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.

1/23/2004

Michael Boucher: Senate Testimony 1-23-04

Good Afternoon Senators:

The Education Commissioner has handed down to Minnesota’s students teachers and parents a curriculum that is an illegal intrusion into Minnesota classrooms.

I am not a doctor, or a millionaire, or a member of a think tank. I am a teacher. When kids are done with my class, they know a lot of history and they love social studies. I am really good at what I do. I am here to give you some perspective of the people who have to implement what you make into law.

The standards are 59 pages of items that students will be required to know in K-12. Most of these are discrete pieces of information and many of them are only covered once in the curriculum.

There are now 541 benchmarks, according to the commissioner, a 36 percent reduction from the first draft. Yet a careful reading of the documents shows, not a reduction, but an approximately 40% increase in the number of topics that need to be taught.

Lets talk just about High School.

In the four years of high school, there are 264 benchmarks. Within those benchmarks are more than 1000 distinct topics.

That translates to one benchmark every 2.39 periods of instruction. That also assumes there are no fire or tornado drills, health screenings, MCA tests, MBA tests, teacher exams, field trips, or track and field days.

It also means that students or teachers can never get the flu or miss school even a day because the benchmarks are so numerous teachers and students will get hopelessly behind if they miss only a few days in the school year.

Let’s take the pressure off. Lets go to five days a week all year long with only Christmas and July forth off. Summer vacation is an old fashioned concept anyway. That gives us 3.9 periods to do each benchmark.

But lets take just the High school standards.

"Students will describe the function of the legislative branch and explain how a bill becomes a law."

That one we can in two days. After all, that’s a simple straightforward process, right Senators?

But what about this one? Take a look at the back of your sheet at the bottom.
"…compare and contrast the American system with different philosophies and structures of socialism, communism, monarchies and parliamentary systems; in terms of their economic, social structure and human rights practices,"

That one is going to take a week to do even poorly. To do it well, will take about 6 class days plus several reading assignments at home.

Lets talk about homework for a moment. I am a great advocate of homework. It disciplines the mind and adds to the learning process.

If these new standards are adopted as they are, you are looking at around two hours per night of reading for the average student just in Social Studies alone.

Why would your nine year old want to go to hockey practice when you can “locate and map areas of major world religions and how they have changed geographically, including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, and note the presence of multiple indigenous religious traditions?”

Just think of all you will learn as you help your 12 year old recognize major events, battles and significant American leaders in World War II and analyze their impact, including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Adolph Hitler, the Battle for Midway, the invasion of Normandy and, the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

All this has come about because the standards writers, especially in Civics and History were not experts in their fields nor were they classroom teachers. There is a now famous story of the first draft where one of the writers brought in a children’s book as the only outside resource for the World history standards.

Let’s talk about the law:

This dictation of daily school curriculum is an intrusion into the state’s classrooms and was strictly prohibited by the state law that directed the Department of Education to create new standards.

Minnesota Statute 120B.021 states specifically, “Academic standards must…be clear, concise, objective, measurable, and grade-level appropriate; not require a specific teaching methodology or curriculum.”

There is no other way to deliver this curriculum but one; to stand before students and tell them what they need to know for a test.

Teachers and professors who pointed out errors and questioned the process were derided by the Commissioner as America Haters, Revionists and not representative of the mainstream. These insults aside, recent comments about Native Americans, Columbus and Cooperative learning being linked to September 11, show her lack of understanding of schooling and Minnesota.

These standards are not based on any reasonable or well-researched model of how people learn. They are based the ideologies or the Claremont institute, Heritage foundation and the Maple River Coalition.

These “substandards” need to be stripped down to the bare bones before they are adopted. Then a new Commissioner should be appointed to create real standards for Minnesota’s schools.