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.

1/30/2004

Michael Boucher: Irony is too much

Several stories in the Star Tribune newspaper caught my attention today. 1-30-04

1. The Commissioner and the Republican Governor of the Great State of Minnesota endorse the shame based initiative of a school-by-school listing of ways we are failing without a word about all we do to promote, democracy, peace and citizenship.

2. Minnesota education is not only excellent and not the least bit "embarrassing" as the Commissioner has profiled it but is also an unabashed BARGAIN! We are 21st in teacher salaries and 21st in per pupil spending and we “top the charts on national math and reading tests.” The reason: teachers are subsidizing education to tune of millions per year. ( UPDATE 2-3-04 70,000+ teachers in Minnesota. Conservatively, 50,000 classroom teachers. Conservative estimate of $300.00 per year spent on classroom materials and supplies; much higher in the lower grades. $15,000,000) Bargains Galore!!

3. A Star Tribune poll shows that 45% of Minnesotans support the idea of the social studies standards. They have not read them, have no idea what they are about, but assume they are a good idea. 43% say, “The state's involvement should be restricted to setting general guidelines for what students should know.”

4. The state quarter committee today sent back the plan for more review. They pulled together a council of Coin Collectors and other experts to review the design and they found them all inadequate.

We need, at the very least, to review the Social Studies Standards as much as we do the state quarter.

1/26/2004

Eileen Johnson, PTA Minnesota: Senate Testimony

Comments made to the State Education Committee concerning the proposed Social Studies Standards.
January 23, 2004

Thanks you for you time and attention. My colleagues and I are here to comment on the new Social Studies standards. Many others share our viewpoints and so if/when we reiterate them, know that these are widely held concerns by teachers and professionals across the state.

When you meet to discuss these standards in your committee the first and most basic question we hope you ask is, “Do we need and state standards for social studies at all?” I fear we have gotten so distracted by answering the “how” (how the standards will be implemented in schools) that the important “why” question has been forgotten. So the first question has to be “why” have social studies standards at all. The No Child Left Behind legislation has required assessments for reading, math and science so standards in those areas are essential. However there are no required assessments for social studies. Therefore as a starting point, we hope you reconsider the decision to provide state social studies standards. Yes, the state has the responsibility to determine graduation requirements, however rather than micromanaging district curriculum by demanding essentially a checklist of facts in particular grade levels, a more helpful and I believe more appropriate role for the state would be in providing curricular guidelines for districts. Workable and helpful guidelines could be similar to the concept the Commissioner has endorsed for grades 9-12. She has suggested she is open to supporting a more flexible position for HS graduation by supporting 3.5 years of social studies in grades 9-12. Students must take courses which include strands in US and World history, geography, physics and economics. The state can provide direction but allows districts the flexibility to place and teach the content in the fashion that best matches their needs and resources. Because NoChildLeftBehind does not require assessments in social studies, I believe that your first discussion should be to reexamine the purpose behind creating state standards in the first place.

However I know that you are interesting in receiving feedback on the present standards. Our district has done some careful work on examining the standards and I will share some of our concerns. I will first comment on the elementary standards and my colleague will address the secondary standards.

The National Council for the Social Studies and extensive educational research support a “maturation” approach in social studies curriculum. Children in the early elementary grades learn about themselves and how to treat others, their family, their homes and the community they live in as well as their role within the community. Next they begin to learn about their city, county, then state and the greater world around them. The social studies curriculum in our district, across the state and the nation follow a similar progression of skill development. The common strand or progression is as follows: the study of home and communities in grades 1and 2, Native Americans in grade 3, state studies and US regions in grade 4, explorers and American history in grade 5 and ancient studies and world geography in grade 6.
Textbook companies have responded with a diverse number of resources at appropriate readability levels. Our school district, and most others across the state, has purchased maps, globes and textbooks that support this approach. Districts have invested in social studies units that integrate with other core subjects such as reading, science, or math to promote interdisciplinary instruction. In addition, our district, and others, has invested thousands of dollars to develop nonfiction-leveled libraries that are used to develop nonfiction reading comprehension skills. Subsequently, students develop their literacy skills reading topics that support key social studies concepts.
As they stand today the proposed standards ignore this thoughtful and developmentally sound approach, essentially shuffling the deck and dropping standards into grades without making sure that the students in those grades are ready to learn the material.

No material exists today to teach many of the proposed standards and no effective material is likely to be created because they are not developmentally appropriate. A blatant example of the developmentally inappropriate standards can be found in fourth grade where students, under the proposed standards, are required to learn World History from 1000BC to 1500AD. Even if you assumed that was reasonable for fourth-graders to achieve - and I've yet to talk to a fourth-grade teacher who does - there is no material that can adequately get the job done. Textbooks, web sites and other materials that cover ancient studies and world religions are not written at a 4th grade level for good reason. Although we have taught Ancient history in 6th grade for years there are many 6th graders who have difficulty conceptualizing time frames and comparing and contrasting ancient cultures and world religions. These concepts are developmentally inappropriate for the average 4th grader who is just ten years old.

Examples of standards that are developmentally inappropriate:

Grade 4
II. WORLD HISTORY World Civilizations, prehistory to 1000 B.C.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of ancient civilizations.
1. Students will describe and analyze archeological evidence of early cultures using maps and timelines.
2. Students will compare and contrast characteristics of ancient cultures.

II. WORLD HISTORY World Civilizations, 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of world civilizations.
1. Students will identify and explain highlights of classical Greek, Roman, and Meso American
civilizations of this era, and compare and contrast significant aspects of these cultures.

II. WORLD HISTORY World Civilizations, 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of the history and rise of major world religions.
1. Students will 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.
2. Students will identify major tenets and key figures of these religions.

II. WORLD HISTORY World Civilizations, 500-1000 A.D.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of world civilizations and cultures.
1. Students will compare and contrast characteristics of Eurasian cultures in this era, including the Byzantine Empire, Medieval Europe, Japan, and the Middle East.

The students will demonstrate knowledge o Early African kingdoms, knowledge of interactions among Eurasian civilizations, knowledge of civilizations of the Americas, knowledge of the Renaissance.... The list goes on and on.

And remember...this is only the World History strand. Fourth grade also contains geography, economics, government and citizenship and local history strands each with multiple standards and benchmarks.
And even more mind-boggling...this is all to be taught and learned in a daily time frame of 45 minutes at best, by a teacher who does not necessarily have training or expertise in social studies (elementary education teachers are generalists, not specialists....), without grade-level appropriate materials!!!

Our district and others will have difficulty simply because there is no existing infrastructure (textbooks, curriculum, teacher training) to use to meet the standards. As they presently stand, the proposed standards fail to take into account the complexity of the task you are asking districts to implement.... especially in the era of tight money in districts across the state.

In Edina and elsewhere, we have excellent resources already in place to teach our district social studies curriculum. It doesn't make good educational sense to penalize districts that have done a good job of building a social studies curriculum. And it certainly doesn't make good economic sense to make district taxpayers pay over and over again for new materials.

It does make sense to allow districts local control over how the social studies standards are met so that we can take full advantage of our curriculum and resources. It does make sense to empower our teachers to carry out the plans they've worked so hard on. And it does make sense to use district funds for teaching rather than for bureaucratic micro-management by the state.

Lisa Norling, Department of History, University of Minnesota: Senate Hearing Testimony

Lisa Norling, Associate Professor
Department of History, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Senate Hearing Testimony 23 January 2004

I am an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota. My research and teaching focus on early American history.
I agree with my colleague Jim Tracy that knowledge is crucial.
That is why it is so very important to get it right, to get the facts straight.

At first glance, the revised Social Studies standards look quite different from the first draft. But closer reading reveal serious problems of pedagogy and content – and new problems have been introduced. The great majority of my colleagues and I believe that these standards are not acceptable, as 36 of us detailed in the letter we sent earlier this week to you, Senator Kelley, and to Representative Barb Sykora.

There are still factual errors in the revised standards. But these kinds of errors are relatively easy to fix.

Much more serious and difficult to fix, though, is the disturbing omission of many extremely important topics. For just two examples: the revised World History standards are entirely silent on all of Latin American history from 1500 to after 1945, between the end of the Aztec and Incan empires and the middle of the 20th century.

In the U.S. History standards, the significant immigration of Mexicans and other Latin Americans to this country, as well as the historical experience of Hispanic Americans, now appear in just two optional examples: a reference to Cinco de Mayo as a holiday (Grade 1) and the inclusion of Hispanics as one of several recent immigrant groups in Minnesota history (Grade 6).

The selection of what topics were included and which were not appears to have been more ideological rather than intellectually justified. So, for instance, students hear about slaves in U.S. history but do not study the SYSTEM of slavery until high school – perhaps in part because, as one writing committee member said, “we can’t teach grade schoolers about slavery – they would find the idea of human beings being bought and sold very disturbing. It would prejudice them against the free market.”

Clearly, historical accuracy took second place to other concerns.

The overwhelming amount of material already in these standards requires making tough decisions about what to cut in order to add anything new. But there is NO intellectual rationale for deciding which topics are included and which are left out, at what level of detail topics will be covered, or for what should be required as a benchmark and what should be an optional example. Rather than a body of “foundational knowledge,” these standards are, instead, a hodgepodge collection of random facts without the context, the intellectual framework, to make them understandable or meaningful.

A third area of concern is the misuse and distortion of early American history in the Government & Citizenship. The version of our nation’s founding in the U.S. History standards has now been mostly (not completely) corrected to reflect the mainstream consensus among specialists in the field. But the Government strand retains a particular ideological bias that is reflected in the standards’ fixation on the “Founding Fathers” and two documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Declaration and the Constitution are, of course, extremely important and students should certainly study them carefully.

But, in these standards, students are required to study these two documents over and over again – in Grades 1, 2, 3, 5, and 9-12. As a result, students never have time for a long list of other important topics: the specifics of government structure and practice at the local and state levels, and the full range of ways people have in the past and do now participate in politics and governance.

Worse still (from my perspective as an historian) is that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are taught with a questionable and indeed error-filled historical interpretation. The standards suggest that the two documents express the same principles and concepts, and have the same meaning for today’s Americans as they did two hundred years ago. This understanding is simply wrong, as all mainstream historical scholarship agrees.

So too with the standards’ presentation of the Founding Fathers and Mothers. These standards present them as flat cardboard cut-outs, two-dimensional paragons of virtue, rather than the complicated and thoroughly human individuals they actually were. I would suggest that, with a more realistic rendering – by acknowledging and examining their limitations and shortcomings as well as their creativity, passion and sacrifice – we can learn so much more from them and so much more fully appreciate their achievements and their legacy.

As a professional scholar and as a parent of two young children in a Minneapolis public school, I am disturbed and offended at the sheer sloppiness of this document – a sloppiness that reveals the flawed process by which it was produced. One of my colleagues, Professor Kirsten Fischer, and I observed (between the two of us) every one of the writing committee meetings to revise the standards from Nov. 1 to Dec. 16. It was obvious that the committee members were not given enough time, enough guidance, or enough access to professional expertise and scholarship in the subject areas or in pedagogy. The process was haphazard, intellectually deficient, and ideologically charged.

In sum, these standards offer an incoherent, inaccurate, and unteachable version of the past. The students of Minnesota – your children and mine – deserve better than this.

Thank you.

1/25/2004

Check the credentials

Star Tribune 1/26/04

Check the credentials

I am a college history professor with 37 years' experience. Were I
asked to lend support to a screwball set of standards in chemistry,
biblical studies, Spanish, law or English, I would defer my judgment.
This deference to intellectual respect apparently does not obtain to
the majority of those Minnesota professors who have lent their names to
the transparently ideological "standards" for social studies.

This is part of a disturbing trend in modern America, and one out of
place in Minnesota. If an expert economist warns against massive tax
cuts, ignore her. The letters of 47 professors from Minnesota colleges -
- many of whom have not spent their careers in researching and teaching
history, economics or government -- are no more valid than my
suggestions on maximizing thrust on the rockets to take us to Mars.

Gerald Anderson, Moorhead, Minn.

Rally Against Proposed Standards & For Better Standards!

Rally Against Proposed Standards & For Better Standards!
Saturday, January 31st, 11am-Noon
State Capitol

ACTION ALERT: Now that the legislature has received the final draft of proposed social studies standards, people from throughout Minnesota who are concerned about the future of history, civics, economic and geography education in our state need to let our elected officials know that the proposed standards are unacceptable. The time is NOW. Senate and House Education committees will be considering the proposed standards in February. Call, email, and/or write a letter to Senate Education Committee and House Education Policy Committee chairpersons (Senator Steve Kelley and Representative Barb Sykora) and their fellow members to express your concerns and make suggestions. Also, call, email, and/or write a letter to your state senator and representative, the Governor, your local school board, and your local paper. Forward this email to at least 5 people.

Problems with the Final Draft K-12 Standards (The list below is a summary of the concerns raised by the following diverse groups at the Senate Education committee hearing on January 23rd--- Dissenting standards writing committee members (4); Minneapolis Public Schools; St. Paul Public Schools; Edina Public Schools; Assoc. of Metropolitan School Districts; Mankato Public Schools; Teachers from Minneapolis and Edina; a majority of U of M historians and a Macalester College historian of African American history; diverse students from various Twin City and metro area schools; MN Parent Teachers Association; Parents United for Public Schools, and MAPSSS.)
Too Costly to Implement
Too Numerous to Cover with Quality
Do Not Respect Local Control and District Autonomy
Too Prescriptive to Districts, Schools and Teachers
Too Age-Inappropriate
Historically and Culturally Inaccurate
Do Not Empower Students to Become Effective Citizens
Do Not Empower Students to Live and Work in the 21st Century
Unbalanced: Politically and Ideologically Biased
Eurocentric and Racist
For more information about the Proposed Social Studies Standards, upcoming events, and what you can do to make help sure they are not passed by the Legislature, visit the Minnesotans Against Proposed Social Studies homepage at:
www.mapsss.org
Please forward this message to everyone you know who may be interested or concerned about the civic education of our youth.
yours in learning and democracy,
Paul SpiesMAPSSS co-founder

1/24/2004

Amazing that this story broke in the Washington Times.

Amazing that this story broke in the Washington Times. Looks like the Bush Administration's favorite group of "school leaders" was quitely profiteering while they acted as apologists for NCLB and teacher testing.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20040122-104707-4352r.htm
MISMANAGEMENT CHARGES ROCK SCHOOL-REFORM GROUP
Washington Times -- January 23, 2004
by George Archibald

The Education Leaders Council (ELC), a pro-Bush administration group
representing reform-minded chief state school officers, is in turmoil
over findings of mismanagement and irregularities in documenting time
spent on federal grant projects.
The group's auditors questioned the propriety of Lisa Graham Keegan,
working under a consultant contract as ELC's $235,000-a-year chief
executive officer, sitting on the corporation's board and helping set
policy.
The auditors, Draper & McGinley of Frederick, said the arrangement
conflicted with federal regulations.
Billie Orr, who just resigned as ELC's $200,000-a-year president,
also had worked under a similar automatically renewable contract
arrangement.
Mrs. Keegan said she arranged the consultant contracts for herself
and Ms. Orr "for tax purposes" through their respective consulting firms
in Arizona when she resigned as Arizona's state superintendent of public
instruction.
She arranged for the ELC board to hire John Schilling, her aide at
the Arizona department, as ELC's $150,000-a-year chief of staff. Mr.
Schilling, in turn, then signed the consultant contracts for Mrs. Keegan
and Ms. Orr on behalf of ELC.
The auditors also said the organization improperly had documented
time spent by Mrs. Keegan, Ms. Orr and other ELC staff as a basis for
charging two federal projects for a major portion of their salaries.
The projects funded through the U.S. Department of Education are a
$10 million computerized school-instructional program called Following
the Leaders and the council's federal subcontract to help implement a $5
million-a-year alternative teacher-licensing program, the American Board
for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE).
ELC charged $732,022, or 61 percent of its total wages, to the two
federal projects in 2003.
Leaders of the centerpiece ABCTE project and National Council on
Teacher Quality, its co-founder with ELC, last month severed ties with
the state school officers group.
"The issue is larger than ELC. If word gets out about any of this, my fear is that it will have several labels -- 'scandal' and 'incompetence' come to mind -- and will make ELC look like every other status quo incarnation of the existing [education establishment] cartel," board member Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's state education commissioner, wrote to other directors after they reviewed the audit report at their annual conference in Nashville last September.
The Washington Times recently obtained internal board documents
about turmoil still under way within ELC since that meeting.
William J. Hume, a founding benefactor of ELC whose family helped
propel Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes to the presidency, quit the
council's board of directors after Mrs. Keegan and a majority of other
directors rebuffed his request for a more detailed independent review of
the group's finances and grant operations.
Mr. Hume, who contributed $700,000 to "seed" ELC's expansion when
Mrs. Keegan joined the group in June 2001, declined to comment on his
departure.
William J. Moloney, Colorado education commissioner, also stepped
down as board chairman after clashing with Mrs. Keegan over his
proposals to "rescue" the council from "procedural disarray."
Mr. Moloney's main complaint was that Mrs. Keegan and Ms. Orr, who
worked for her at the state Department of Education, remained in Arizona
the past several years for personal and family reasons and ran the
group's Washington office from there most of the time.
"At the heart of it, you have someone who is charismatic, a
wonderful public face, but a bad manager," Mr. Moloney said of Mrs.
Keegan. "Her inability to manage was compounded by the fact that she
never left Arizona."
Mrs. Keegan defended her decision for the three top officials to
remain in Arizona.
"We are in 23 different states, I mean my job is on the road, so
that's a given," she said.
"The organization has been extremely honest and responsible in the
way we have managed the things that we have been charged to do. But that
does not mean it's been wildly efficient at all times. It doesn't mean
that I've done a good job of managing staff, particularly after Billie
left. Billie is a manager, and that's why she was here."
Jim Horne, the new chairman and a certified public accountant, said
ELC has taken steps to correct management deficiencies.

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 committee¹s 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 governor¹s 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

Marjani: A student's perspective

Dear Committee members,
Hello, my name is Marjani and I am a junior at a Minneapolis Public School. I would first like to thank you for taking this time to hear what I have to say. I have been following these standards since the first draft came out, and attended one of the public hearings in November.

Before coming here today, I spoke with many students at my high school and asked for their views and input. Many students told me that they were upset with how the standards were written from a white male perspective. Minnesota is a diverse state, and the diverse people who live and learn here deserve standards that will accommodate everyone. Many felt as though the US history standards in particular lacked major minority and women’s representation. Although the second draft has improved its representation of minorities, it still lacks much about women and their roles in society.

I have reviewed both the first and second drafts of the social studies standards and feel as if the committee has taken a step forward yet three steps backwards. It seems that the committee’s solution for taking out all material that was previously considered politically biased, and adding in important minorities and women that many felt were lacking, was to group this information in the examples column.
Another chief concern of students is how detail oriented the standards are. Many students learn in different ways and use different learning styles and when these new standards are implemented, many feel as though it will be a struggle learning.

Students also said that they were upset with not learning more about other cultures and their history’s. Some felt that their World Studies classes were only a glimpse into other countries histories, and even then they all were mainly European and Anglo-Saxon cultures.

Aside from the standards themselves, the preparation for the committee and the public input was considerably lacking. As a person of color it is quite disconcerting to me to see a committee of all white members. It’s easy to see why these standards are biased when all the people putting them together simply cannot helped but being biased seeing as the majority of them all have the same viewpoints. You cannot put together standards for the whole diverse student population in Minnesota by a group all coming from essentially the same background. It is impossible for only one group of persons to speak for and represent all peoples through these standards.

In addition to the lack of diversity there was also a lack of time involved in developing the standards. In total the committee members spent about three months on the draft. Is it really wise to spend three months developing standards that affect each individual student’s education, is there any reason as to why more time couldn’t be given? More time for the application process, developing the standards, public input, revising the standards, more public input, re-revising the standards. Many students, myself included, don’t feel comfortable knowing plans for our education, our lives, our future, were developed in three months.

As well as a poor timeline, intentionally or not all the hearings were placed outside the metro area except for one or two. It seems a bit silly that these important hearings were held outside the metro area which contains the most populated school districts in the state. It made it quite inaccessible to the educators, parents, students and others involved from these districts to attend the hearings.

In closing, my peers and I really hope that our views will be taken into account when these standards are brought to the legislature. Thank you for hearing us and thank you for your time.

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.

1/21/2004

Meg and Don Arnosti: Not their areas of expertise

Not their areas of expertise

As parents of three public school kids we were pleased to see the Jan. 21 headline "50 professors endorse history standards."

Upon reading the article more closely, however, we became alarmed: It appears that many of the endorsing professors don't teach history, with the article citing signators as chemistry, Spanish, biblical studies and law professors, among others.

A University of Minnesota history professor is quoted as saying most of the professors in her department find the revised standards "at least flawed" and "unacceptable."

As parents we ask for our children to be taught that history is a complex story with many perspectives. We wonder what is going on with the history standards when history professors don't support them and biblical studies professors do?

Meg and Don Arnosti, St. Paul.

Updated Title 2-4-04: These people may have read the standards, but do not show their understanding of the implications

Previously named: These people obviously have not read the Standards

A Letter in Support of the Academic Standards for History and Social
Studies from Minnesota Professors of History, Economics, and
Geography

January 20, 2004

As professors of History, Economics, and Geography at Minnesota
colleges and universities, we believe that the "Minnesota Academic
Standards for History and Social Studies" (http://education.state.mn.
us) represent a major step forward for K-12 students.

In our experience, too many high school graduates lack the basic
grasp of human institutions and of the physical world that ought to be
presumed for college-level courses. We continually meet students
who have no clue when the Renaissance was, or do not know what
the word `monarchy' means, or cannot tell, on a map of the world,
which country is France and which is China. Instead of showing
how things are more complicated than is commonly thought, we
first have to explain what is commonly thought. Some of the reasons
why young people "don't know much about his-to-ry," as the song
says, lie beyond the reach of educators. But part of the problem
stems from a curricular philosophy that makes Social Studies a
field unto itself, with history and geography coming into play only
insofar as they supply materials for discussing contemporary issues.

For the new Minnesota Standards, by contrast, Social Studies
means the four specific fields of knowledge for which the Legislature
has mandated standards: History, Geography, Civics and Government,
and Economics. Schooling does indeed prepare students to be
citizens, but the best preparation is broad-based, not issue-specific;
students who have a sense of who and where they are in the world ­
a template of human time and space ­ have a framework for
accommodating new questions, and making their own judgments.

The first draft, completed by the Citizens Committee in September,
was intended as a work in progress. Some readers found it too
detailed, too prescriptive, politically biased, or Eurocentric. The
revised Standards, issued on Dec. 19, show that the Committee
has taken these and other comments as opportunities for
improvement. The number of "Standards" has been reduced by 10%,
and the number of Benchmarks by 36%. To give teachers flexibility,
specific names and places have been shifted from the "Benchmarks"
column to a new "Examples" column.

For History, there is a new Standard on writing research papers; the
US history section features new material on Native American history,
and instances of political imbalance have been corrected. In World
history there is less on Europe, making room for at least a basic
coverage of other world civilizations. For Geography, the year long
course in Grade 8 provides a synthetic view of the world, and the year
long course to be offered in High School is designed to enable
students to develop sophisticated understandings of how they as individuals and
members of groups are connected to places near and far.

No set of Standards can be letter-perfect, and signers of this letter
reserve the right to comment individually on specific points. Subject
to such adjustment, the Standards are in our judgment a reasonable
approximation of what K-12 students ought to be learning in these
areas, and we recommend their approval by the Legislature.

If approved, the Standards will take effect in 2004/5, or possibly
2005/6. Since the legislature has required the commissioner not to
develop an assessment for the social studies standards, there will
be time to begin implementation without the pressure of statewide
tests.

Teachers will have to develop new curricula in some areas, while
showing students how "facts" are not so boring after all; many will
want opportunities for re-training, possibly testing the limits of
federal and state funds earmarked for teacher development. Also, colleges
and universities will likely have to create new offerings to meet the
needs of teachers. Just as colleges and universities joined with the
K-12 system to develop the now discarded social studies curriculum,
we must work together to turn the proverbial oil tanker around,
creating a new and better curriculum in the four specific fields.

Our goal, to be achieved over time, is preparing Minnesota students
for citizenship in a country and a world that will be theirs longer
than
ours.

Signatures

Bernard S. Bachrach, History, University of Minnesota
King Banaian, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Walter W. Benjamin, History (Emeritus), Hamline University
Steven Blake, History, St. Olaf College
Chuck Chalberg, History, Normandale Community College
Gary Marvin Davison, historian of Taiwan
Mary E. Edwards, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Daniel R. Fairchild, Economics, St. Thomas University
Caesar E. Farah, History, University of Minnesota
Daniel J. Gallagher, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Richard F. Gleisner, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Nathan E. Hampton, Economics, St. Cloud State University
John Fraser Hart, Geography, University of Minnesota
Scott Freundschuh, Geography, University of Minnesota-Duluth
John J. Hickey, Geography, Inver Hills Community College
David O. Kieft, History (Emeritus), University of Minnesota
Marie Seong-Hak Kim, History, St. Cloud State University
Nancy Koester, Church History, Luther Seminary
Bill McGuire, Political Science, Normandale Community College
Kenneth C. Rebeck, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Paul Solon, History, Macalester College
Theofanis G. Stavrou, History, University of Minnesota
Walter Sundberg, Church History, Luther Seminary
James D. Tracy, History, University of Minnesota

1/19/2004

Paul Spies: Social Studies Standards Won't Promote Dr. King's Cause

Recent racist incidents at Mounds View High School have made the news, and they are not uncommon in schools, universities, workplaces and neighborhoods. Contrary to the beliefs of many of my fellow white Minnesotans and Americans, Martin Luther King's dream has not yet come to life. And, if the final draft social studies standards are passed by the legislature, racism will continue to ferment in our state rather than be challenged by the youth that will lead us in the future.

Vague knowledge of Dr. King is required in Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and high school in the proposed standards. Some knowledge of the Civil Rights movement is required in 7th grade and high school. However, of the more than 22,000 words in the 59-page proposed standards document, the word "racism" is only mentioned once in 7th grade when students are supposed to study "segregation and racism" during the period of 1877-1916.

One of the biggest criticisms levied against the first draft social studies standards was that they were too focused on the experiences of white Americans and Europeans. While some additions have made the standards more inclusive, there are still serious omissions and distortions that serve to marginalize the experiences and contributions of the diverse people that make up our great country.

For instance, K-12 students are not required to learn anything about the experiences and contributions of Latinos in United States history, including Dr. King's contemporary Cesar Chavez, despite the fact that one-third of this country used to be part of Mexico and Latinos of various nationalities are now the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. Furthermore, while there are 27 required topics about ancient Greece imbedded in benchmarks, there are no standards or benchmarks requiring students to learn about ancient Egypt despite the fact that it lasted much longer and was envied by the Greeks. Amazingly, there is no mention in the standards of apartheid in South Africa or of Nelson Mandela. And, yes, Columbus is still to be treated as a hero rather than a complex figure that contributed to the genocide of Native Americans.

Why is a white, middle-class, college-educated man with many privileges so upset about the cultural and gender bias in the proposed standards? I received a Eurocentric suburban education able to pass tests, write papers and read, but I was ill-equipped to bring understanding and empathy to any substantive conversation with persons of color at home or abroad. As our society and world become more connected, people in the 21st century need to have a deep understanding of many different cultures and histories in order to be good neighbors, citizens and workers.

Why are the proposed standards still insufficiently inclusive? Perhaps it is because Commissioner Yecke selected people to work on the final draft standards whom often publicly demonstrated and admitted gaps in content knowledge and personal experience dealing with diverse cultures and histories. Perhaps it is because only one of 14 writing committee members and none of the four consultants chosen by Commissioner Yecke are persons of color.

While I will assume that Commissioner Yecke and her writing committee did not intend to write discriminatory standards, it doesn't mean that the proposed standards aren't both implicitly and explicitly racist. If approved, these standards and the way they were crafted is a form of institutionalized racism that I'm confident Dr. King would have resisted. It will be hard for our youth to judge someone by the "content of their character and not the color of their skin" as King dreamed if they will be taught through a state-mandated curriculum to be ignorant of themselves and others.

While I also assume most students and adults in Minnesota don't condone the explicitly racist behavior that Dr. King fought against, there are many forms and degrees of racism. White denial of racism is one of them. A person does not have to be a card-carrying member of the KKK to have thoughts or behave in ways that subtlety support white racial superiority and the continued educational and economic privilege whites inherently possess in our society.

Since the standards and benchmarks are still too numerous and must be reduced, the responsibility now lies with our mostly white legislators of all political parties to take a stand for justice in the spirit of the courageous leader whose name now labels the street where our state Capitol is located.

---------------
Paul Spies taught social studies for seven years in urban and suburban high schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, and southern Africa. He is co-founder of Minnesotans Against Proposed Social Studies Standards www.mapsss.org and can be reached at paulcspies@msn.com

Cheri Pierson Yecke: The vision of King and the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education

Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2004 Pioneer Press

As Minnesotans celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King this year, we also have an opportunity to recognize the 50th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education in the context of today's struggle to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The 1954 Brown ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the legal precedent for "separate but equal." But as history proved, separate was not equal. In Plessy v. Ferguson, shameful practices and traditions of the day were given precedence over higher promises of freedom and liberty as articulated in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ."

But even then, it took many more years for some people to accept, let alone implement, the tenets of the Brown decision. Two years after the ruling, 101 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter condemning the decision. A movement known as "massive resistance" began in the South. In some places, communities voted to shut down their public school systems rather than be forced to integrate.

But to our credit as Americans, many more people supported this decision immediately - and others came to support it over time. Dr. King provided leadership during this era, working to fulfill his vision of a free and just society.

Those who knew that there was a moral obligation to overcome segregation acted because, to be true to the ideals upon which this nation was founded, there is no other choice. They did not call it an unfunded mandate. They did not say, "We can wait and do this later" - they knew that the time had come in this great country to turn our backs on the doctrine of segregation, and to move forward to provide equal access to educational opportunities for all children.

Just as the Brown decision was a tool toward ending segregation 50 years ago, the No Child Left Behind Act is today's tool to close the achievement gap. For the first time ever, each public school in the country must inform its community about the student achievement of all - not some, but all - of its students. In schools across the nation, the light of accountability will shine into the darkest corners, places where children formerly were left to languish in frustration and despair, and where families have been left without hope.

Some might say that the law is unjust to schools, or that its costs outweigh its benefits. But instead of offering excuses, more than 100 minority leaders and educators last November looked past party designations, looked beyond politics and signed a joint letter supporting No Child Left Behind. In this letter, they wrote:

"No Child Left Behind . is a huge step forward in the movement toward full participation in American democracy. [but] just as we then didn't use insufficient funding as an excuse to maintain legally segregated schools . we must not use funding to escape our responsibilities now."

These leaders recognize their obligation to continue implementing Brown v. Board of Education. There was no time to waste then, and there is no time to waste now. Thurgood Marshall spoke to the court in the Brown case with these words: "There is no way you can repay lost school years."

These thoughts are echoed in the words of one of Minnesota's most famous native sons, Hubert Humphrey, who spoke as a statesman on the issue of civil rights nearly 60 years ago. In 1948, he declared his support for civil rights "because of my profound belief that we have a challenging task to do here - because good conscience (and) decent morality demands it." He added, "To those who say, my friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late!"

To reach our goals, we must not be afraid to identify and reward excellence, for in doing so we inspire others to reach these same heights. Conversely, we must not be afraid to identify and address persistent underperformance. Schools that are underperforming deserve assistance and support - but at the same time, as Marshall pointed out, we cannot wait indefinitely for improvements to occur.

As educational leaders in Minnesota, we need to move forward together along the road Dr. King has identified, knowing that while the pathway might be rocky and the journey sometimes challenging, our goal is a noble one and is larger than what happens in a single school or a single district. It involves a commitment to something bigger than ourselves.

Let our journey begin.

Yecke is commissioner of education for the state of Minnesota.

1/17/2004

Noel Schmidt: Yecke spins a distorted view of middle schools

Noel Schmidt

Published January 18, 2004

Recently, Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's commissioner of education, published "The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools."

In the book, the commissioner claims that middle schools have failed to deliver as educational institutions, particularly to the talented and gifted students. Yecke asserts that it is time for the "American public to reject the radical middle school movement."

Huh? The "radical middle school movement"? The same middle school movement that has worked successfully for more than 30 years for hundreds of thousands of students and parents?

While the commissioner claims her purpose is not to "bash" Minnesota middle schools, her rhetoric says otherwise. In the book, she says middle schools encourage a "rising tide of mediocrity." She says middle schools are filled with "radical activists," who are a "threat to the integrity of the public schools." These are words of rancor designed to inflame passions and prey on the emotions of people. They are designed to strike fear into our hearts and to persuade us to throw out 30 years of sound middle school research and follow her messianic version of the junior high. They are words of hyperbole and mystification designed to advocate and support a narrow ideology. No educational researcher that I know uses language like this.

Using reams of data and quotes, the commissioner spins a convoluted web of misinformation about middle schools. Many of her "facts" are distorted or deliberately skewed to her version of reality. Here are some myths that Yecke spins in her book.

Myth No. 1: Middle schools have negative attitudes toward talented and gifted students.

Reality: Middle schools strive for high standards of excellence for all students, including those with exceptional talents. This is why many middle schools offer enriched classes, advanced classes, after-school activities and honor band and honor choir.

Myth No. 2: Middle schools are guilty of using cooperative learning experiences. This is a bad thing to the commissioner.

Reality: The main reason that adults get fired from their jobs is because they haven't learned how to work cooperatively with other people.

In the building where I work, we are guilty of the following cooperative learning experiences: Our students donated enough money to place American and Minnesota flags outside the entrance to the school; our students donated over 300 coats to the Salvation Army's coat drive; our students collected and donated more than 6,300 books for an elementary school in St. Paul; our students wrote over 1,000 letters to members of the armed services stationed in Iraq -- in return, the students regularly receive letters from mail-starved U.S. soldiers who are grateful for the letters our students have written.

Myth No. 3: Middle schools are working to eliminate competition from the building, Yecke claims in her book.

Reality: Almost every middle school that I know uses a very competitive "A-B-C-D-F" grading system and publishes a list of students who made the "A" honor roll and the "B" honor roll. Middle schools regularly give awards, certificates and honors to students who excel in a variety of subjects.

The commissioner makes even more pedagogical and philosophical assumptions in her book, all slanted to achieve her political end. She appears more concerned in promoting her version of reality than reflecting what is really happening in middle schools in Minnesota. I challenge her to drop her political agenda and visit middle schools to discover what is really happening.

Noel Schmidt, of Hugo, is a middle school principal for the White Bear Lake Area Schools and president of the Minnesota Middle School Association.

Cheri Pierson Yecke: Cooperative learning can backfire

Cheri Pierson Yecke

Published January 18, 2004

Cooperative learning is an educational strategy that is used in many classrooms today. Whether it is a tool that helps students learn, or whether it is being used in ways that are detrimental to student learning, is a subject of debate.

The evolution of cooperative learning is a fascinating study. While it became popular in education beginning in the 1970s, experts in the field of social psychology have studied the effects of group processes for more than a century. Their research has found 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. There is even a term for this phenomenon -- "social loafing." (see last line of this abstract. M)

Although social loafing has been identified (if not by name at least by description) for nearly a century, some cooperative learning enthusiasts appear to have overlooked this rich body of research.

The effects of social loafing are often apparent in cooperative learning experiences today. In many instances, groups are formed so that children of varying abilities are grouped to work together. When there is individual accountability for performance, this arrangement appears to work well. However, the reality is that far too often, a small group of students ends up pulling the weight for all.

I was driven to collect research on cooperative learning for my recent book, "The War Against Excellence," because as a mother and as a middle school teacher, I found that the idealistic vision some people have of cooperative learning is actually quite different from the reality of its implementation.

While some educators might extol its benefits, consider the words of this parent: "Invariably, it would be the same students who took on the majority of the workload to see that the job was done, because the whole group received the same grade. This cooperative grouping, intended to help slower students and to make leaders of faster students, in fact caused resentment when reality hit that not everyone carries the same load."

Students who are forced to carry the weight for the whole group indeed grow frustrated. Consider this student's group experience: "I was forced to work with the group, at their pace, or face disciplinary actions. I found that if I disagreed with the group, I could not voice my opinion or I would quickly be hushed ... . The teachers were quick to 'correct' me and forced me to work only for my group as a whole."

What was this student learning from her cooperative learning experience? That she had to slow down the pace of her learning and that she could not challenge the group, or she would be punished. Although this is but one example, we have to ask: Are these the sorts of lessons we want our children to learn?

Prof. Marian Matthews (Study done with College students?) has conducted two extensive studies on the impact of cooperative learning groups and high ability students. She found that students "resent having to explain the material to students who won't listen to them." She states that high-ability or highly motivated students often find that they must "do all the work," resulting in negative attitudes toward other group members. However, when working in like-ability cooperative groups, such students tend to develop the positive attitudes and gain the social benefits attached to group interactions.

I have heard similar comments from parents from Minnesota and across the country as they have sent letters and e-mails in response to my book.

But perhaps some educators support this practice because they think there is clear and unequivocal evidence that it promotes higher levels of academic achievement. Unfortunately for them, recent data suggest that its overuse is having a detrimental effect on student learning, at least in math. The 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress assessed math achievement among American students in grades 4, 8 and 12. Students in grades 4 and 8 who worked in a group to solve their math problems on a daily or weekly basis posted lower math achievement than those who did so on a monthly basis. The report concludes that students "generally seem to perform best when certain classroom activities were engaged in on a moderate basis, rather than on a daily basis."

So can the effects of social loafing be eliminated, or at least controlled? Research from social psychologists and others indicates that when group members know that their work can be individually identified, social loafing is lessened. The reality of individual evaluation provides an incentive for individuals to strive for peak performance. The lesson here is that educators need to look outside of education to other fields if they truly want a full picture regarding educational issues.

Should cooperative learning be eliminated? No -- but neither should it be used indiscriminately and embraced as the "be-all" and "end-all" of educational strategies. This practice should be used in moderation, and with the expectation that all individuals will be held accountable for their performance.

Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's commissioner of education, is author of the book "The War Against Excellence" (2003, Praeger Publishers).

1/15/2004

Michael Boucher: Senate must reject new social studies standards

Posted on Sun, Jan. 11, 2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Senate must reject new social studies standards
BY MICHAEL L. BOUCHER JR.
Guest Columnist

Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke has unveiled the proposed new social studies standard and teachers have had some time to review them. While these revised standards are less racist, less xenophobic and less unbalanced than the first draft, let us be perfectly clear, these standards will not help students achieve at a higher level and are an illegal intrusion into Minnesota classrooms.

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. In the four years of high school, there are 264 benchmarks. Within those benchmarks are more than 600 distinct topics. That translates to one benchmark every 2.39 periods of instruction.

This rapid treatment is not a problem on benchmarks like, "Students will describe the function of the legislative branch and explain how a bill becomes a law." But it is the rare ninth-grader in a civics class who can, as a civic benchmark states, "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," in 119 minutes. Even after weeks of study, most college seniors could not write an essay answering that standard in so little time.

If only this were an extreme example. But as we move through the standards, teachers can only conclude that the writers had little understanding of the way people learn or the social studies themselves.

When reading the standards, Minnesotans need to keep in mind that the purpose of an academic benchmark is the same as in any other field. It is a specific item that will be assessed. Each benchmark is put into law as something that all Minnesota students should know.

A good way to think of them is that each benchmark is at least one test question. These tests are not on the immediate horizon, according to the commissioner, but are three to four years away. It only makes sense that each of these benchmarks is important enough to be tested or there is no reason to make them law in the first place.

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

The Senate now has the chance to stop the juggernaut of these "substandards" and appoint a new committee to make Minnesota standards we can be proud of.

Boucher, of Minneapolis, teaches social studies at South High School and is on the executive council of the Minnesota Council Of Social Studies. This column was signed by five other social studies teachers.

1/10/2004

Public Testimony from Apple Valley Hearing on Proposed Social Studies Standards

Standards of Learning in Virginia

10/13/03

My name is Cheryl Anderson. As a parent of two elementary school children, I am encouraging all of us to exercise caution before adopting any proposed curriculum. I believe we should all fully understand the benefits, as well as the flaws of the proposed curriculum, so we can make an informed decision.

I believe strongly in the value of education, having benefited personally from strong public schools that helped to teach me to think through things and not simply accept them at face value. I am concerned that the Standards of Learning Curriculum may be
more focused on facts and figures than in teaching our children how to think for themselves.

I am also concerned about the increased levels of testing. I used to live in Virginia where the Standards of Learning have already been introduced. My sisters, who also value quality education, both have expressed great frustration with the curriculum. While they think teachers and schools should be accountable for providing quality education, they believe that the SOLs have been implemented in a way that the negatives outweigh the positives. They have watched their children lose much of their love for learning after the SOLs were implemented.

My nieces and nephew’s classes are now structured around preparing for the tests since the teachers and schools are measured by the results. In history, they are focused on learning facts and figures, many obscure according to my sister, rather than understanding why the event took place. The students in Virginia now cram subject matter in preparation for a test rather than experience creative learning. They have specialists come in to help them prepare for the question types, home booklets, study sheets, early morning prep sessions, and practice tests… all in preparation for the standardized test. They have lost the joy of learning.

Many have worked hard to eliminate the Profiles of Learning. Let’s be careful that we move forward, not backward, in offering a quality curriculum to our children.

Cheryl Anderson, Eagan, MN

1/07/2004

This should scare you!! Sixty Minutes Two

The Texas Miracle

Jan. 6, 2004


(CBS) It was called the “Texas Miracle,” and you may remember it because President Bush wanted everyone to know about it during his presidential campaign.

It was about an approach to education that was showing amazing results, particularly in Houston, where dropout rates plunged and test scores soared.

Houston School Superintendent Rod Paige was given credit for the school success, by making principals and administrators accountable for how well their students did.

Once he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Paige as secretary of education. And Houston became the model for the president’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform act.

Now, as Correspondent Dan Rather reports, it turns out that some of those miraculous claims which Houston made were wrong. And it all came to light when one assistant principal took a close look at his school’s phenomenally low dropout rates – and found that they were just too good to be true.

“I was shocked. I said, ‘How can that be,’” says Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, on Houston’s West side. His own school claimed that no students – not a single one – had dropped out in 2001-2002.

But that’s not what Kimball saw: “I had been at the high school for three years, and I had seen many, many students, several hundred a year, go out the door. And I knew that they were quitting. They told me they were quitting.”

Most of the 1,700 students at Sharpstown High are under-privileged immigrants -- prime candidates for dropping out.

One student was Jennys Franco Gomez. She dropped out of Sharpstown in 2001 for all-too-familiar reasons -- she had a baby. “My baby got sick, and I don’t have nobody to take care of my baby and take it to the doctor,” she says.

The high school reported that Jennys left to get a GED, or equivalency diploma, which doesn’t count as a dropout. But Jennys says she never told school officials anything of the sort.

All in all, 463 kids left Sharpstown High School that year – for a variety of reasons. The school reported zero dropouts, but dozens of the students did just that. School officials hid that fact by classifying, or coding them as leaving for acceptable reasons: transferring to another school, or returning to their native country.

“That’s how you get to zero dropouts. By assigning codes that say, ‘Well, this student, you know, went to another school. He did this or that.’ And basically, all 463 students disappeared. And the school reported zero dropouts for the year,” says Kimball. “They were not counted as dropouts, so the school had an outstanding record.”

Sharpstown High wasn’t the only “outstanding” school. The Houston school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent. But educators and experts 60 Minutes II checked with put Houston’s true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

“But the teachers didn’t believe it. They knew it was cooking the books. They told me that. Parents told me that,” says Kimball. “The superintendent of schools would make the public believe it was one school. But it is in the system, it is in all of Houston.”

Those low dropout rates – in Houston and all of Texas - were one of the accomplishments then-Texas Gov. George Bush cited when he campaigned to become the “Education President.”

At that time, Paige was running Houston’s schools, and he had instituted a policy of holding principals accountable for how their students did. Principals worked under one-year contracts, and each year, the school district set strict goals in areas like dropout rates and test scores.

Principals who met the goals got cash bonuses of up to $5,000, and other perks. Those who fell short were transferred, demoted or forced out.

Kimball took his findings about Sharpstown High School to CBS affiliate KHOU-TV, which first reported the dropout scandal.

Then, he went to State Rep. Rick Noriega. In Noriega’s largely Hispanic, mostly poor district, many kids start high school, but never finish.

“In my district in particular, where I have many of my high schools, 1,000 ninth-grade students, yet only approx 300 or so will walk the stage four years later and receive a diploma. A big question should go off in people’s heads, where are the other students,” says Noriega, who asked the state to find out.

Investigators checked half of the city’s regular high schools. They reviewed the records of nearly 5,500 students who left those schools, and checked how the schools coded, or explained, it. They found that almost 3,000 students should have been, but weren’t, coded as dropouts. The audit substantiated Kimball’s allegations.

“The problem is the lack of integrity that’s being demonstrated when you say there’s such a low dropout rate, when we know, everyone knows, that 30 to 40 percent of the kids are dropping out of schools," says Kimball.

60 Minutes II wanted to ask Houston school officials about Kimball’s charges, but they wouldn’t talk on-camera. They said they wouldn’t “get a fair shake.” But they did meet off-camera, and they argued that the audit proved outright fraud only at Sharpstown High.

At the other schools, they contended, the false statistics were due to “confusion” about the complex state system for coding students, and sloppy bookkeeping. They conceded, however, that Houston’s “official” 1.5 percent dropout rate was not accurate.

Those officials also urged 60 Minutes II to get a better picture of the Houston school system on-camera from Rob Mosbacher, a Houston businessman, school supporter and Republican activist.

“I think the district looks at the challenges it has, and sets high expectations. And that’s something that makes all of us very proud. Because they’ve been making the progress that shows that expectations can be realized,” says Mosbacher.

60 Minutes II also tried to talk to Paige himself, but he declined. His spokesman said the dropout controversy broke after Paige left Houston to become education secretary. And he said the phony statistics at Sharpstown were the work of a few individuals.

Paige’s spokesman suggested that 60 Minutes II talk to Jay Greene, a leading expert on dropouts at the Manhattan Institute. Greene supports the kind of accountability reforms Paige enacted in Houston.

But this is what Greene said when asked what he thought about Houston’s “official” dropout rates: “I find that very hard to believe. It is almost certainly not true. I think it’s simply implausible. I think a reasonable guess is that almost half of Houston’s students do not graduate from high school.”

Greene also points out that Houston’s dropout problem is no worse than that of school systems in many other large American cities: “I think they are doing about as well as most urban school districts, which is to say not very well … I don’t think they’ve been doing super well.”

Houston also won national acclaim for raising the average scores on a statewide achievement test that was given to 10th graders. Principals were judged on how well their students did on the test.

But at Houston schools, Kimball says, principals taught addition by subtraction: They raised average test scores by keeping low-performing kids from taking the test. And in some cases, that meant keeping kids from getting to the 10th grade at all.

“What the schools did, and what Sharpstown High School did, they said, ‘OK, you cannot go to the 10th grade unless you pass all these courses in the 9th grade,” says Kimball.

What's wrong with that? Wouldn't this help students get the basics down before moving on?

“Because you failed algebra, you may be in the ninth grade three years, until you pass the course. But that’s not a social promotion if you just allowed the student to go to 10th grade, just you know, let him take algebra again, and work on it there.”

That’s just what happened to Perla Arredondo. She passed all her courses in ninth-grade, but was then told she had to repeat the same grade and the same courses.

“I went to my counselor’s office, and I told her, ‘You’re giving me the wrong classes, because I already passed ‘em,” says Perla. “So she said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing. That’s my job.’”

Perla spent three years in the ninth-grade. She failed algebra, but passed it in summer school. Finally, she was promoted – right past 10th-grade and that important test -- and into the 11th. Without enough credits to graduate, Perla dropped out. While she worked as a cashier, a secretary, and a waitress, she learned an important lesson: “I know I can’t get a good job without a high school diploma. You know? I can get a job as a waitress. I mean, and I don’t wanna be doing that all my life.”

Why? “For my dad and mom. You know, I wanna give ‘em, I want them to be proud, you know,” says Perla. “That’s another thing I want. I want them to be, you know, proud of what I am.”

Gilbert Moreno has seen many Perla Arredondos. He runs a school filled with dropouts.

“There are some horrible stories,” says Moreno, who is director of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican-Americans, which operates a private, non-profit charter high school for disadvantaged kids.

“A youngster passed, say, five different subjects, passed the English, but wasn’t given the algebra, and then was later told, at the end of the year, ‘Well, you’re not gonna pass to the 10th-grade. You never passed algebra. You never took algebra,’” says Moreno. “And the youngster goes, ‘I never knew this.’ And it looks almost that there was an attempt to maybe identify some certain students and not give them the required curriculum.”

There is no state audit to back up this claim, but Moreno points out that many Houston high schools have bulging ninth-grades, and very small 10th-grades. One school, he says, held back more than 60 percent of its ninth-graders.

School officials say students are held back because they’re not ready for the next grade. They deny that they were held back to avoid the test.

Students and teachers at Moreno’s charter school showed 60 Minutes II that dropouts are not a lost cause. Former dropouts get help here to stay in school. Classes are small, there is day-care for students with children, and programs to combat drugs and gangs.

There was determination, ambition and hope in their voices.

Roscio dreams of becoming a cartoonist. “I’m really good at drawing,” he says.

“Right now, I want to go to med school and continue to become a pediatrician,” says Victor.

And Vanessa dreams of becoming a journalist.

Noriega says Houston school officials focus on statistics instead of real problems: “That’s the issue. It’s the kids, stupid. And people continue to wanna spin around it all, and lose sight of it all. And it’s Kimball, and it’s just one school, and it’s this and it’s that. And it’s not.”

If that sounds like a political statement, it’s because questions about the Houston school miracle are now being raised in Washington.

And Education Secretary Paige, who declined to give 60 Minutes II an interview, responded to those questions in a speech in Houston just before Christmas: “Critics come after the school district in Houston. Not Sacramento, not Denver, Boston or Los Angeles. It is Houston that they put on the front page. They come after you, not because of an interest in quality education, but because of where you live.”

And in the case of whistle-blower Kimball, school officials have denounced him as incompetent, and transferred him to a primary school for kindergarten through second grade, where he is the second assistant principal.

“The district felt that, by sending me down there, somebody who’s taught at university level, taught at high school level, and middle school level, would be humiliated at a low primary school, but I’m telling you that I love it,” says Kimball, who adds he isn’t going to quit.


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1/04/2004

Joe Nathan: Protest is basic to social studies. Activism needs place in civic standards

Posted on Sun, Jan. 04, 2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press

Protest is basic to social studies. Activism needs place in civic standards
JOE NATHAN
Columnist

How ironic. The latest draft of Minnesota's proposed state social studies standards was produced after intense, lively, difficult debate and confrontation. But this draft, while a clear improvement over previous efforts, seems to promote a rather passive, quiet form of citizenship.

First-graders are expected to "define what it means to be a citizen in terms of loyalty, membership and self-government." Examples given are "hard work, generosity, self-reliance, love of America, gentleness, even temper, friendliness." Those are important values — but so are things such as thinking and questioning.

It's the same approach in third grade, where students are expected to "understand the importance of citizens having certain character traits. …" Examples include "responsibility, courage, self-reliance, trustworthiness, accountability, generosity, honesty, courtesy, cooperation, patience, patriotism (and) self-restraint."

In grades nine through 12, students are expected to "explain the inherent rights and resulting responsibilities of citizenship … (and) to describe activities of civic life." But examples offered do not cite protesting or questioning government policies.

They do include things such as obeying the laws, paying taxes, becoming informed and voting, participating in political campaigns, communicating with government officials, defending the nation, and serving in court.

Opponents vigorously, passionately and persistently protested the now-departed Profile of Learning. That was their right.

The latest draft of Minnesota graduation requirements includes numerous examples of people who battled for changes by protesting and using civil disobedience to obtain voting rights for women and minorities. They even used violence to sever this country from Great Britain.

But the current draft standards don't seem to praise or promote this type of activism as part of citizenship for today's students. It's an important omission.

Here's a second concern about the draft: The amount of information students are required to study is huge, and in some cases, not critical. For example, does every high school student need to:

• "Describe how the technological and managerial changes associated with the third agricultural revolution have impacted the regional patterns of crop and livestock production."

• "Explain the internal spatial structure of cities in the United States."

• Master 47 benchmarks in economics, including things that economists debate intensely such as how "monetary policy influences employment, output inflation and interest rate."

I'm sure that a geographer or economist can argue that these standards are important. But piling so much on teachers, schools and students makes it less likely that students will have time to do more important things, such as understand basic principles of democracy, examine different approaches governments use to regulate companies, and research/debate the wisest policy of taxation for the federal government and for states.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke deserves credit for listening to critics. The current draft represents a much more balanced, inclusive approach to history, government, economics and geography. It also includes information and analysis.

But I hope Minnesota's legislators will recognize the strengths of this draft and then make a few revisions.

Joe Nathan is director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. He can be reached at jnathan@hhh.umn.edu.