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.

2/29/2004

The Manufactured Crisis Continues to be Exposed.

Straight Talk about Government Finance by John Gunyou

Truth is always the first casualty of any war, especially the political ones. As the legislative rhetoric heats up, here's some straight talk about state and local finances.


1. Taxes are not out of control. The state's official Price of Government measure (total revenue as a percentage of personal income) has actually declined over the past decade. Even before the recent cuts, state taxes took about the same share of your income, while cities, counties and school districts took less.

2. The state crisis wasn't inherited, it was self-inflicted. Although the recession worsened the problem, school funding takeover and property tax reform created over one-half of the deficit, because state taxes weren't restructured. The state doubled their 2004-05 problem by temporarily patching the 2003 budget with one-time fixes.

3. The state crisis was "solved" by draining the reserves, freezing funding and ignoring future commitments. The budget doesn't really increase by $1 billion - that's an accounting quirk of the two-year cycle. Spending is virtually flat for the next four years. The state also counts inflation for future revenues, but ignores it for costs.

4. Locals provide the actual services, not the state. About 85% of the state budget is sent to cites, counties, schools and non-profits to provide public safety, education, streets, parks and social services. It's a lot easier for the state to cut faceless grants, than it is for local agencies to reduce real services to real people.

5. Basic local services depend on state aid and property taxes. About two-thirds of city and county funding, and 85% of school funding, is strictly regulated by the state. Nearly 60% of city aid and tax dollars go for police and fire services, with most of the rest for streets and parks. They can't use fees to support these basic services.

6. Few local reserves are "surplus." Cities receive two-thirds of their funding twice a year. Since expenses occur regularly, they need a 30% cash flow reserve just to meet their monthly bills. School districts often have to borrow throughout the year.

7. Only state tax revenues go up automatically. State income and sales tax revenue automatically increases as the economy grows, so they can claim they "held the line" on taxes. That's not true for city, county and school property tax revenue, which is strictly limited by the state. There's no local "property tax grab."

8. More service cuts are likely, even if the forecast is on target. Cities, counties and colleges only represent 20% of the state budget, but were required to absorb nearly one-half of the cuts, and were prohibited from replacing much of their lost revenue. Schools were only "protected" for one year - state funding for K-12 education actually declines for the next three years in a row.


John Gunyou is Minnetonka's city manager. He was previously Minnesota's finance commissioner for Governor Arne Carlson.

2/28/2004

Go to the Caucuses and bring a resolution against the standards!

PROPOSED RESOLUTION FOR BETTER SOCIAL STUDIES STANDARDS at March 2 Caucus

WHEREAS Minnesotans have higher expectations for our students, schools and democratic society than are reflected in the proposed final draft K-12 social studies standards being considered for adoption by the Minnesota Legislature;

WHEREAS the standards are still seriously flawed in following ways after three revisions and cannot be "fixed" during the legislative session because they;

Are too costly to implement
Are too numerous to cover with quality
Do not respect local control or district autonomy
Are too prescriptive to districts, schools and teachers
Are age-inappropriate
Are historically and culturally inaccurate
Do not empower students with skills to become effective citizens
Do not empower students to live and work with diversity in the 21st century
Are unbalanced and not objective: politically, culturally and racially biased

BE IT RESOLVED that:

1) The Party rejects the final proposed standards for K-12 social studies proposed by the Commissioner of Education;

2) The Party endorses the selection a new, bi-partisan, inclusive committee of public school educators, college professors, parents and diverse citizens to re-write the social studies standards;

3) Adequate opportunities for civic discourse take place via public hearings and on-line feedback after each stage of revision to any newly proposed standards.

2/25/2004

Yecke calls NCLB a "Morally Righteous Law"

THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By George Archibald
September 22, 2003

Reform-minded school leaders from 42 states met with Bush administration officials in Nashville during the weekend to discuss "the next steps" to improve student achievement in public schools.

About 300 school leaders who support the federal No Child Left Behind Act suggested "fine-tuning" the law to help small, rural schools meet the requirements for highly qualified teachers in every classroom by 2005 to 2006.

"We have gotten much support from superintendents, school administrators, principals, teachers, many of whom understand that there is a need for change," said Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's commissioner of education, who attended the Education Leaders Council Eighth annual meeting.

Mrs. Yecke said the act is "a strong law, a morally righteous law [whose] greatest strength" requires school districts to achieve "adequate yearly progress" and report the achievement between privileged and disadvantaged students according to demographic categories for racial, ethnic and "special needs" groups.

The Minnesota education commissioner said her biggest challenge in implementing the act in her state was the "special circumstances" of rural schools with perhaps no more than 50 students and federal requirements that teachers be certified separately in each course.

"For example, the highly-qualified-teacher requirement is going to be very difficult for a K-12 school that might only have 50 children in it," she said.

Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive officer of the Education Leaders Council, said the conference brought state and local school leaders who support the No Child Left Behind Act together with Bush administration officials to map solutions for problems encountered.

"No Child Left Behind has changed the national dialogue about what we're doing in schools. The focus is on how the children are doing, finally," she told The Washington Times.

Many commercial tutoring companies and other education providers attended the
conference.

"There's a lot of push-back from some of the states that don't want to let these private providers provide supplementary tutoring, etc., because it takes away from the districts to help the child, which is great, that's the right thing," Mrs. Keegan said.

A major focus of the conference, she said, was to convince state and administration officials that "this is working, here's the next steps, here's the new things you can do, things like the American Board [for alternative certification of business and military professionals as teachers], let's get that adopted in your state, let's talk about strategy, just sort of a reinvigoration and our next steps."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and a heart-lung transplant surgeon, told the conference in his keynote speech that the act aims to hold states accountable through standardized tests for achievement of students in ethnic, special-education, and limited-English-proficiency subgroups.

"As in surgery, the first thing you've got to do is get a diagnosis. Breaking down the data simply empowers educators with the information," he said. "Without it, they can't really make a difference."

Mr. Frist said emphasis on student achievement has changed the nation's educational focus. "For years, schools have measured their success by amount of money spent, the number of computers, the number of textbooks, the number of government programs," he said.

Mr. Frist said accusations about insufficient funding were unwarranted, and that an additional $13.5 billion in federal funds have been spent on federal elementary and secondary school programs since the Bush administration took office, even though the Iraq war and other issues have prevented Congress from spending as much as initially promised.

Mrs. Yecke said critics of No Child Left Behind funding disregard evidence that more spending does not bring greater student achievement.

"Look at Washington, D.C., highest per-pupil spending in the nation, yet student achievement in most Washington, D.C., schools is an American tragedy," she said.

2/23/2004

Our Future under Yecke

www.washingtonpost.com

The Best Answer
Under pressure to improve his students' Standards of Learning scores, a Virginia teacher decides to: (a) End free reading time; (b) Give more practice tests; or (c) Quit the public schools

By Emmet Rosenfeld

Sunday, February 22, 2004; Page W20

"Yo, Mr. R -- we gonna read today?" A battered copy of a young-adult novel called The Giver materialized from the depths of his baggy jeans pocket as the 11th-grader sauntered into English class at Mount Vernon High School. "This book's pretty good," he said, launching into an enthusiastic synopsis. Often unburdened by pesky school trappings like pens or homework, this young man wasn't one of my more engaged students. He wasn't reading on grade level and often seemed as if he was just marking time in high school. His unexpected burst of bibliophilia gave me a warm fuzzy teacher moment. Which faded a second later as I glanced down at the freshly copied stack of Standards of Learning practice tests sitting on my desk.

The junior's description of The Giver, Lois Lowry's story about a boy who is the sole repository for memories in a colorless future, was cut short by the bustling entrance of his backpack-slinging classmates. They were a study in Fairfax County diversity. Kids hailing from million-dollar homes with a view of the Potomac River took seats next to others who had never walked its banks, even though they lived just a few miles away along the Route 1 corridor or at nearby Fort Belvoir.

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen," I called above the din. A self-anointed shusher from the back of the room quieted the group; my newly coined reader's nose was already in his book. I considered, for a split second, deserting my lesson plan. Then I forced myself to return to the business at hand.

Okay, people, I told them, we're going to have some reading time later in the class if we can, but our first item today is this SOL practice test. The silence disintegrated into groans.

I did that last period in history! protested one student.
We're supposed to read today, chimed in another.
I'm sick of this SOL junk, a third added.

C'mon, gang, I pleaded, I don't want to have to see you in 11th grade again next year. The joke brought few chuckles. Three minutes of paper shuffling and pencil sharpening later, the room descended into resigned silence.

Last year's 11th-graders were the first wave of Virginia students for whom the SOLs "count," meaning they will have to pass them by this year in order to graduate. Not coincidentally, last year also marked the end of my 10 years as a Fairfax County English teacher.

Standards of Learning were introduced to make education better. But in my experience, they had the opposite effect. The intense pressure to raise test scores eventually squeezed the life out of school, both for my kids and for me.

The SOLs first came down the pike when my juniors were in elementary school, part of a reform movement sweeping the whole country. The idea behind the SOLs is simple: Lay out what kids should know, test them on it and then hold the schools accountable for their scores.

In Virginia, tests in English, history, math and science given to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders and to high schoolers would ensure that students across the state were learning and mastering the same core curriculum. Or else. Beginning this June, students who do not pass the high school tests won't graduate; beginning in 2007, schools that do not have a 70 percent passing rate on the exams will risk losing state accreditation. All of this, reformers argue, will force public schools to do a better job teaching all students.

From the start, the get-tough tests rubbed me the wrong way. Implicit in the notion of "accountability" are the assumptions that: (a) education is a product, the input and output of which can be standardized and measured; and (b) it's high time for teachers and schools to quit slacking and get to work.

In my experience, teaching is more alchemy than science. Its fundamental elements -- connecting with kids and sparking their love of learning -- can't always be measured by a test. Its practitioners pursue their elusive goal one child at a time; sometimes they get gold out of a kid and sometimes they don't.

This is why it pained me deeply to find myself in a situation where I felt compelled to give a rarely engaged student a practice bubble test instead of letting him read a book he had discovered he loved. My teaching directly to the high-stakes test would better serve him in the short term. He had to pass to graduate, and it was my job to make sure he did. Engaging him with books and instilling the habits of mind that might make him a lifelong reader would have better served him in the long run. I didn't have time to do both.

Bad teaching is often the byproduct of the pressure teachers feel to achieve high scores on the test. During my final fall at Mount Vernon, a well-intentioned directive came from nervous administrators: We're giving a "simulated" SOL writing test next week to every 11th-grader in the school. We hastily reviewed a rubric beforehand, and I moved desks into rows to create a "testing environment." When the test arrived, I decided to see how I'd do on it. I wrote along with my students, beneath a nom de plume, and shoved my essay into the pile at the end of the period.

Retired teachers graded the 400 essays. When the work was returned a few weeks later, the results were bleak. Out of my 90 juniors (including both honors and "regular" kids) only one essay had received the highest mark in every category: the one I'd written myself.

At lunch, I asked my colleagues if their students' results had been similarly abysmal and recorded our conversation in my teaching journal that same day. "How do you expect kids to learn how to write when we're so busy testing them?" asked one of the old guard.

"My kids did pretty well," a younger colleague offered. What was her secret? I asked.

"They've done a ton of practice essays, and I scored 'em," she revealed. Chagrined, I thought about the sometimes messy, often serendipitous writers' workshop I'd conducted in my own class. My disregard of the venerable five-paragraph essay in pursuit of real stories told in kids' own voices seemed quixotic.

I brought up another topic with the table. "How's the reading going with your kids?" Here, I was confident my approach would measure up. After all, by letting kids choose their own books and share journal entries, I had even managed to hook nonreaders.

"My gawd," guffawed another young teacher, picking over a salad slathered with lite dressing. "What reading?"

"I've got 'Gatsby' quizzes formatted like SOL questions if you want to use 'em," offered the teacher who favored practice essays.

"I don't even do whole books anymore," the salad nibbler confessed. "It takes too long." A quizzical expression must have appeared on my face, as I thought about the pin-drop silence, rare but rapt, that my normally rowdy class lapsed into when I "let" them read.

"If it's not on the test, forget it," she added, pointing at me with a lettuce-loaded fork. "I'm sorry, but these kids have got to pass that test this year." The rest of the table nodded in agreement.

"I don't even do my coffeehouse anymore," interjected our old-guard colleague. "There's no SOL for that."

I remembered past years' versions of the coffeehouse: desks draped with tapestries, espresso maker bubbling in the background. Kids recited poetry into a microphone or played confessional songs on guitar. All these changes in the way we taught were hard to swallow, I thought, as I finished my sandwich and headed back to class.

At the after-school faculty meeting that day there were chicken wings and pizza for munchies, a step up from the usual fare. An undercard of administrators made announcements to the staff, gathered in the cafeteria. I opened my trusty teacher's journal and began to take notes. "Technology portfolios are due to me in two weeks," droned one, and, "Don't forget International Night!" another cheerfully reminded. A youngish teacher came to the microphone and said, "Those of you who haven't taken the SBI training need to see me immediately to get into one of our upcoming classes . . ."
"What's SBI training?" someone shouted.

"Standards-based instruction," she began. "Remember, that's the class you all have to take with me and do a portfolio -- ." There was a spray of laughter, and she realized that the questioner, along with every teacher in the room, was acutely aware that in addition to our normal teaching and extracurricular load, we were required to take a 16-hour course to create a unit that was "backwards designed" from the SOLs. In other words, craft specific lessons to hammer home the factoids for which our kids would soon be held unequivocally accountable.

Finally, it was time for the main attraction. The principal, Cathy Crocker, stepped to the dais, a Midwesterner whose indefatigable cheer belied the pressure she was under to raise our school's test scores. She thanked us for our efforts, describing her joy at seeing such caring, dedicated professionals working so hard with students. My spider sense started tingling. I should have known what was coming as soon as I saw the chicken wings. We had to raise our scores, she told us.

One way to do that, she said, was "bell-to-bell teaching": Every child's fanny in a seat from the moment the bell rings until the end of class 90 minutes later. I wondered if the controlled chaos of the writers' workshop in my room qualified as bell-to-bell teaching.

"And another thing: no hobby teaching," she said. I had never heard the phrase in my professional training, but I could tell it was something that only dilettantes would dare while on the county's clock. No hobby teaching, I wrote in my notes and underlined it. Did free-choice reading count as a hobby?

Cathy Crocker wasn't trying to drive me or anyone else from the classroom, she later told me. "It's always tough to say those things when you know how hard teachers work . . . but you do want to get that 100 percent pass rate on SOLs."

As I drove home from school after that faculty meeting, the trees along the George Washington Parkway cast straight shadows like a bar code. I imagined myself being scanned at some giant checkout counter, an unseen hand ringing up the "product" it was now my duty to "deliver." I pulled over at my favorite spot overlooking the Potomac, where there was a view about which I had composed a line of poetry every morning on my commute for the past decade. I regretted never having written the lines down.

I walked along the river, and it dawned on me that a glimpse of sunrise had become one of the high points of my day. I no longer loved my job; at least, I didn't want to spend the rest of my professional career teaching to a standardized test. Five years earlier, I had walked this same path in the throes of another career crisis, but I had come to terms then with a teaching salary that would never be a third of my twin brother's lawyer pay. Now, it seemed, the creativity and sense of discovery that made the job worthwhile were slipping away.

I recalled that bittersweet stroll this past fall, after a hike with kids to a storm-swollen 80-foot waterfall cascading through White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park. A shy student at the small private school where I now work gave me a big smile as I glanced over her shoulder to read her journal entry on "Shanidowa Park." Today we saw pretty flowers, she wrote, but most of the trees were knocked down by Hurricane Isabel.

I didn't leave the classroom. I just left the SOLs. Now I work at Alexandria Country Day School, teaching eighth-grade English and running an outdoor program that involves frequent class trips to the Potomac. Instead of looking at the river for a split second each morning, I've found a job that will let me be on it. More important: no more high-stakes tests.

I can't deny that I miss the kids at Mount Vernon. Being at a private school with a dress code that calls for khakis and a green polo shirt has challenged my public-school sensibilities. But whatever guilt I feel about my decision to leave is outweighed by my sense of relief at being able to teach without the golem of the test lurking over my shoulder. And I've discovered that, even though I'm working with more privileged kids, some things are just the same. Like the warm fuzzy teacher feeling I got last week when one of my eighth-graders walked into class clutching a young-adult mystery called Ghost Canoe and asked, "Mr. R, can we read today?"

Emmet Rosenfeld lives in Alexandria and often writes about education.

2/22/2004

Lack of Understanding of Minnesota and a Lousy Product? Sound Familiar?

State's quarter ideas are bad, even deadly
Nick Coleman, Star Tribune

Published February 22, 2004

That is one sick duck.

Minnesota will soon get its own quarter, but the final four designs, unveiled Thursday, are as boring as a day hoeing weeds in a corn patch. Three of the four include loons that seem to have lost their head feathers. Our state bird, the common loon (gavia immer), has a glorious black head and beak, but these birds are bald albinos that look as if they are afflicted by loon ticks.

Here's a new tourism slogan: "Minnesota -- Something has gone wrong with our loons, but why not give us a try?"

The commission choosing a design for our state quarter -- which will be minted next year -- is led by Cheri Pierson Yecke, the state education commissioner who has been working overtime issuing new education standards that have to be rewritten. Maybe she hasn't had time to worry about the quarter, but these designs make us look like hicks from the sticks.

Just like the Wisconsin and Iowa quarters.

If you wonder why the Upper Midwest is a blank spot in the national imagination, our quarters make it easy to understand: There is no here, here.

Wisconsin's quarter, due out this year, has a cow head, some cheese and an ear of corn, along with the motto: "Forward." Forward to what? The 19th century? The Iowa coin, also due this year, isn't any better. It shows a one-room schoolhouse. And Flyover Land won't get much help from South Dakota and North Dakota, both due out in 2006: Prairie dogs and sugar beets won't make anyone come see us. That leaves it to Minnesota.

And we are dropping the coin.

"These designs show a startling lack of artistic acumen and imagination about what Minnesota is all about," says Karal Ann Marling, professor of art history at the University of Minnesota. "I'd rather see a box of cake mix, or a roll of Scotch tape."

She is joking, but only a little. The coin designs are supposed to reveal something of a state's history and culture. But the proposed designs say nothing about Minnesota's 3M's: milling, medicine and manufacturing. Instead, they reduce us to hackneyed stereotypes -- pine trees, fishing, sick ducks.

One of the designs -- the least bad of the bunch -- shows an outline of the state, the requisite loon, and a couple of Bubbas in a boat, with one of them standing up in the bow. It looks more like the piney woods of Georgia than Minnesota, but there's another issue: Check this out from the safety section of the Minnesota Boating Guide from the Department of Natural Resources:

"What accident causes the most deaths among boaters?"

Answer: "Falls overboard and capsizing. In a small boat, resist the urge to stand up."

These quarters aren't just poorly designed. They could kill.

Why not Paul Bunyan? Or Herb Brooks? The state seal? Or Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, pointing to the North Star, with the state's motto, "L'Etoile du Nord"?

"It looks like all we do here is sit around fishing," says Marling, who has written extensively on the power of popular symbols, including a book on roadside statuary, "The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway" and "Blue Ribbon," a history of the Minnesota State Fair.

Marling said she liked the idea of a solitary snowflake on the Minnesota quarter but the United States Mint -- the folks who can't tell a duck from a loon -- vetoed it. And so we are down to four bad finalists, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty supposed to choose the winner by May.

The governor should just say no. And order Yecke back to the drawing board (she's used to it).

"There's only one thing to do," Marling says.

"Start over."

2/18/2004

Paul Gruchow: False logic just one of Yecke's shortcomings

Published February 14, 2004
Star Tribune

It would be tedious, and perhaps pointless, to try to refute the substance of Cheri Pierson Yecke's commentary (Jan. 18) on cooperative learning. But it is worth pointing out her habits of thought and argument, because these are what make her unfit to lead Minnesota's schools.

For one thing, Yecke uses false logic. Her essay opens, for example, by saying, "Whether (cooperative learning) is a tool that helps students learn, or whether it is being used in ways that are a detriment to student learning, is a subject of debate."

But there is no debate. The two ideas she offers are not opposed to each other. The vast preponderance of the scholarly evidence, collected over many years, demonstrates that cooperative learning is indeed a useful teaching tool. And it is also undoubtedly true that the tool is not always properly used.

Everything Commissioner Yecke says after this opening gambit is based on the unstated and undemonstrated proposition that, in practice, cooperative learning is always, or nearly always, used improperly. I know of no evidence to support this view.

She employs, for another thing, false definitions. For example, Yecke defines "social loafing" as the theory that "many individuals in groups are unwilling to evenly distribute the workload in a group project, choosing instead to let others do the work for them." The theory actually proposes the opposite: In groups given a straightforward task -- pulling on a rope, say -- people give less than their best effort, choosing, instead, to distribute the work evenly.

And the research on this idea suggests that the more complex the task gets, and the more engaged participants are in completing it, the better the group performs. In fact, such a group is likely to outdo any individual performance.

Another tactic that Yecke uses is to exaggerate the nature of the work she cites in defense of her own views. In her commentary piece, for example, she describes Marian Williams as having done "extensive studies on the impact of cooperative learning groups and high ability students."

In fact, Williams has done a couple of opinion surveys, which show that many students identified as gifted don't like doing group work with students they perceive as less able than themselves.

Still another of Yecke's tactics is to make sweeping generalizations from exceedingly limited bits of circumstantial evidence. So, for example, she attributes to all students the views of the single student she quotes. And the student she quotes happens, although she doesn't reveal this, to be her own daughter.

Yecke is also fond of the misleadingly selective quotation. For example, she claims that overuse of cooperative learning, according to the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress, has resulted in poorer performances in math. This is based, she says, on statistics from students in grades 4 and 8.

What the statistics actually show is that students who did weekly group work in math got exactly the same test scores as students who did no group work. Students who did daily group work performed slightly less well.

This was not, the assessment suggests, because of the group work but because, in the lower grades, students also need a good deal of textbook work. And, the assessment goes on to point out -- something Yecke neglects to mention -- that by grade 12, students doing group work clearly outperform those who aren't doing it.

"Should cooperative learning be eliminated?" Yecke asks. "No," she answers, "but neither should it be used indiscriminately as the 'be-all' and 'end-all' of educational strategies."

But she offers no reason for believing that cooperative learning is being used in this way. In fact, the same math assessment that she cites as support for her views found that 44 percent of eighth-graders did no group work, or almost none, and that only 19 percent of students did such work on more than a weekly basis.

In her recent book, on the other hand, Yecke attributes "the rising tide of mediocrity in America's middle schools," the "war against excellence" in American education, to three causes: curricula without enough rigor, lack of ability grouping, and cooperative education.

She goes so far in the book as to suggest that cooperative education is not only a bad teaching strategy, but a sinister one, a plot by leftist activists to introduce into our schools such radical and inappropriate ideas as equality of opportunity. (Her political views are somewhere to the right of Rush Limbaugh's.)

Which is Yecke's real view about cooperative education? It depends, apparently, on which audience she thinks she's speaking to.

Paul Gruchow, a writer living in Duluth, has taught at several Minnesota colleges.

2/13/2004

Another Standards Committee Member Shows a Lack of Scholarship

While not as fun to read as Mr. Anderson (below), Ms. Hoerle paints all with an equally bold brush and shows her ideology, rather than her actual expertise.

Ellen Hoerle: Now schools can be held more accountable

Published February 14, 2004

StarTribune

I would like to expose several statements that Andrew P. Johnson made in his Jan. 10 Counterpoint supporting the use of cooperative learning.

Johnson claims that there is "a wealth of research dating back to the '70s that supports [cooperative learning's] use as an effective learning tool for all students."

It is a common ploy by many in the education profession, especially those in the schools of education, to use the word "research" to attach special importance to their claims. They know that to the general public the word conjures up images of organized, well-planned experiments with control groups, repeatable results, outside scrutiny and, ultimately, validation from others. When the word research is used in connection with the education profession, it means nothing of the sort.

Johnson also claims that "learning is the main purpose of schools and education." Of course it is. But what is not so obvious to most is what students are really learning in today's schools.

Emphasis has shifted from teachers being expected to pass along their knowledge to students through content-based curricula to making sure that students learn how to "manipulate concepts and ideas" (sometimes referred to as problem solving), "engage in higher level thinking" (sometimes referred to as critical thinking) and "hear a variety of perspectives and thinking styles" (used as justification for heterogeneous grouping).

Teachers are no longer responsible for, nor should they be expected to be held accountable for, teaching facts, skills or basic knowledge. Instead, they are responsible for making learning "more enjoyable" and for "increasing motivation" so that, essentially, the students will be motivated to learn on their own. It's called the contructivist approach to teaching and learning, and -- especially in math -- it is alive and well in many school districts in Minnesota.

Ultimately, the responsibility for learning can then be passed on to the student, and deflected away from the teacher. This also allows educators and administrators who promote the constructivist approach (a group I will refer to below as the education establishment) to blame the learning gap on students' socioeconomic background rather than on the poor teaching methods and curricula being used that were sold as being effective based on questionable research.

The constructivist approach also allows the teacher to remove the expectation of mastery of any specific skill, fact or knowledge, because all students are different and learn and develop at different rates, as the excuse goes.

Also, by claiming students learn "higher level thinking" skills, the educational establishment exposes its true ignorance of how children learn. "Higher level thinking" is virtually impossible without a foundation of automaticity of basic skills and knowledge. In other words, students can't do higher-level thinking unless basic-level thinking has become automatic.

Ultimately, there is a huge divide in this state and across the country between what parents expect their children to learn in school and what the education establishment wants to be given credit for teaching them.

This is the divide that Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke has tried to expose in her book, "The War Against Excellence," and through the development of new academic, content-specific standards for our state.

Andrew P. Johnson's demand that a new education commissioner be found is evidence that the educational establishment feels threatened by Yecke's presence and ideas.

Minnesota's new standards mean that schools can be more easily held accountable by the taxpayers who fund our school systems and that students might have a chance to begin to learn what parents have been expecting all along. To many in the education establishment and schools of education, those can be frightening thoughts indeed.

Ellen Hoerle, of Eden Prairie, served on the Minnesota Academics Standard Committee for math and has children in the Eden Prairie schools.

2/12/2004

This is amazing.

I would love to comment on all of it, but it really speaks for itself.
There is one blatant untruth that is highlighted below and there is some question about whether Mr. Anderson returned to his teaching position for 2003-2004.
Mr. Anderson was a major participant in the writing of the standards.

Pioneer Press 2-12-04
http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/editorial/7930925.htm

TAKING EXCEPTION: New standards will strengthen Minnesota schools

BY WARREN ANDERSON

Guest Columnist

The Luddites leading the cause against the new, rigorous, fact-based and measurable Minnesota social studies standards have gone from being ludicrous to offensive. They have become the proponents and defenders of academic apartheid. They are practicing educational segregation, and thus are dooming whole generations of Minnesota's children to ignorance and economic irrelevance. They are hypocrites defending educational mediocrity.

According to these negative nabobs of academia, facts don't count, memorization is evil and the heads of students will explode if we dare introduce such "advanced" topics as classical Greece, ancient Egypt or the Declaration of Independence to children in grades K-3. Our students need to think critically, which to opponents means the teacher telling students that oil companies are bad, Castro's Cuba is good and Christopher Columbus was the leader of a planned mass genocide of native peoples because he sneezed on them, purposely unleashing a biological genocide greater than Hitler's evil against the Jews of Europe. Balderdash!

The greatest harm committed by these errant messengers of doom is the academic apartheid they are espousing. If one is a home-schooling parent, a teacher in a religious school, a private school administrator, a charter school educator, an educator not currently teaching or someone of European heritage, then his voice does not and should not count. The argument is that he or she is not a "real" teacher or educator. Or he or she is part of the "devil race." Those without children of school age are especially suspect, according to this crowd, and are relegated to the lowest level, that of "payers but not sayers" for what happens in "real" education.

One argument that continually rears its duplicitous head was the charge of politics. Of course politics was involved in drafting the standards. Every committee, every board, every anarchist cell is full of politics. The Standards Committee was no different. That is why anyone associated with Maple River Education, now Ed Watch, was shunned from the Math, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies Standards committees. According to the political elite — especially Republican — they are tarred and feathered as a right-wing group.

Of course, anyone who has a knowledge of the process saw that it was Maple River, working with the commissioner, that picked the standards committiees and then stacked them with members of the Coalition like Scholar the Owl, who was linked to the MR website until recently. It would only take a moment to look at www.edwatch.org to see that they are far outside the mainstream and while the characterization of "right wing" may not be completely accurate, it is a reasonable shorthand for an organization that believes the way they do.

A particularly insulting attack came against nonpublic schools and their constituents. How dare they have anything to do with the standards when they do not have to live by them! Unfortunately, as was often the case, opponents were so busy screaming "the sky is falling" that they did not listen to the response. It was very clear and telling. Nonpublic school students are taught to a higher standard. That is why parents choose nonpublic schools. Of course, charter school students do have to follow state standards. Charter schools are public schools too.

Any business person or economist worth a grain of salt would see that if one is losing customers one ought to improve in order to woo them back. The reason private schools, religious schools and the home schooling phenomenon are growing is because public schools — overburdened, underfunded and too top heavy — are, in general, failing too many of our children. A 63 percent graduation rate in St. Paul is nothing to brag about. The fact that it has taken five years to rise 11 percent only adds to the agony of reading that statistic. Don't ask how the numbers break down (no pun intended) regarding children of color unless you have very good health care or your heart is strong. Minneapolis, as admitted by interim superintendent David Jennings, is in even worse shape. But at least the students feel good about themselves and are critical of the new standards!

Public schools can work. They should be America's great equalizer because knowledge, hard work and training know no color, socio-economic class, religion, ethnic background or gender. In the end, rigorous, fact-based and measurable standards — whether social studies, math, science or language arts — are a start but will not alone turn this mess around. They show parents, students, teachers and the tax-paying public that we understand we have a problem we are working to fix. All of our children deserve to be challenged.

Read the standards yourself, then decide whether you are for or against them. True critical thinking comes from understanding facts, not feeling emotions.
Anderson, of St. Paul, is a veteran social studies teacher and was the Grade 6-8 History chair of the Social Studies Standards Committee. He also served on the final standards writing committee.

Candidate Profile
Name: Warren Anderson
Office: St. Paul School board member
Incumbent: No
City of residence: St. Paul
Age: 42
Background:
Social studies teacher; Macalester, B.A. in history and political science, 1983; secondary social studies licensure, Macalester, 1990; elementary licensure, Macalester, 1997; member of governor's committee on social studies standards; taught in Greece (1990-92), Pakistan (1994-96), at Risen Christ Catholic School, Minneapolis (1997-99), New Spirit Middle School (2001-03); single; one dog.
Endorsements: Republican Party of Minnesota.

Essay:
Public schools are failing our students. I have three goals: 1) Cutting financial waste and putting all resources into the classroom with the student; 2) Ensuring that only highly qualified, experienced and motivated teachers are in the classrooms, and 3) Creating higher achievable standards and expectations for each of the principal ingredients to successful, knowledgeable students, those being the students themselves, parents and teachers. When 78 percent of white kids and only about 35 percent of kids of color are able to pass a sixth-grade math test in eighth grade, we are failing.

2/08/2004

National reviews are in and are overwhelmingly negative!

“In order to retain our place as a leader in the nation on education, Minnesota needs to develop new rigorous academic standards. We need to get moving on building something better -- something that works. Commissioner Yecke has hit the ground running with this aggressive plan and I encourage the public to participate."

Governor Tim Pawlenty announcing plans to create new academic standards for Minnesota, January 29, 2003


Minnesota will NOT retain our place as a leader in the nation on education if proposed social studies standards are adopted! Hold Governor Pawlenty accountable to his commitment to national leadership and tell him to reject the proposed social studies standards that will put Minnesota children behind.

National Reviewer Joe Onosko's reaction to latest draft standards: (Please read his entire review at the Dept of Ed website http://education.state.mn.us/content/064324.pdf )

"As stated in my reaction to the first draft back in November, I was quite concerned about the sheer volume of information and ideas listed in the document. (I also stated that probably not a single person living in Minnesota possesses the knowledge required by the standards). I should have mentioned in November that I couldn't think of another state framework that demanded of students and teachers as much content coverage. Unfortunately, a review of the latest draft standards leaves me with the same impression, so I now feel compelled to explain more fully why these standards are detrimental to the children and educational system of Minnesota... To what extent did teachers and school administrators participate in the construction of this document? I have worked closely with teachers--either as a researcher, consultant or teacher--in eight states that range from Maine to California, and I'm convinced that all of them would say the coverage demands of the Minnesota standards would prevent the creation of meaningful and effective learning experiences for students. I strongly recommend that the committee attempt to map out how 6th grade teachers, for example, could effectively cover Minnesota history (from Paleo-Indian pre-history to the present), all of world history (1450 to the present), the geography of Minnesota, the U.S. and links to the world, and a number of "essential skills" in less than 180 hours of instruction?"

National Reviewer Erich Martel's reaction to specific benchmark requirements: (Please read his entire review at the Dept of Ed website http://education.state.mn.us/content/064322.pdf )

Benchmark: Students will understand character traits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln... in order to understand why each has been so widely respected over time.

"The entire Government and Citizenship standards for grades K-3 need to be replaced. These items should be rewritten by someone familiar with the history of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Piety is a personal matter and a behavior, not to be forced on children. It violates the legislature's prohibition against tests that measure "students' values, attitudes, and beliefs." Any child penalized for not meeting that requirement or refusing to would have legal grounds for a lawsuit."

Benchmark: Students will understand... the founders' sense of duty and honor- and how this sense of personal sacrifice was shared by all the patriots.

"Whoever wrote this could never have served in the military or read any military history. Soldiers fight for many reasons, only some of them are "sense of duty and honor... and personal sacrifice." As written, this is inaccurate and it is irresponsible to compel students to lie."

"Important Point: It is obvious that some writers have attempted to insert their personal religious views into the draft. Yet, it is telling that neither the First Great Awakening nor the Second have received much attention in the draft, despite their important roles. Their inclusion in the study of history shows how to properly include the impact of religion and religious movements in the study of history."

National Reviewer Warren Solomon's Reaction to Final Draft: (Please read his entire review at the Dept of Ed website http://education.state.mn.us/content/064325.pdf and http://education.state.mn.us/content/064394.pdf )

"There is much repetition in the history standards and benchmarks with the result that the high-school history courses devote much time to reteaching much of the content taught in earlier grades. This approach requires high-school teachers to cover a large breadth of content in their courses preventing the study of any topic in depth and preventing students from learning much in the way of recent history. As a result, if the current draft standards are implemented, Minnesota students will likely lack the historical perspective to understand many of the important current problems our nation is facing."

National Reviewer Hal Balsiger: (Please read his entire review at the Dept of Ed website http://education.state.mn.us/content/064321.pdf )

" In sections that speak to exhibiting the behaviors of good citizens, the document often suggests compliant behaviors. What happened to asking questions and soliciting multiple points of view?"

National Reviewer Jerry Martin: (Please read his entire review at the Dept of Ed website http://education.state.mn.us/content/064323.pdf )

"In short, while I understand that a public review process is healthy and may make a contribution to the final version, I would be extremely happy if my own state adopted the draft standards exactly as they are. I hope that those in charge of this process will fight to retain the essential structure and content of the outstanding draft standards."

note: While other reviewers caught factual errors like the listing of Adolf Hitler as an American leader and Andrew Jackson as part of the first political party system, Jerry Martin failed to notice and correct any. Therefore, it is questionable how thoroughly he reviewed the standards.

Governor Pawlenty can be reached through the following:

Mailing Address: Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Telephone: (651) 296-3391
(800) 657-3717

Facsimile: (651) 296-2089

E-mail: tim.pawlenty@state.mn.us

Also, cc Dept of Ed staff, legislators, and press to raise awareness of the national reviews.

Dept of Ed staff responsible for development of academic standards: Beth.Aune@state.mn.us, Charles.Skemp@state.mn.us , Cheri.Yecke@state.mn.us, Maryann.Nelson@state.mn.us

Media Contacts: Jwelsh@pioneerpress.com , Ndraper@startribune.com , plopez@startribune.com , NeGarcia@cbs.com , apminneapolis@ap.org , news@kare11.com , newsreply@KSTP.com , mlahammer@tpt.org , bwerner@mnradio.com , mail@mpr.org , pjkessler@wcco.cbs.com , mdavey@kmsp.com , swmurphy@wccoradio.cbs.com , ddavis@forumcomm.com

2/07/2004

Editorial: K-12 education/Undermining proven programs

The Strib does a good job of bringing this set of issues to the table. What will things look like under a State takeover of Minnesota schools?
Considering the unparalleled bargain Minnesota schools have been, doesn't it make sense to invest in children rather than divest? M


Published February 8, 2004

Next month, 8,000 Minneapolis students who are now working to catch up academically will have to find something else to do after school. Programs that have helped them improve their behavior, attendance and academic achievement will shut down because of state budget cuts for extended learning.

That is but one of the consequences of K-12 budget reductions the Minnesota Legislature made last year. Gov. Tim Pawlenty claimed to hold schools "harmless" by maintaining funding through the state's core per-pupil formula. But the final 2003 education bill reduced overall aid to public schools by $180 million, including $70 million for special education, $25 million for summer school and after-school programs, $46 million for compensatory aid to disadvantaged children and $3 million for Head Start.

Schools took a lesser hit than some other state functions, but nevertheless many districts now find themselves pushed up against a daunting financial wall. Some of the reductions districts make today could cost the students -- and society -- a lot more tomorrow.

Take, for example, the $15 million Minneapolis schools had to trim from their summer school and after-school extended-learning efforts. Though solid data prove that the programs improve student performance, they are being eliminated. This year 10,000 kids got additional help every day at more than 90 sites. By the end of March, only 2,000 high school students will be served.

"It's an unfair and destructive choice," says Jim Grathwol, a lobbyist for Minneapolis schools. "We have to bail on 8,000 kids. And we know what the research says about those after-school hours when children are more likely to get in trouble."

It is tough to put a dollar cost on this missed opportunity. However, it is certain that some districts will pay right away. Many of the schools, in Minneapolis and other districts, that lost extended learning funds are also schools that have not met or are close to missing state and federal academic requirements. Schools that don't meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks under the new federal No Child Left Behind rules must provide additional services -- at a higher cost than the current programs.

The impact isn't limited to urban districts such as Minneapolis. Across the state, more than 2,000 teachers have been laid off, prompting even middle-class districts such as Roseville, Burnsville, St. Louis Park, Edina and Mounds View to increase class sizes.

In Stillwater, officials say that cuts in funding for special-education students already have resulted in larger class sizes for everyone else. Because schools are legally required to offer programs for physically and developmentally challenged kids, school leaders made up the difference by increasing the number of pupils in other classrooms. As more students are crammed into a room, teachers have less time to deal with disruptive or slower students. The result: More kids are referred to special education at $12,000 per pupil instead of the usual $5,000 for regular programs.

In Princeton, state cuts have forced the small district of 3,500 students to draw down reserves and go into deficit spending. In the long run, paying interest will cost more.

Last year's Legislature had to make a series of budget cuts, many of them necessary and some of them wise. But during the current legislative session, lawmakers should take a hard look at the consequences of those decisions. Saving that $180 million in the short run from education could cost millions more in lost opportunities as class sizes grow and more children are denied the help they need to succeed.