the Special Education Division, and Human Resources. Held in May 2019, the training provided an overview of the scan’s findings, an opportunity to discuss them in smaller groups, and the chance for reflection and strategic planning on how to address the equity goals in the WBWF legislation.

“Conducting the scan was important to help MDE assess what the state can do to help districts define goals and develop strategies to meet those goals,” said Dominique Bradley, MCRRA partnership facilitator and REL Midwest project lead. “The training session was essential in that it gave MDE staff across different divisions the time to digest the findings of the scan and start the conversations necessary to develop a strategy for coherent agency support for districts.”

The training assisted MDE staff in gaining a deeper understanding of the equity gaps that districts have identified related to a diverse teaching force, access to high-quality teachers, and student achievement. In addition, staff gained insights into how best to identify local needs and support districts’ implementation of the WBWF legislation.

“We’re hoping for more opportunities like this where we can learn from each other and work across divisions,” Stephanie Graff, MDE’s director of equity and opportunity, said after the training. Tyler Livingston, MDE’s acting director of school support, added, “It’s not all about instruction. The situation is so complex, it takes all of us together to solve it. It’s time to come together to help districts improve.”

To share the results of the scan with those most invested in the process, MDE asked REL Midwest to facilitate a second virtual training for Minnesota school districts. Similar to the training for MDE staff, this session provided district leaders and practitioners with an overview of the scan findings. The training also gave districts space and opportunity to interact, discuss the findings, and share promising strategies for implementing their WBWF plans. In addition, districts were able to learn about common challenges they face as well as MDE’s plans for future supports for districts.

District leaders said the training increased their capacity to understand and use evidence-based practices to work toward closing achievement gaps and promoting equitable outcomes in their schools. Many attendees noted that the most helpful aspect was the chance to see what other districts were doing. For instance, one attendee said it was good to see a broad view of how other districts were addressing the work. Another participant mentioned that seeing examples of goals and results from other districts was the most valuable aspect of the training.

Overall, by increasing the capacity of districts to implement Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce legislation, REL Midwest is helping MDE and the state’s districts develop a more equitable K–12 education system and a better prepared labor market to fill Minnesota’s future workforce needs.

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Author(s) Information

Marguerite Huber Staff Picture

Marguerite Huber

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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