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Senator Dahle on education

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A local driver’s education teacher, a Minnesota state senator, an Iowan: Senator Kevin Dahle is many things. On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Dahle, who represents an area including most of Northfield in the state senate, addressed students in the Black Ballroom, speaking about what happens behind the scenes of the Minnesotan education system.

A teacher for upwards of 32 years, Senator Dahle started off at a school in Sebeka, Minn., where the principal coincidentally had the same surname. Dahle joked that it is how he got his first job, as his boss wanted to have some kind of lasting legacy.

In his talk, Dahle first addressed the issue that a starting wage of $37,500 a year, coupled with student loans, is not attracting many young people to start teaching in America. For this reason, he hopes to enact various strategies to encourage young teachers, such as loan forgiveness, low interest loans and tax incentives. Another major key to Dahle’s strategy lies in abolishing the Minnesota teachers licensing exam.

“We need to draw people into the state, not send them elsewhere,” Dahle said. “We need to try to streamline testing.”

He claimed that Minnesota’s brutally strict licensing exams are not always necessarily applicable depending on the type of teacher. For example, someone interested in teaching kindergarten should not be required to know how to do advanced calculus.

Abolishing the teacher’s licensing exam in Minnesota would also encourage ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of teachers within the state, which has a primarily privileged, white and well-educated class of teachers. There are also several obstacles in teaching at different school districts. The complexities of the process overall are discouraging to aspiring teachers, which Dahle claims is the root of the teacher shortage that the state is currently experiencing.

The replacement of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 also ties in deeply with Dahle’s perspective on the antiquated education system in Minnesota. The teacher’s licensing exam itself was in fact born out of the NCLB, and the recent replacement considered Dahle’s critique. With this new program, there will be increased flexibility within Minnesota as to who is qualified to teach.

The low federal government involvement in funding on a state level that existed under the NCLB Act created many unforeseen problems. As almost all the funding for schools was supplied through the state system, the states themselves were pitted against each other in competition for the best teachers. While the goals of the NCLB Act were admirable, Dahle agrees that its goals were not applicable on a state-to-state basis.

The father of a fourth-grade girl, Dahle has fascinating opinions on the topic of the gender division within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The difficulty of drawing young women to and retaining them within the STEM realm is a major issue at all levels of education. On a state level getting women into the STEM field is difficult, and Minnesota is no exception.

Dahle’s panel was highly educational and chock full of riveting tidbits on the current state of our local school system. While he is closely linked with the community around Northfield High School in his role as a teacher, his election to state senate has forced him to take a national perspective.

“If you go into teaching, I don’t think you’ll ever regret that. It builds an excellent foundation for the community and the future,” Dahle said.

mcguffin@stolaf.edu