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.

1/24/2004

Rick Theisen: World Class? Fair and Balanced? Or?

World Class? Fair and Balanced? Or?
What has happened to the standards setting process in Minnesota? Will standards in core discipline areas, and especially in social studies, continue to follow the pattern of the past two years? If the state doesn't like it, get rid of it and substitute another brand. The next time the legislature and governor's office changes hands will we change standards again? Is the quality of social studies standards now determined by whether they are sufficiently liberal or sufficiently conservative?

I would suggest that as a parent, teacher, and social studies leader, the key questions for the legislative committees examining the proposed standards are these four. Do these standards reflect the best scholarship, research, and practice in the field of social studies? Do the standards prepare our children with the knowledge, dispositions and skills we value as citizens of our community, country and world? Are they age appropriate? Can we afford them?

The current proposed standards reflect the work of earnest, hard working
Minnesotans. However the final 14 member writing committee was not a cross
section of mainstream Minnesota teachers and parents. The committee┬╣s most influential participants and leaders in American History, World History, and Civics, were the Chairman of the Board of the Claremont Institute, a Republican party activist and recent candidate for the St. Paul School Board, the headmaster of a private academy , two home school parents, the spouse of the campaign manager for Brian Sullivan, who also writes the Republican Party newsletter, and two E.D.Hersh core curriculum teachers. It is certainly the governor┬╣s prerogative to appoint, through the commissioner, anyone he wants to the committee. However the result has generated considerable controversy, at the public hearings, in the press, and at this legislative hearing.

>From my personal perspective as a career teacher, parent, and leader in social studies education, these standards are not acceptable, with the exception of geography, for the following reasons.

*There are too many.

*Standards have too often been combined, instead of actually decreasing the real number.

*They are too often not age appropriate, especially at grades 3, 4, and 5, and in other areas also.

*Civics is incomplete and/or biased, e.g., The Declaration of Independence is over emphasized and misrepresented. Concepts such as the common good, social contract, and civic virtue are virtually ignored. No standard, and therefore no benchmarks, focus on international relations. The commonly acknowledged skills needed to be an effective citizen are absent except for passing references in the fourth and twelfth grades. Study of landmark Supreme Court cases on constitutional conflicts involving due process, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, application of the Bill of Rights to the states, privacy rights, executive power and voting rights is missing.

*The proposed economics standards tend to teach theory as fact, pay little attention to controversial economic issues, and have a not so subtle anti government bias.

*History is simply overwhelmed with too much content and issues of age appropriateness.

*These standards are content rich and skills poor. Content taught without appropriate accompanying social science skills in all discipline areas is not educationally sound.

*Local control of curriculum would be lost.

*Dropping the expanding horizons framework at the elementary level is a major unilateral change for which few teachers are prepared. It is a controversial decision that should be left to local school districts. It should not be imposed by the Commissioner.

*The state does not have the money to purchase the texts--if they even exist--for the proposed framework change at the elementary level. Nor does the state have the money to spend on the massive in service which will be needed.

*Teachers simply cannot teach all the benchmarks, and students cannot learn them all in the time provided, unless the school day or week is substantially increased.

Legislators will soon have to decide whether these proposed standards should be adopted, modified or rejected. The key questions are the four raised earlier. They are of paramount importance, as is the question of impartiality.

If they are rejected a new non partisan committee with the skills, experience, credentials, and expertise should be appointed. They must be given adequate time to do their work well. The Department of Education must also provide each of the committee members with copies of all state and national standards that currently exist before they begin their work. Let the committee members decide what should be used, not the state. Impartiality, adequate time and unlimited access to resources are crucial.

Minnesotans deserve world class standards which are, concise, free of political bias, age appropriate, not too numerous, and respect local school district control. Certainly fair expectations when the hearts and minds of our children are at stake.
Rick Theisen
Parent
Social Studies Teacher, Osseo H.S., 1966-2000
Past President Minnesota Council for the Social Studies
Past President National Council for the Social Studies, 2000