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.


Wendy S. Choi: Minnesota Academic Standards for Parents of Public School Children

Strand: Government and Citizenship
Substrand: Public-School Parent Activists

Standard: The parent will become familiar with state public education issues.

1. Benchmark: Parents will identify and understand issues related to quality public education for MN students.

Increased state and federal mandates without funding (ex. costly social studies standards)
Teaching children to a math, reading, and science multiple-choice state test (excluding essay, short answer) (using a single multiple-choice test score as the only factor in academic achievement rankings) (narrowing of education)
Confusion due to inadequate communication from Department of Education (confusing academic-achievement star ratings) (confusing state standards)

2. Benchmark: Parents will locate and understand their district legislative platform.

3. Benchmark: Parents will develop questions based on problems/concerns.

What's the plan for paying for textbooks and teacher training necessary to meet new state standards?
What's the plan to make sure students still get important knowledge and skills not measured for school ratings?
What's the plan to clear up confusion over academic achievement star ratings and confusing state standards?

4. Benchmark: Parents will get to know district legislators and other key legislators that serve on education committees.

Senate E-12 Education Committee Members
House Education Finance Committee Members
House Education Policy Committee Members
Commissioner of Education and other Department of Education Officials

5. Benchmark: Parents will identify and utilize legislative session information resources.

Legislative Session "Green Book" (legislator phone book)
Weekly Session Update Publications for House and Senate
Committee Meetings and Hearings

6. Benchmark: Parents will identify and utilize other state parent groups as a resource.

Parents United www.parentsunited.org (sign up for email updates)

Standard: The parent will communicate problem/concern to others to raise awareness.

1. Benchmark: Parents will write a letter to the editor.

Pioneer Press letters@pioneerpress.com (include name, address, phone) (follow up with phone call)
Star Tribune opinion@startribune.com (include name, address, phone) (follow up with phone call)
Local papers (see back side for listing)

2. Benchmark: Parents will respectfully communicate with legislators.

Phone legislator, describe problem, ask questions, and express concerns.
Attend a committee meeting during the session and before/after meeting describe problem, ask questions, and express concerns to legislators.
Arrange a meeting with a legislator and group of constituents to describe problem, ask questions, and express concerns.

3. Benchmark: Parents will inform other parents about problems/concerns.

Phone a small group of parents with call to action (even just a small group of ten can make a difference).
Start a email communication network to keep others posted on state decisions that may impact education of their children.

Michael Boucher: New Standards Worse than the Old

Published November 15, 2003

I read with interest the Nov. 7 commentary by Bruce Sanborn, a chairman of the conservative Claremont Institute and a member of the committee writing new social studies standards. He echoes the claim I have heard several times from Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke that the old standards were "an embarrassment." I have yet to hear who was embarrassed.

Sanborn calls upon Diane Ravitch, a frequent conservative critic of public schools, to make his case. Ravitch found the Profile of Learning standards lacking, but I dare say that she would scowl at any attempt to create a more humane school system where all students are reflected in the curriculum.

Ravitch envisions a system where students parrot back facts and fallacies about the world without having experienced it. She scoffs at attempts to build skills in democracy, instead preferring people who can recite the three branches of government but have no sense of real citizenship. We have yet to hear what she has to say about our new standards.

Sanborn, a former teacher, thinks the Profile was all bad. Today's teachers know the issue with the Profile was simply that there was too much of it: too much paperwork, too much to store, too much to do in the time available. The thing that was brilliant about the Profile was that it was an attempt to define what students needed to know and do. These proposed standards also mandate too much to cover and too many tests. They commit all the sins of the Profile without any of the saving graces.

According to Sanborn, "The new standards are clear, testable statements of what a moderately well educated citizen ought to know about America's and Minnesota's history, geography, civics and economics. Unlike the Profile, the new standards do not call for students to perform activities and projects in order to evoke feelings and give them experiences." He is right in that the proposed standards are testable, but after that Sanborn is absolutely wrong. The lowest level of learning is repetition of some unconnected fact. Patients who go to a surgeon to replace a knee want more than someone who knows all about the knee. They want someone who both knows and has experience with knee surgery. Sanborn has this strange notion that knowledge of how to do things means students don't know anything about it. That is beyond ridiculous.

Let me explain a basic truth of learning: Teaching someone to do something comes after teaching the facts. To rephrase the old maxim: Teach a man what a fish is, he'll go hungry; teach him to fish, let him practice with guidance and learn to catch the fish that is best for him, he'll eat for a lifetime. If the state wants to make good fishermen, test a student's fishing ability. If we are trying to create citizens who "know and understand" democracy, have them do democracy.

The proposed standards are testable. They are mostly facts -- although often slanted to the political right, as in, "Students will know and understand the role of America's military and veterans in defending freedom during the Cold War, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis, and the collapse of communism in Europe."

But will that meet our real objective? If our goal is to train automatons to spout facts that could be found in an almanac, then the standards are perfect. If the goal is to create citizens who can make decisions based on the glories and mistakes of the past, then they are a miserable failure.

The new standards are more of an embarrassment than the Profile ever was. They are a mishmash of fact and fallacy, and are woefully inadequate for Minnesota's children. Educators are looking for guidance as to what students need to know and be able to do, but this list masquerading as standards gives no real guidance and actually makes the burdens for teachers and students worse than the old curriculum standards.

Michael Boucher, Minneapolis, is a social studies teacher and department chair at South High School.
Minnesota Council of Social Studies Board of Directors
History Day Teacher of Merit
Has been teaching in Minneapolis for 12 years


Bruce C. Sanborn: Haunted by Profile's ghost

Bruce C. Sanborn: Haunted by Profile's ghost
Bruce C. Sanborn

Published November 7, 2003 SANBORN1107
It took me a while to understand Jim Davnie's Oct. 5 Commentary column. It's easy to see that Davnie makes unsupported, contradictory criticisms of the social studies standards proposed for Minnesota's schools. It takes longer to see Davnie is still trying to restore the discredited Profile of Learning to consciousness. He's like a hoary Civil War rebel who just keeps fighting and won't face facts: Rep. Davnie, the war is over. Minnesota has weighed the Profile of Learning and found it bad for kids.
Davnie is a DFLer on the House Education Policy Committee, a social studies teacher and a past president and governor of the teachers' union. I used to be a teacher and am on the Social Studies Committee Grades 6-8 that the Department of Education established to help draft the proposed standards. I believe that the Profile was bad and that the new standards are good. Let's consider the case for and against them.

Back in 1997 the old Department of Children, Families and Learning invited Diane Ravitch to assess Minnesota's Profile of Learning. Ravitch got her Ph.D. from Columbia University, has a national reputation in education, and has both written and reviewed standards for other states.

She studied the Profile and provided her assessment: "I will be candid because I don't have time to be diplomatic. In the area of social studies, the Minnesota standards are among the worst in the nation. They are vague; they give no direction to teachers, assessment developers, students or parents. They do not indicate what is to be studied. They lack specifics. They are not testable. They cannot be considered standards because they lack content and clarity."

Ravitch noted the standards were especially weak on content: Students could graduate knowing nothing about America's statesmen and important events, from George Washington to the New Deal.
Ravitch could not make those criticisms of the new, proposed standards. The new standards are clear, testable statements of what a moderately well educated citizen ought to know about America's and Minnesota's history, geography, civics and economics. Unlike the Profile, the new standards do not call for students to perform activities and projects in order to evoke feelings and give them experiences.
The new standards are not perfect. Davnie opens his article by mocking the standards for asking students to know about Annie Bidwell, a woman involved in America's Westward expansion. Being charitable, I'd say Davnie's point is that the standards ask students to learn too much, risking that they may not learn the most important things. That would be a fair point, one that I believe will be addressed as the public reviews the standards - just as a similar point was addressed when the proposed math and reading standards went to the public and were shortened.

Davnie makes other less specific criticisms, but offers only shreds of evidence. For instance, he seems to rest his assertion that the standards are biased and "deeply conservative" on his allegation the standards don't require knowledge of "Presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton."
Wrong. Just as the standards ask students to know about the Monroe Doctrine (and so to know something about President James Monroe), they ask students to know about the Truman Doctrine (Truman) and about the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War (Kennedy). Not all America's statesmen are specifically named but the great ones are (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and King, for example).

Davnie's most serious charge is that the standards don't prepare students for citizenship. They do call on students to know America's founding documents and the principles and practices of free government (in particular, the principles of human equality, natural rights and rule of law) that describe the United States and its attempt to prove that ordinary human beings are capable of self-government.
But Davnie questions what he calls America's "seminal" documents as guides for dealing with "future challenges." It is difficult to square Davnie's argument that the new standards don't prepare students for citizenship with his criticism of the standards for requiring the study of the documentary foundation of America.

Questioning the founding documents as guides, Davnie in effect questions whether they are grounded on truths -- truths that Abraham Lincoln said are "applicable to all men and to all times." Rather, Davnie speaks of history as "a great story" full of "drama, energy and inspiration" and, again, "drama and emotion." There! Look! In the mist of feelings and vague notions about life as story, do you see what I slowly came to see - the ghost of the Profile of Learning? No troublesome documents there!

Bruce C. Sanborn, of Mahtomedi, a former middle-school teacher, is chairman of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship

Michael Boucher: Reject these 'substandards'

Michael Boucher: Reject these 'substandards'
Michael Boucher

Published December 9, 2003
As someone who has taught social studies for 12 years in Minneapolis, I am concerned about the reports coming from the rewriting committee for the new social studies standards.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke brought in some experts and gave them a mandate to improve some sections of the document. When it came to the civics/government standards, conservative members of the larger committee, such as Bruce Sanborn of the Claremont Institute, were selected by Yecke to rewrite and improve the old document. Yet the committee did not address these major problems.

• The standards have not taken into account the public commentary and are missing the canon of civic life.

There was an outpouring of public comment on the department Web site and at the public meetings. When I was there, committee members were openly antagonistic toward critics. Yecke announced in September that these standards were only a draft and would be improved; yet when I observed the revision process there was little change.

When critics talk about bias in the standards, it is a bias against understanding what citizenship means. The document is still missing important concepts, like the significance of the 14th Amendment and the promise of equal protection under the law. There is a pervasive emphasis on the Declaration of Independence and a deemphasis of constitutional rights.

Of course, the Declaration is vital to our national identity and should not be given a cursory treatment in a civics classroom. But the other basics of civics that are not emphasized in the Declaration, such as civic virtue and civil rights, are crucial, practical and necessary in the 21st century.

• The standards are based on the wrong models.

The social studies committee was handed standards from Alabama, Kansas, California and Virginia. Using national standards would have been a good idea, but using Alabama or Virginia as our educational model is ludicrous. Minnesota is consistently in the top of every educational measure, from standardized tests to grades.

Twenty thousand Minnesota students participated in National History Day competitions around the state last year. Virginia had 1,200. Alabama's ACT average score is 20.1; the national average is 20.8, while Minnesota's was 22.0. Our students are sought out for their academic excellence. The time has come for Minnesotans to stop listening to outsiders and see ourselves for the educational leaders we are.

• They would be very costly to implement.

These civics standards are so far out of the mainstream that no textbook manufacturer makes materials for them. We will have to allocate money for creation of a Minnesota civics textbook if they are to be met. Yecke has said that resources are available on the Internet, but the resentment will be palpable when teachers are told that they have to teach a new curriculum, full of factoids, with no support and no materials.

• The commissioner just doesn't get it.

Yecke has dismissed critics of the standards as revisionists and America-haters, but I am most frustrated when she tries to drive a wedge between parents and teachers. There are more than 70,000 teachers in Minnesota. We are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and we stand for our children and our students. The job of the commissioner is to build bridges between parents and teachers. Her attempts to drive them apart are deplorable.

At this point, the Legislature will have to make a decision. Will we stand for these "substandards" or will we reject them and begin again with a new committee representing teachers, knowledgeable citizens and professors?

Minnesotans deserve standards that will be a model for the nation. We won't get them with the current committee.

Michael Boucher, Minneapolis, is a social studies teacher and department co-chair at South High School.

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

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
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

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

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

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

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

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.

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


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

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

Editorial: Social studies -- Example of civic engagement

Editorial: Social studies -- Example of civic engagement

Published November 9, 2003
Minnesota's social studies standards brouhaha has been a good civics/social studies lesson in itself. When the first draft of proposed standards was released in September, concerned citizens spoke up. Now, it appears, their voices have prompted substantial changes.

Although this debate has sometimes been characterized as a "Hate America" and "Love America" argument, the process that will produce final standards reveals America at its best.

A proposed set of social studies standards was written this summer by a committee appointed by the state Department of Education commissioner, Cheri Pierson Yecke. The first draft immediately drew criticism that fell into four broad categories: The learning requirements reflect a conservative, ultra-patriotic agenda that omits controversial or negative events; they include hundreds more facts than children can reasonably absorb; they dictate too much of what educators should or should not teach, and they are often inappropriate to their age and grade level.

Those concerns brought a barrage of citizens into the fray. More than 800 mostly critical e-mail comments flowed into the department. Several school boards lodged complaints, as did the Parent Teacher Association and Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union. Members of the standards committee offered a critical minority report; a citizen group collected nearly 1,500 signatures in opposition, and a group of 32 University of Minnesota history teachers fired off a rigorous critique.
All Minnesotans can be proud of that response. It attests that Minnesotans care about education and want their children to have a balanced, fair approach to learning the nation's history.

As a result, when the committee reconvened last Saturday, Yecke directed members to make a "significant reductions" in the number of requirements. The committee worked on providing more flexibility to allow schools to move guidelines from one grade level to another.

Many of the dates, places, names and events that were requirements in the first draft became "optional examples" that teachers may use if they choose. That should give teachers more leeway to cover major historical events or eras without fear of leaving out a specific reference point in the standards. A teacher would not have teach about Lewis and Clark or World War II's Battle of Midway specifically or exclusively, but could use a variety of examples of people and events to discuss various eras.

In the final draft, the department needs to use language that does not hint so strongly at a political point of view. It should revisit such matters as the more numerous references to Ronald Reagan compared with other presidents, the influence of cultures other than white American and European, and the contributions of women. Children need exposure to more than pronouncements of America the Great. They must learn that the nation, warts and all, was shaped by dissent, rebellion and debate, not simply blind allegiance.

This local version of the so-called culture wars has Minnesotans thinking and talking about history, social science and society's development as seldom before. That engagement is welcome, at a time when too few adults exhibit awareness and appreciation of the forces that shaped modern life. As the standards-setting process continues, there will be more opportunity for citizen involvement; once the committee and department issue a final draft, the Legislature is expected to hold public hearings before they become law. Let the discussion continue.


Posted on Tue, Dec. 02, 2003

DOE surfing

You can learn a lot by visiting the Department of Education's Web site. For example, you can look up the members of the social studies standards committee and find out how many Minnesota K-12 teachers were included. In a different part of the Web site, you can look up the names of every person who has ever been issued a Minnesota teaching license. If you wanted, you could verify if the people listed by Cheri Yecke as K-12 teachers were licensed Minnesota K-12 teachers.

It should not be surprising that many of the people listed as K-12 teachers are not listed as ever holding a teaching license in Minnesota or had an expired license.

For example, the social studies sub-committee grades 3-5 lists three teachers, while only one has a valid Minnesota teaching license. In all, more than one-fourth of all listed social studies committee K-12 teachers either never had a Minnesota license, have an expired license or are licensed in another discipline other than social studies. So much for the "high standards" of Cheri Yecke in classifying members of her own committee. Maybe she should have used her own Web site to verify her information.


Jim Davnie: How will Minnesota kids see the world?

Published October 5, 2003

How important is it that Minnesota middle schoolers know who the founder of Chico, Calif., is? Very, according to Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke, who included Annie Bidwell in the initial draft of the state's proposed social studies standards.

How important is it that those same students know Presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton? Not very, as those presidents receive no mention. Ditto the concepts of due process, equal protection or judicial review of laws, or many other important concepts left out of Yecke's detail-oriented, facts-, people-, places-and events-heavy standards.

These standards, and more importantly the benchmarks that specify what is to be taught, are a dramatic departure from what is taught in most Minnesota schools and from any national consensus on what students should learn. These standards will place Minnesota out of the educational mainstream, poorly develop students' critical thinking abilities, and fail at a core mission of social studies education: preparing the next generation for citizenship.

No one disputes the need for statewide standards that are rigorous and challenging. However, many of these benchmarks are not developmentally appropriate for the grade levels indicated. They also amount to a statewide curriculum, a sharp undermining of both legislative intent and the traditional Minnesota concept of local control.

With the release of this draft of the new social studies standards, it becomes obvious that the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty was guided more by politics than sound educational judgment. Within the 54-page document lies a biased and deeply conservative view of history, coupled with a libertarian view of civics and economics. Most Minnesotans will not find their values reflected there.
While proponents of the new standards will argue that they simply tell teachers what to teach -- not how to teach -- the reality in Minnesota classrooms will be quite different.

Relying on those ever-present apocryphal stories of students unable to find the United States on a map or recognizing Beavis and Butt-head instead of Gen. Charles Cornwallis, the drafters loaded the standards with so much detail that the drama, energy and inspiration of American history get squeezed out.

History, well taught, is a great story. It is a story that informs, illustrates and inspires. The drama and emotion also deepen students' understanding of the facts, moving classroom activities past rote memorization to deeper learning of the facts and larger lessons.

In that sense, these standards fail at their core mission: inspiring students with our country's history and preparing them for citizenship. Traditionally, one reason that we teach history is to help us apply its lessons to current and future challenges.

Not so with these standards. The standards as proposed rely heavily on the ideals contained in the seminal documents of our history for inspiration. But America's greatness comes not just from those glorious words we say, but also from the stories of her people striving, as fallible humans, to make the promise of those words real.

The commissioner, since the release of these standards, has deflected any criticism of them by consistently pointing out that these are simply draft standards. However, these standards -- and the hundreds of associated benchmarks -- are so politically skewed, educationally unsound and poorly thought out that it is clear the Pawlenty administration is placing its own political agenda ahead of the goal of strengthening Minnesota's K-12 education system.

When the committee comes back to refine its work, those members who placed their own political agenda first should be thanked for their service to the state and then replaced by parents, teachers, administrators and others who will instead bring mainstream Minnesota values and the needs of our state's children to the table.

Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and a social studies teacher.

Michael Boucher: A Speech from the Apple Valley Meeting

Here is a copy of the speech I am giving at the Apple Valley meeting on the Proposed social studies standards. I hope to see a lot of people there from the city. Please forward this to anyone who would be remotely likely to go. Yeche is trying to say that the teachers are against the standards, but parents are for them. That is, of course, a lie. They are not including all the comments on the different standards that have been registered.

The Address is
Apple Valley: School of Environmental Studies
12155 Johnny Cake Road
Location: Commons Area
The hearing starts at 7:00 but get there earlier if you want to be heard.

You can obtain a Word copy of the standards with the comments that have been recorded so far @ http://education.state.mn.us/standards/Social_Studies_Standards_First_Draft.doc

If you are wondering what all the fuss is about take a look at MAPSSS Minnesotans against the proposed social studies standards website

To take a look at the group called the Maple River Coalition who had undue influence on the Civics standards and believe that the federal government is trying to create a soviet style workforce with a secret plan divulged in a letter to Hilary Clinton, go to www.edwatch.org Go down past the stuff they selling untill you get to How New U.S. Policy Embraces a State-Planned Economy

Then look at this page written by state senator Michelle Bachman from Stillwater.

I have included a copy of the speech I gave at the St Paul meeting. I was not able to finish it so my next one will be considerably shorter.
Hope to see you there!!!!!!!
Hope to save civic education in Minnesota.
Good evening Commissioner and citizens: 10-13-03

I am a graduate of Apple Valley High School.

I would like to take some of my time today to praise my inspirational teacher of 30 years at Apple Valley High School. I took all of his classes during my 4 years at Apple Valley and in those classes; he continually challenged us to think. I can still remember him pointing to his head and saying, “c’mon people think about it” and then ask us a question about the motives behind the content he was telling us. He was a brilliant lecturer and we were encouraged to differentiate between what was interesting and what was “crucial.” “This is crucial, people.”

This great teacher was content focused but was continually demanding of us to go beyond the names and places and to see the ramifications, the motives, the causes; then apply that thinking to the next content.

That brings me to the standards the History and Civics that you and your committee have created. They violate the very priciples I learned right here in Apple Valley.

The History standards are not only rife with factual errors and egregious, racist deletions but there is an obvious social and political agenda of accentuating states rights over civil rights and the individual over the common good.

There is little in the civics standards that are “crucial.” Instead, they are a repetitive mish mash of Natural Rights philosophy and Soviet –style jingoism.

In the Civics Standards:

Declaration of Independence gets 14 Benchmarks
No mention of Civil rights
No mention of the fourteenth amendment
Various Flags and songs get 5 standards
And “Students will discuss why the Founders identified “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as natural rights, and differentiate “happiness” from “pursuit of happiness.’”

The American History standards continue in delivering an Orwellian, narrow, whitewash that gives no room for analysis, debate or truly democratic ideals.

Grade 3 "Students will know and understand cultural interactions among Europeans and American Indians that led to cooperation, compromise and conflict."

Grade 8 "Students will know and understand the role of America’s military and veterans in defending freedom during the Cold War, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis, and the collapse of communism in Europe."

In the face of such absolute failure, the answer is clear. The panel that created these inadequate standards must resign. A new panel must be created and I call on the commissioner to also resign in the face of her failure to provide leadership to create world-class standards for Minnesota’s children.

Thank you

Here is the first email I sent out on the proposed Social Studies standards

Here is the first email I sent out on the proposed Social Studies standards


I am sending this to everyone to inform you of a very important issue in Minnesota education. The new social studies standards are now in the discussion period.

As you may know, very few actual classroom teachers were involved in the creation of these standards and this is reflected in their conservative bias and general poor quality.

There are several errors that are easily fixed but there is a bigger problem as well.

The Civics standards are especially problematic in that they reflect a philosophy of Government that a small group of people hold. This philosophy was defended by Allen Quist, former candidate for Governor of Minnesota in the Startribune. http://www.startribune.com/stories/562/4067292.html

In this Letter, Quist States, "The First Amendment to the Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This amendment restricts what the federal government can do; it places no restriction on what states can do."

Mr. Quist's wife is the head of a group called the Maple River coalition that maintains a website called http://www.edwatch.org/ which is working to change education in Minnesota and is part of a national effort to de-emphasize the role of the federal government and the protections of federal law.

This far right wing group essentially wrote the civics standards and is actively working to negate topics like judicial review and federal supremacy over the states. According to edwatch.org, "The history and civics standards, however, stay away from the common anti-American undercurrents. Sixties- era legislators who like to focus on America as negative will not like a positive approach to America's heritage."

They also had a hand in much of the first draft of the science standards. It was replaced the same day after the media pointed out that evolution was taught as a possible theory in the biology standards. The following is a comment on the second draft, "The new science draft standards generally have good content- based expectations, but their approach to evolution is nothing short of unscientific propaganda."

What needs to be done?
No Minneapolis teachers or executive members of the Minnesota Council of Social Studies was on the panel. There are no meeting scheduled in Minneapolis.
1. Go and read the standards for yourself.

2. Go to one of the meetings. The closest one is in St. Paul, but city people are needed in the suburban meetings because the teachers there are more afraid to speak out for real fear of retaliation. http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/4097472.html

3. Read about them and listen as time goes on and encourage you state representatives to vote based on what happens.http://www.startribune.com/stories/563/4094533.html (last Letter)

Talking Points you can use with friends, colleagues and other people during this process. You can also ask good questions at the meetings.

1. Who put these together?
The Social Studies Standards were put together with very little CLASSROOM teacher input. There were plenty of people involved who have teacher degrees or certificates, but very few in the classroom.

2. Why are there no meetings in Minneapolis?
There were NO Minneapolis teachers involved in the process and only one from St Paul. How can they make standards without the most populous districts in the state?

3. Lets look at the numbers
Subject/ # of times mentioned

Declaration of Independence 20
Property 4
Religion 12
God 2
Constitution 26
Judicial Activism 1
Judicial review 0
War on Poverty 0
Desegregation 0
Affirmative Action 0
Popular Sovereignty 0
Due Process 0
Equal protection 0
Ronald Reagan 2
Richard Nixon 2
George W Bush 1
John Kennedy 0
Lyndon Johnson 0
Bill Clinton 0
Jimmy Carter 0

4. What is missing from the Civics standards?
The purpose of Government= Protection of Rights (in) Promote common welfare (not in)
Different forms of Government (confederation, parliamentary)
Legislative Supremacy
Magna Carta
English Bill of Rights
3/5s Compromise
Virginia Plan vs. New Jersey plan
Federalists vs. Antifederalists
6 Principles- Popular Sovereignty, Limited Government (in) Separation of Powers (in) Checks and Balances (mentioned)
Judicial Review
Amendment Process
The Supreme Court
Relations between the Federal Government and the states
The Civil Rights acts (only mentions 14th amendment in the history standards around the Civil War)
Local Office holders
National office holders (president is included in Kindergarten)

5. So what? We can still teach whatever we want because there is no test! Take your pick.
True, there is currently no test. Is that a good thing? Not really. What stops school districts from eliminating social studies classes? If it is not a core subject, then it can made an elective, or eliminated altogether.
False, a test will probably be made from the standards eventually. Do you really want one of the questions on the test to ask about Ronald Reagan's critical role in the destruction of the Soviet Union? (in there) Or how many times God is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence? (in there)

6. C'mon, they can't be that bad!
Take a look at the group who made up most of the Civics standards. The Maple River Coalition is available @ www.edwatch.org.
A representative from The Maple River Coalition was the leader for the Civics standards meetings.
A few places to click.
1. Edwatch Updates - 9/15/03: The Public Hearings Begin especially down toward the bottom. Read the Comments.
2. Check out the Nation at risk Annual Conference. Especially the speaker bios and subjects.

This is not a partisan issue, this is an issue of whether our students will maintain their high status as some of the best educated in the country, or will we be forced to dumb down our curriculums to please a group of State's Rights Activists.
Go to any or all of the standards meetings!!!!

Monday September 22nd
St. Paul Central High School
275 North Lexington Parkway
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday September 24th
Willmar Education and Arts Center(District office)
611 5th Street S.W.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Thursday September 25th
Worthington Senior High School
1211 Clary Street
Location: Cafeteria
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Monday September 29th
Cloquet Senior High School
1000 18th Street
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday September 30th
Princeton Senior High School
807 South 8th Ave
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday October 1st
Hibbing: Lincoln Middle School
1114 East 23rd Street
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Thursday October 2nd
Bemidji Senior High School
2900 Division Street West
Location: Lumberjack Room
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Thursday October 9th
Coon Rapids Senior High School
2340 Northdale Blvd.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Monday October 13th
Apple Valley: School of Environmental Studies
12155 Johnny Cake Road
Location: Commons Area
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Monday October 20th
Forest Lake Senior High School
6101 Scandia Trail North
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday October 21st
Stewartville Senior High School
500 4th Street S.W.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday October 22nd
Albert Lea Senior High School
2000 Tiger Lane
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.