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Education must advance past 1940s' grid, says governor

As the country moves forward through the next few months, Governor Tim Pawlenty knows there are going to be challenges.

Challenges that include an unstable economy, he told a roomful of educators last Friday at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria.

The governor was the guest speaker at the Minnesota Rural Education Association's annual conference.

Pawlenty told the group he was not there to talk about the economy, but instead, he was there to talk about the future of education.

"You have done a wonderful job in Minnesota with the educational system and you should be proud," the governor said. He then listed reasons, including the fact that Minnesota has the highest ACT scores in the country and that per capita, it is also the highest in the nation.

"Minnesota has done astoundingly well," he reiterated.

Governor Pawlenty said the world is changing - demographically, economically and technologically - and that staying the same isn't an option.

One of the highlights of his speech was talking about technology and how it plays a part in education, especially with online programming.

The governor believes there should be more online programming options for students and not just at the higher ed levels.

"Why go to a regular class when you can go to class online from around the world?" the governor asked. "Why not reduce the costs for college by having more online options?"

In 20 years or less, Pawlenty suspects that students won't be listening to professors in a traditional setting like he did.

He also thinks that the state should help pay for "world-class online classes" so that all students would have access to the latest information and teaching techniques.

"Our system needs to change from a 1940s style to a more iPod form of learning," the governor said.

He added, however, that he doesn't want technology to replace teaching practices, he just wants to enhance it.

Technology, he said, doesn't and shouldn't replace caring teachers and other staff members. Computers, he added, can and should be used as a tool.

Some of Governor Pawlenty's other beliefs include how school districts recruit teachers. He believes districts need to do it differently than they have in the past and that districts shouldn't have to rely on third-party groups for teacher recruitment.

He also believes that colleges need to have an overhaul. Those going into teaching can fail math, but still become math teachers and the governor feels this is not appropriate and not acceptable.

Districts, he said, need better staff development plans and that school districts should put away 2 percent of its funds to pay for staff development.

The way teachers are paid should also change, said Pawlenty, adding that he feels districts can do better than a 1940s style.

"I don't have all the answers," he admitted, but said that the state has to strategically nudge the teachers union to change. "We have to engage teachers and work together. We can definitely do better than a 1940s grid."