Local View: Free, effective, personalized learning opportunities abound in Northland

From the column: "One of the most valuable options for high school students ... is to earn free college credit via courses taught in high school, online, or on college campuses."

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Students and families in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region have terrific opportunities to personalize their education in the next two months, thanks to many public-school options. Partly because of family encouragement, Minnesota legislators and educators have created many free public-school choices. They can help youngsters identify and develop their gifts, talents, and interests. These school options are also designed to help young people develop vital basic and applied life skills.

Personalized education is more effective because it builds on students’ interests and talents. That helps increase students’ motivation to learn, as Ted Kolderie of St. Paul, Minnesota, explained in his October paper , “Conceptualizing Personalization.” One part of this is Minnesota’s law requiring every student, working with their family and educators, to develop a post-high school plan .

Minnesota has developed numerous opportunities for personalized learning over the last 30-plus years. These opportunities are found within school districts as well as chartered, private, at-home, and online schools. Their availability gives opportunities for thousands of students to learn to their potential while also being a resource for traditional learning. Expanding personalized learning will benefit our increasingly diverse student population while also improving traditional learning for all. School leaders and policymakers should make its growth a priority.

Many districts ask families and students to select students’ school and (at the secondary level) class schedule during January or February. One of the most valuable options for high school students, starting for some in ninth grade, is to earn free college credit via courses taught in high school, online, or on college campuses.

Virtually every Minnesota high school offers college-level courses, called Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Concurrent Enrollment, or College in the Schools. One difference among them is that college credit for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses is based mostly or entirely on how well a student does in the final exam. College credit for other courses depends on a student’s work throughout the course. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education offers information about college and university acceptance policies for these courses .


Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) law requires districts and charters to provide information to eighth- through 11th-grade students and their families by March 1, or three weeks before students register for the next year’s classes. Tenth- through 12th-grade students must register for PSEO classes by May 30.

PSEO courses are available in “hands-on” vocational as well as traditional academic subjects. Though not as well known, starting in 10th grade, students can take free vocational courses at two-year public colleges such as Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College, Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Lake Superior College, Mesabi Range College, Rainy River Community College, and V ermillion Boundary Waters College. PSEO is one of several ways for students to earn free college credit, develop their interests, and prepare themselves for employment and life. PSEO courses can be taken on college campuses or online with state law requiring high schools to allow students to use school computers.

Both district and charter public schools offer other valuable options. For example, the Duluth School District offers Spanish and Ojibwe immersion classes. Tara Fortune, the former director of research and professional development at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, told me, “A language immersion experience is transformational. It has the potential to transform a student’s worldview — both language and culture. You learn more and equally valid ways of seeing the world and being in the world.”

Along with districts, Arrowhead families have a variety of charter public-school options .

Fortunately, Minnesota families have more and more opportunities for a free, public, personalized education.

Joe Nathan of St. Paul has been a public school teacher, administrator, and PTA president. He directs the nonprofit Center for School Change ( He can be reached at .

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Joe Nathan

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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