Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

12/30/2003

The Standards Minority Report 10-30-2003

Minority Report

October 31, 2003

Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, Minnesota 55113-4266

Dear Commissioner Yecke:

As the public discussion of the Minnesota Academic Standards for social
studies enters its final stages, we feel it necessary to strongly express
our dissent. Based on our professional expertise as public school teachers,
citizens and parents on the committee, we have grave concerns about the
standards themselves and the process that has been used to create them.

We have expressed our concerns on numerous occasions both in subcommittee
and strand committee meetings. Paul Seeba sent a formal letter of dissent
on August 11, and John Brady sent an email letter of dissent on 9/19 and in
early October to you, Mary Ann Nelson, Beth Aune, and Charlie Skemp of the
MDE. Neither received any reply. As a result, we are stating our concerns
in a public forum so that you, the committee as a whole, and the Minnesota
legislature will be held accountable for feedback. We have five main
concerns and we describe them later in this report:
1) The elementary standards are developmentally inappropriate.
2) The proposed standards do not represent a centrist document.
Important historical periods are underemphasized
Views of average Minnesotans are not represented
The standards are ³Eurocentric²
Presents a narrow viewpoint
Has a disturbing pattern of gaps in the civics curriculum
3) The standards are much more prescriptive than authorized by law.
The proposed standards prescribe a ³methodology² that is expressly forbidden
by state law with its required integration of strands
The number of standards and benchmarks is impractical, especially at
elementary and middle school levels
There is an overemphasis on recall and the memorization of facts
These standards reduce local control of education.
4) The mandated curriculum framework will prove to be a financial burden
for school districts.
5) The process used to create them was flawed.
Committee composition did not represent Minnesota
Timeframe to complete the process was inadequate
Committee members were required to follow a specific framework

We favor enacting rigorous standards and benchmarks for Minnesota
elementary, middle school and high school students. However, the proposed
standards threaten to defeat the very point of social studies education: to
equip our children with the knowledge and the skills they need to become
informed, active, and contributing citizens of our nation and members of our
world. The proposed standards sell students short and Minnesota¹s children
deserve better.

We resent your overall characterization of Minnesota social studies as a
³failed² and ³embarrassing² educational effort simply because the Profile of
Learning did not require U.S. History in grades K-8. Students in districts
throughout Minnesota have traditionally learned about America¹s important
past at multiple times in grades K-8 without prescriptive state standards.
The fact that Minnesota schools currently rank #2 in the nation on ACT
scores validates their effectiveness.

We share the concern expressed by University of Minnesota historians in
their letter, ³the content and the pedagogy implied by these standards is
likely to drive students away from any sense that history is relevant to
their daily lives or any future interest in things historical. And insofar
as students learn what is prescribed here, they will take with them a
seriously incomplete and sometimes erroneous understanding.²

We are not alone in our protest. Our concerns are shared, reinforced, and
amplified by the vast majority of over 150 pages of public commentary on the
MDE web site. At the public hearings around the state, the message was the
same. Approximately 90% of those who spoke (and many of the hearings were
videotaped), spoke passionately against the proposed standards. 32
University of Minnesota historians have taken a strong and critical position
on the standards. Over 1500 Minnesotans from more than 150 towns signed the
on-line petition sponsored by Minnesotans Against Proposed Social Studies
Standards (MAPSSS at http://mapsss.no-ip.org). The Buffalo school board has
passed a resolution rejecting the standards, the Board of Directors of the
Minnesota School Boards Association has submitted a letter with serious
criticisms, and the Minneapolis school board has passed a resolution
requesting a delay of the adoption of the state Social Studies Standards.
The commissioner has received a document signed by almost every Mankato
social studies teacher expressing their reservations with the proposed
standards. Finally, four parent organizations (Parents United for Public
Schools, Save Our Schools, Minnesota PTA and UNITE 196) are planning a press
conference at MDE to demonstrate their concerns.

Descriptions of Our Concerns:

1) The elementary standards are developmentally inappropriate
We believe that teachers, schools and the state should have high
expectations for students. Even though we favor a rigorous curriculum,
elementary teachers from around the state are loudly expressing their
concern that too many of the proposed standards are inappropriate for the
grade level they have been assigned. In the early grades, concepts are
introduced that children cannot understand. For example, asking first
graders to "know how migration and colonization influenced American
History.²

At the end of the Willmar public hearing, Jack Brady had the opportunity
to survey those in attendance. When he asked who in attendance were
primarily concerned about the elementary standards being developmentally
inappropriate, approximately 90% of the audience raised their hand. When
asked how many in the audience felt that most of the elementary curriculum
was developmentally appropriate, not one hand was raised.

2) The proposed standards do not represent a centrist document
There are omissions in the history standards that are just unacceptable.
Historians at the University of Minnesota in a letter sent to the
commissioner dated Oct. 23, 2003 concluded that ³many of the proposed
standards are inaccurate, misleading, and represent an oversimplified view
of American and World history.² As the University of Minnesota history
professors said in their letter to the commissioner, ³the omissions,
misleading emphases, and factual errors that we have identified here most
fully in the coverage of U.S. history are emblematic of broader problems in
the proposed standards.²

Important historical periods are underemphasized: We don¹t point out
these problems in order to diminish anyone¹s pride in their own history, but
the proposed standards seem to take a step back into a more uncritical past,
glossing over our country¹s struggles. The inadequacies and flaws of the
proposed standards can be demonstrated in the following examples. This list
is in no way complete, but rather is intended to be suggestive.

The Korean War, JFK, Johnson's Great Society, Watergate and the study of
Vietnam are glossed over.
There are no democratic post-WWII presidents found in the Grade 8 or 9-12
standards/benchmarks. While no democrats are listed, all the republicans
are mentioned except Gerald Ford. In both cases students are specifically
required to know the ³role² of Ronald Reagan in leading to the collapse of
communism. Ronald Reagan is given credit for the fall of communism but
Presidents Kennedy and/or Johnson are not listed in the Civil Rights
benchmark directly above it?
The impact of minorities and their role in America are underrepresented.
Nowhere do the standards acknowledge or discuss the complicated,
contentious, and enduring legacy of slavery or American race relations past
and present.
The older students get, the less important women become; only two American
women (Ida Tarbell and Rosa Parks) are worth mentioning by name in high
school.
Should we believe that a discussion of Japanese internment camps was an
accidental omission?

Does not represent the views of average Minnesotans. Many of the
proposed standards depart from any national consensus on knowledge and
appear to be the product of advocates of a specific social agenda. It
advances a libertarian perspective and too often reflects the thinking of
organizations such as the Claremont Institute and Fordham Foundation, which
are widely known as conservative think tanks which exist to advance narrow
agendas. The document cannot honestly be presented as a "grassroots,
homespun" document as national writers from far right wing organizations had
great influence on the document.

Presents a narrow viewpoint. It¹s good teaching to present multiple
perspectives when teaching history or any of the social sciences such as
economics and political science, where a variety of interpretations and
viewpoints exist. Only by exploring and analyzing multiple perspectives in
social studies classes will students develop the skills to think critically
regarding historical events and current issues. These standards fail in
this area.

To often in the U.S. and World history strands, the U.S. is described
largely in isolation or distinct difference from the rest of the world.
This narrow slice of world history perpetuates an inaccurate and outdated
presumption that all Americans share a common descent.

Has a disturbing pattern of gaps in the civics curriculum. Missing topics
include: Judicial review, Affirmative action, Due process, Equal protection
under the law, and the 4th, 5th, 6th Amendments are missing. The history of
dissent and conflict within our nation and society is downplayed or
suppressed altogether.

The standards are ³Eurocentric.² In the proposed standards, what really
gets covered is what is defined as ³our² history, including its ancient
roots, and that ³we² are all European in lineage. The standards provide a
small and narrow slice of world history. For example, in the middle grades
- there are 239 discrete benchmarks. Not one of them connects to any
civilization outside of the Greeks or Romans, or the Hebrews - as if no one
else lived on the planet.

In addition, there seems to be an avoidance of studying the culture of
others, even in the high school geography and world history courses. The
National Council for Social Studies believes that multicultural education is
an important component of every social studies curriculum. Contrary to some
of the representations of the commissioner and members of the committee, the
NCSS position is that, ³Multicultural education supports and enhances the
notion of e pluribus unum -- out of many, one. To build a successful and
inclusive nation-state, the hopes, dreams and experiences of the many groups
within it must be reflected in the structure and institutions of society.
This is the only way to create a nation state in which all citizens will
feel included, loyal, and patriotic." (NCSS Task Force on Ethnic Studies
Curriculum Guidelines, Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education, A
Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies [Washington,
D.C.: NCSS, 1976, revised 1991], p. 3.)

We fail to see how a Eurocentric curriculum will help solve the perceived
³Achievement Gap² in Minnesota that is often mentioned by the commissioner.
It is really reasonable to believe that minority students that are
struggling in school will suddenly become enthused about social studies with
standards that largely ignore their heroes and cultural backgrounds?

3) The standards are more prescriptive than authorized by law
The HF 302 Profile Repeal Bill requires that "the standards must be
clear, concise, objective, measurable and grade-level appropriate. They
must not require a specific teaching methodology or curriculum, and they
must be consistent with the constitutions of the United States and the state
of Minnesota [Section 3, subdivision 2 (5)].²

The proposed standards mandate a ³methodology² that is expressly
forbidden by state law. One problem is this is a specific curriculum which
forces all five social studies strands to be integrated into the same course
at the elementary and middle school levels. Currently, most public schools
have a geography and history sequence in grades 7 and 8 (not necessarily in
this order). The mandated integrated approach will destroy these courses.
Teaching five strands at a time is not the best way to teach the subject.
Courses need coherent identities. If the course has to include too many
strands it becomes ambiguous, and students lose interest. We have not seen
the research that convinces us that this is the best way to teach social
studies. In addition, high-quality instructional materials are not
available that incorporate the various strands the way this document
mandates. If teachers are forced to create their own materials there will
be little standardization in what is actually taught. Having U.S. history
be the main strand for one year, and geography for another at the middle
level would make the most prudent use of existing resources and teacher
training.

The number of standards and benchmarks is impractical, especially at
elementary and middle school levels. Under the present proposal Minnesota
3rd graders have 63 benchmarks, 8th graders have 71 while the year-long high
school geography class has only 32. These standards present a challenge to
generalists in elementary schools who also must teach our children the three
Rs? The world history standards for Grades 9-12 contain with 107 benchmarks
for a half year course compared to 82 benchmarks for a full year of US
history. Even though the commissioner has repeatedly stated that the
standards would be trimmed by approximately 30%, we¹re concerned that this
may still be so many standards that teachers will not have the time to
engage students in thoughtful discussions of past and current events, where
they may help them develop problem-solving, decision-making, and discussion
skills.

Joseph Onosko, one of the MDE¹s expert reviewers puts it in his critique
of the proposed standards, ³I'm willing to bet that not a single
Osuccessful¹ person living in Minnesota possesses what is required in the
benchmarks. For example, do 2nd graders (and adults for that matter) really
need to know the following: "Students will recognize that productive
resources are all natural resources, human resources, and human-made
resources (capital) used in the production of goods and services"?

There is an overemphasis on recall and the memorization of facts. The
new standards have been described by many respected educators as being ³an
inch deep and a mile wide.² Teaching such a volume of standards/benchmarks
would require extensive time devoted to rote learning that will undermine
the teaching of basic skills in reading and math in elementary classrooms,
as well as limiting the creativity of teachers across the state. For
example, students will spend lots of time memorizing the battles and
generals of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War but very little about
what the issues were.

A large majority of benchmarks are at the lowest levels of Bloom¹s
Taxonomy. Note that the verbs used most frequently (such as ³identify,²
³recognize,² ³know and understand,² and ³describe²) imply lower level
thinking skills compared to verbs that appear infrequently or not at all
(such as ³examine,² ³analyze,² ³debate² or ³compare²). There is a definite
focus on names, dates and places without context or larger themes that
engages student learning. Knowing the date and place of the signing of the
Treaty of Versailles is quite different from knowing how its terms relate to
the genesis of the Second World War.

We prefer to have students study issues in depth, to relate them to their
own lives and learn how to discuss them rationally with their peers and with
adults. In democracies citizens have the freedom and opportunity to make
many of their own personal decisions, which often have social ramifications,
to select their leaders, and to vote on issues. According to Warren
Soloman, another of MDE¹s experts, ³the Minnesota standards and benchmarks
do not emphasize helping students to develop the skills to engage in
discussion of issues and to make decisions with regard to them.² We propose
that the standards be modified to make room for teachers to engage students
in problem solving and decision making where they must weigh conflicting
values.

These standards reduce local control of education. These standards
represent a radical departure from what is currently being taught in
Minnesota schools and would immediately transform the scope and sequence of
social studies for every school district in the state. Standards should
establish broad strokes that allow teachers and school districts to make
decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. Instead, these standards
will force schools on the Commissioner's own "Top 17" list to abandon what
is currently working well for them. Edina High School, selected as one of
Newsweek¹s Top 100 U.S. schools, will be forced to adopt a curriculum
advocated by members of the committee whose views are outside the
mainstream. High performing middle schools will be forced to teach all five
strands of social studies each year in an integrated approach with little
concern for the possible financial ramifications. With this much of our
curriculum being mandated by the state, is it fair to ask if we really have
³independent² school districts in Minnesota anymore?

4) Mandated curriculum framework will prove to be a financial burden for
school districts
We are deeply concerned about the extreme cost implications for new
curriculum materials and professional development in order to implement the
proposed standards framework and standards. The multidisciplinary framework
at each grade level will require districts to purchase age level appropriate
curriculum materials in five social studies strands (subjects) for each
grade of elementary and middle school. It may be difficult to even find
materials that encompass all of the strands that are listed. Will school
districts be forced to purchase separate U.S. history, world history and
Minnesota history textbooks for each grade level? Establishing whole new
³curriculums² that require school districts to spend large sums of money to
purchase new materials is fiscally irresponsible when less expensive
alternatives exist. Another concern is that much of this "curriculum" is so
far out of the mainstream that it is not even supported by any existing
commercial curriculum and therefore would require significant curriculum
development expense.

The Commissioner has on several occasions made the statement that ³good
teachers don¹t use textbooks.² She has often noted that teachers can plan
lessons using the Internet. Requiring Minnesota¹s teachers, especially
elementary, to plan all of their lessons without adequate support materials
is not a recipe for continuity or quality. While it is not sound
educationally to base one¹s standards and teaching around a single textbook
for a grade level; one has to recognize that many elementary teachers do not
have strong backgrounds in social studies, and they will need educational
resources to help them with the content they are to teach.

The cost of training teachers in the integrated approach will be another
issue. The current practice of social studies teacher training in the state
does not train teachers to teach like this. Minnesota colleges train
excellent teachers every year. States like Texas and California
consistently send representatives to Minnesota ³teacher fairs² to recruit
Minnesotans to go to their states. Apparently, Minnesota colleges must be
doing something right as we are not aware of any Minnesota school districts
that are currently recruiting teachers from Texas.

Are these new state standards going to end up being another unfunded
mandate? Hasn¹t the present administration pledged to hold the line on
spending?

5) The process used to create them was flawed
The entire process was flawed from the start for three reasons:

Committee Composition:
Only a small minority of the K-12 committee came from public schools
only two of the ten members of the 6-8 subcommittee, for example. Teachers
from charter and private schools were grossly overrepresented given the tiny
percentage of the population they serve. This is especially disturbing due
to the fact that private schools are not bound by the law. In addition,
school board members were erroneously identified as ³school administrators²
and daycare providers as ³K-12 teachers.²

Our greatest concern is that the committee lacked broad representation by
teachers, parents, administrators and others committed to mainstream
Minnesota values and strengthening our public K-12 school system. For
example, members of the K-12 committee included the Chairman of the board of
directors of the Claremont Institute a conservative California think tank;
the lead writer for the web site Minnesota Education Reform News, members of
the conservative Maple River Coalition and an inordinate number of
supporters of H.D. Hirsch¹s core knowledge approach to teaching. In
addition, of the nine national ³experts,² selected by the commissioner to
evaluate the proposed standards, four of them are easily identified with
anti-public movement (Diane Ravitch, Anne Neal, John Fonte and Erich
Martel). Not one is a Minnesotan. At the same time, the commissioner has
been quick to dismiss criticism submitted by the University of Minnesota¹s
history experts. It¹s easy to see that the deck was stacked

Timeframe:
There is no doubt that the short time frame given the committee to
complete their work rushed the product and compromised its quality. Work
began in earnest on 7/31 and the first draft was finished 8/20. In fact,
the November 1 meeting is only the third ³official² meeting of the entire
K-12 committee. While it is true that many grade-level subcommittees met
one or more times on their own, it is equally true that much of the work was
done by a few.

The final November 1 work day is insufficient to be responsive to the
overwhelming critical feedback the commissioner has received in the past few
weeks. There were nearly 150 pages of public comment on the MDE web page
before they stopped accepting new comments. There was testimony at 14
public hearings around the state that most committee members did not attend.
In addition to this, there are critiques of the standards by outside
³experts.² Even though we are volunteering our time, our instructions for
November 1 is to bring materials that we feel are important we aren¹t even
been assured of receiving copies of all of the public dialogue. How can we
get it all done and make the changes that Minnesotans are asking for in such
a short amount of time. Our children are simply too important to rush
through this process. Based on the lack of quality in the initial product,
we have no reason to believe a small writing team handpicked by the
commissioner will result a balanced, workable product.

Framework:
The requirement to follow the Commissioner's rigid framework, including
detailed course outlines, means that much of the curriculum was set in stone
even before our first meeting. When individuals attempted to draft
standards and benchmarks that were closely associated with national
standards, we were rebuffed because they didn¹t fit into the framework she
provided. The recommendation to follow the examples of other states,
including providing us with their standards in digital form, weakened the
final product as a result of what could be best described as outright
plagiarism. How else could we explain the Annie Bidwell benchmark? (Gr. 7
U.S. History)


Concluding Recommendations to the Commissioner of Education:

Begin the social studies standard process anew with committees that
represent mainstream views of Minnesotans. The proposed standards are not
workable and cannot be fixed by eliminating 30% of the benchmarks as
advocated by the commissioner. As the Duluth News Tribune said in their
editorial, ³these standards need major reworking, not just tinkering before
the Legislature approves them² (Sept. 28, 2003). There should be no
ideologues on a future committee and instead it should consist of informed
parents and teachers and others with acknowledged expertise in their field.
Further, we believe that private school teachers, who are not bound by the
document, should play a much less prominent role.

Concluding Recommendations to the Legislature:

Postpone the adoption of new social studies standards until all important
issues can be resolved satisfactorily.

Change the law to specifying standards and benchmarks for primary (K-2),
intermediate (3-5), middle (6-8) and high school (9-12), and not specific
grade levels. This will go a long way toward restoring local school
district control over what is taught and when. The state should be able to
recommend what courses are taught at specific grade levels, not mandate a
state curriculum. Joseph Onosko also recommends the ³banding" of grades K-8
(as was done with 9-12) with three bands of K-2; 3-5, and 6-8.

Find a permanent solution to the increasing politicizing of education in the
state of Minnesota. Take the lead and find a permanent solution to the
politicizing what our students learn. Whatever the standards are when they
are finally adopted, they should transcend administrations and politics.
The true test of excellent standards is their ability to last over time. We
can¹t be reinventing the state¹s curriculum every four years.

As teachers, parents, and citizens we share with you a deep commitment to
serious and substantive education for social studies in the state of
Minnesota. We look forward to working with you in achieving that shared
goal.

Respectfully,

John Brady Paul Seeba
ISD #877 (Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose) ISD #624 (White Bear
Lake)

Marc Doepner-Hove Mary Tacheny
ISD # (West Tonka) ISD # 625