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Sen. Terri Bonoff: Language Immersion, Gun Control and Online Courses

"This week’s update provides some detail about new conversations, yet I continue to hear from so many who remain concerned about the budget proposal."

This week at the Capitol, a number of issues were brought to the forefront.

The Healthcare Exchange moved forward, public testimony on gun-control measures was heard (hundreds came to testify), and anticipation continued to build surrounding the release of the February budget forecast.

This week’s update provides some detail about new conversations, yet I continue to hear from so many who remain concerned about the budget proposal. Following the February forecast, I will share my best thoughts regarding what might be a way forward to promote growth and financial stability.

MOOCs

What an amazing new platform; Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are a phenomenon that has caught on around the globe. The idea is to provide online lectures and interactive assignments by the very best professors for free online.

People around the world can access and participate in these online courses and receive educational benefit that otherwise may not have been available to them. In the committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, Daphne Koller, a founder of Coursera, one of the leading providers for MOOCs, visited toshare her creative enterprise with the committee. You can see her TED talks lecture on MOOCs here. It is worth watching!

We are excited about this new platform and its’ opportunity to be a catalyst for change. MOOCs have the potential to help bend the cost and access curve for future generations. So far, over two million people have taken these courses and the positive responses have been astounding. This is not a panacea. We are not advocating replacing our teachers with this option. Yet, as a complement to a traditional approach, this provides an enormous opportunity that we in Minnesota will explore.

There are some things that we must tackle before this exploration can begin. For instance, when we first investigated the feasibility of providing MOOCs in Minnesota, we discovered an arcane law that requires any college or university participating in a program like this to pay a fee. Senator Jeremy Miller introduced a bill to negate this law and thus open the door for our post-secondary institutions to participate in MOOCs. As you may have read in the paper, the very next day, the University of Minnesota announced that they are working with Coursera to introduce five courses.

Language Immersion

One of the first pieces of legislation that I introduced this session was a bill to modify our basic skills test requirement for immersion teachers.

Many of you are familiar with the fact that the Minnetonka School District has a nation-leading language immersion program. I heard from several parents and district representatives who claim that this program (and others like it around the state) is in jeopardy because of the strict requirements placed on the teachers (see Should Immersion Teachers Take the Basic Skills Test? on Minnetonka Patch.)

These teachers, who are recruited from their native countries to teach our immersion students in their native language, are forced to pass a rigorous test in English. Their classroom language expectations demand little English. Yet we place the burdensome requirement on them to pass a test in a language they have yet to master.

These immersion programs are showing much promise for young learners across the state. It is reported that students involved in immersion programs are leading their classmates in Math, English and other subjects as well. The bill that Rep. Selcer and I put forward gives immersion teachers an additional 36 months to pass the test; it is reported in the education community that ESL (English as a second language) students take seven years to master English.

I am proud to say that this bill passed through the Education Policy committee without debate and will be heard on the floor for the entire Senate body to vote on. Stay tuned for further updates.

Hollydale: I understand that not all who read this are affected by the Hollydale situation. For those that are, please click here to read the latest.

Topic Rewind: Do you favor legalizing same sex marriage?

Last week, I asked for your input on the topic of same sex marriage. The feedback was outstanding, with over 170 responses. “Topic Rewind” takes a look back at some of the responses I received. I posted arguments on both sides of the issue. There are many points of view and all are important to me. See attached graph for results.

Changemakers

This past Tuesday, I hosted my first town hall of the session; thank you to all who came and participated. The discussion was respectful and the ideas genuine. I am so proud to represent such a well-informed and forward-thinking district.

In keeping with this theme, we introduce an initiative started during the campaign; Changemakers. The goal is to highlight people around this district who are making a difference in our community, whether it be a beer company that matches each dollar it receives with adonation to fight Aquatic Invasive Species (link) or a program designed to help the most needy with basic things like groceries, rent, mortgage and utilities (link).

It is my belief that leadership lies within and only in partnership will we solve the challenges of today and create the opportunities of tomorrow. Effective leadership is about making a difference, expressing a vision, and being a catalyst for change. Sharing the stories of the people and organizations providing leadership in our community is one way I hope to make a difference

I invite you to nominate individuals or organizations that you feel deserve to be commended as a “Changemaker” in our community. Click here to submit a nomination. As always, stay tuned to my Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the week. I sincerely appreciate hearing from you via email sen.terri.bonoff@senate.mn and phone 651-296-4314 as well.

Best Regards,

Terri Bonoff 
Representing Minnetonka, Plymouth and Woodland

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