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.


Good advise is hard to come by these days

Here is some excellent advise from today's Strib letters.

To the graduates

Hello. This is my graduation speech.

First, don't rush to college. If you don't like sitting in a classroom, what makes you think you're going to like sitting in a college classroom? And after you graduate, what makes you think you'll like sitting in an office eight to 10 hours a day? So take some time off before you blow $100,000 on a college education you may not really want.

Money makes the world go round. Sure love is grand, but it won't pay the rent. You will need a skill. That doesn't mean college; become a plumber, carpenter, X-ray technician -- just get a skill in the next two to three years. You can be 22 years old with a skill or 22 years old and still working a minimum-wage job.

Start your own business. Don't like your boss or working for other people? Hey, you're young, no obligations; what service can you provide people? If you work in a pizza parlor, you know how to make pizza; open your own shop. If you work in a coffee house, you know how the business runs; open your own coffee shop. If you want it badly enough, you can do it.

Don't rush to get married. People change a lot between 20 and 30. A lot! So get married as late as you can -- know yourself before you stick another person with you.

Don't buy stuff. It won't make you happy. That means a new car, a big-screen TV, a deluxe stereo system. Take that money and invest it in stocks. In five years your new car will be an old piece of rust; your stocks will appreciate.

What makes you happy are moments. Sipping coffee with a friend, laughing with your relatives, taking a walk on a nice day. Enjoy the moments and they will add up to a contented life.

Travel. If you have lived in the same state your whole life, it's time to get out. Your family and friends will be there when you get back. Try something new. You don't want to be 80, sitting in a rocking chair, realizing you've never gone anywhere.

Philip Theibert, Richfield.


Education Minnesota's view of the Standards

Jenni Norlin Weaver, from Edina, is one of our state's best curriculum people, so MinnBEST is glad she was part of the final process.
The standards are so-so. They are not inspiring in any way, so why was is so hard to get such a simple document? If the former Commissioner was smart and qualified to do her job, it should have been a cake-walk, but she made it into a battle. It was a battle that was won for the children of Minnesota. She could have listened to people who know what they are doing and kept her job.

New standards are a compromise

By Linda Owen, Communications Specialist

The passage of new science and social studies standards ended a contentious, months-long debate, particularly over history standards. The new standards will take effect in the 2005-06 school year.

Statewide tests will measure student's achievement of the science standards; there are currently no plans for a statewide test in social studies.

The main change in the final version of the science standards is the deletion of controversial House language on alternatives to the theory of evolution. The history and social studies standards, however, underwent a last-minute rewriting that left no time for floor debate.

The final version is a compromise between the fact-oriented House version and the more analytical approach passed by the Senate. It was developed in the final days of the session by a group that included Minnesota Department of Education staff, content specialists, curriculum directors and a few classroom teachers.

"After the Senate passed the [education] policy bill, the Senate, House and governor's office agreed we needed to get advice, particularly from curriculum directors, about ways in which a compromise could be developed," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins.

Rep. Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, said the U.S. history standards in kindergarten through eighth grade are closer to the House version, while the high school standards are closer to the Senate version.

The world history standards are a blend of the two versions, and the committee chairs agreed they wound up with too many benchmarks. "I think there needs to be some paring down, but there wasn't time to do it," Seagren said.

Overall, the number of benchmarks was reduced by about 10 percent, she said. However, the total for all grades and all social studies areas is still more than 400. And there is still concern about the number of benchmarks for grades K-3, where teachers are focusing on teaching reading and math, said Jenni Norlin-Weaver, director of teaching and learning for the Edina schools, who followed the standards writing process closely.

But on the plus side, Norlin-Weaver said, the new standards are more flexible than previous versions, and they will not require districts to get rid of good curriculum materials they are already using. Districts will have more latitude on when to teach Minnesota history and how to place high school social studies requirements, she said.

Providence Academy teacher attacks strong, Republican woman

Despite the machinations during the Yecke battle, the truth cannot be covered up forever. King and the boys have now turned their attention to Wendy Swanson-Choi, a respected, smart and driven female leader in the Republican Party. She worked tirelessly to help Pawlenty fend off the attacks from the nutty element of the Republican Party and to get him elected by a plurality of the voters.

Some Republicans laughingly tried to paint the Democrats as anti-woman. Now that most commissioners were confirmed and Yecke is going around the state whining about "unstatesmanlike behavior," the misfits are coming out from under their rocks again.

From Star Tribune
"Her [Yecke's] rejection in the Senate shows that the fight over education can only be resolved by consensus and bridge-building, not by polemics, partisan rhetoric and arrogance.

Try telling that to this polemicist from Swanson-Choi's website, or "M stands for me", or Skrentner, or this boomer who managed to put down the bong long enough to hold a sign."

From the comments of Ben Blackhawk, Providence Academy, Plymouth:

"Wendy Swanson-hyphenated-Choi, regardless of whose campaign she volunteered for, is clearly a case of sour grapes. As a teacher who has worked on many "curriculum committees" and the like, I recognize that "she [Yecke] didn't listen to anyone" is code language for "she didn't take my spectacular suggestions as the core of the whole work." Ms. Hyphenated is also upset that religious folks got any say at all. She must be used to total exclusion of anyone with the same beliefs about God as the founders of this country. As for "private school backers," no one can deny the influence of private schools on education, but only ideologues resent the way they improve all of education with their influence, not to mention resentment that parents have alternatives to the monolithic public schools."

It is officially denied. Private schools are a drain on the resources of the public schools. They are subsidized by the public and we have nothing to show for our investment. Providence academy and these new religious schools seem to be producing nothing but arrogance.


The Yecke agenda: "take down this wall"

Actually, Jefferson was a major proponent of building the wall in the first place! As Yecke has shown, she is not a student of history. Not only did he make that clear in the Virginia legislature, but also by writing his own Bible that got rid of all references to the deity and resurection of Jesus. Maybe that was the one the kid was reading.

Respecting the First Amendment
in Virginia Public Schools
by Cheri Pierson Yecke

In a first grade classroom in Stafford County, children were encouraged to bring their favorite books from home for free reading time. But when little Adam Waldowski, quietly and alone, began to read his Bible, he was told by his teacher that he wasn't allowed to do so.

The Hampton district exempts students from exams based on the students' earning good grades and having a minimum number of absences. However, Shulamit Warren and other Jewish students, no matter how high their grades, cannot take advantage of this policy. Several of their religious holy days occur during the school year, and they do not have these absences excused.

In Fulks Run, 4th grader Leslie Combs was "discouraged" from delivering an oral report on the old Testament Book of Esther. Soon afterward, she was told that she could no longer wear a T-shirt to school after she stated out loud, in response to another student's question, that the initials "J.C." on it stood for Jesus Christ.

Other than the fact that they all occurred in Virginia, what do these incidents have in common? A misunderstanding of the place of religious expression in the public schools.

Virginia has taken the lead in protecting these First Amendment rights. In order to provide guidance for localities, on June 22 the State Board of Education adopted a set of guidelines to assist localities in the interpretation of "constitutional rights and restrictions relating to religious expression in our public schools."

These guidelines were developed over many months by the Board in conjunction with Attorney General Jim Gilmore's office and the Allen administration's Department of Education. Input was received from both the public and a diverse spectrum of interest groups, including the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, the Virginia School Boards Association, the Rutherford Institute, the Virginia Coalition for Religious Freedom, the ACLU, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Christian Legal Society, the Family Foundation, and the National Legal Foundation.

Public comment indicates that there was a high degree of consensus among the interest groups on many of the issues, and this is reflected in the positive tone of the guidelines: they delineate what is permissible, not what is forbidden. In addition, the guidelines emphasize that the document is not intended to displace local policy or procedure, but is rather a reference tool to guide educators as they walk the fine line of protecting freedom of speech and religious expression while avoiding the appearance of officially sanctioning or promoting any particular religious group.

Following Virginia's lead, President Clinton announced on July 12 that he was instructing Attorney General Janet Reno and Education Secretary Richard Riley to draft similar guidelines for the entire nation. He spoke at a school in Vienna, saying that he wanted to make the announcement in Virginia, where "the oldest and deepest roots of religious liberty can be found."

Although many Americans believe that the Constitution contains the phrase "a wall of separation between church and state," the fact is this phrase is not there. It was the sharply divided 1947 Supreme Court ruling in Everson v. Board of Education that popularized this interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a 'wall of separation between Church and State.'"

But as historians well know, Jefferson's 1803 reference to the "wall of separation" has been taken out of context. The expulsion of religion from public schools and the public square was clearly not intended. Jefferson himself supported government funding for religious instruction for the Kakaskia Indians, and as president of the school board for Washington, D.C. he made the Bible one of the official textbooks.

Not surprisingly, there is rampant confusion over the issue of religious expression in the public schools, as too often courts rule along the lines of "Do as we say, not as we do." For example, in the 1980 case of Stone v. Graham the court cited the "wall of separation" in prohibiting the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools: "If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate or obey the Commandments. . . . This . . . is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause." Yet these same Ten Commandments are chiseled in stone on the very walls of the Supreme Court chambers.

Is it any wonder that citizens are confused about what is appropriate religious expression in the schools? Parents have often turned to the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville for advice and, if necessary, legal representation. In addition to providing assistance in the Virginia cases cited earlier, Rutherford has a worldwide network, and is the organization that came to the aid of 10-year-old Raymond Raines of St. Louis, MO who was put into detention for a week for silently bowing his head to say grace before lunch at school.

Ron Rissler of the Rutherford Institute states that school personnel usually respond favorably to the institution's input "when they realize their actions are the result of misinformation or misunderstanding of the Constitution."

In addition to the First Amendment, the new Virginia guidelines rely heavily on numerous court decisions, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and the Equal Access Act. Topics addressed include holidays, student assignments, and graduation prayer.

Virginia led the nation's commitment to religious liberty in the 18th century with George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 and the passage of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty in 1786. It seems fitting that Virginia has again taken the initiative to assume the cloak of leadership as our country prepares to enter the 21st century.

Under the Virginia guidelines, Adam can read his Bible, Shulamit and the Jewish students in Hampton may have their religious-based absences excused, Leslie can wear her T-shirt and give her report -- and school personnel can rest assured that they are acting within the law.

Future court rulings may provide some more specific guidance and different historical interpretations some day, which will do much to clarify the real intentions of the Founding Fathers. Until that time, and thanks to the input and cooperation of many religiously diverse and politically divergent interests, the "Guidelines Concerning Religious Activity in the Public Schools" provide guidance necessary to ensure that the constitutional rights of school children in Virginia, and hopefully soon the entire nation, will be preserved, and that the court-ruled secular position of public education will be respected.

Cheri Pierson Yecke is a member of the Virginia State Board of Education, and was the 1988 Teacher of the Year in Stafford County.


What works? Real opportunity.

It's not rocket science. Well funded schools that give students opportunities and a guarantee that hard work will pay off with a reasonable amount of success, creates high achievement.

There are so many wonderful people of means who are doing this kind of thing. Collectively, Minnesotans can all do the same thing. The taxpayer's league will tell you that the 30-40 dollars in tax refund is more important than giving opportunities to the poor.

There is a Social Darwinism that is gripping Minnesota and it needs to stop. The Democrats have made a stand. Now it is the Republican's turn. This November, work to elect people that understand that investment in education pays off for all of us.

Bob Simon-60 Minutes
I Have A Dream: College Tuition
May 23, 2004

It's been 23 years since wealthy New York businessman Eugene Lang told a class of sixth-graders in Harlem that if they made it through high school, he'd help pay for their college education.

Thus, as 60 Minutes reported back in 1986, the “I Have A Dream” foundation was born. Since that broadcast, Lang’s idea has mushroomed across America.

There are now programs in 76 schools and housing projects. So far, more than 13,000 kids have been promised college tuition. CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon reports. When Lang first stood before those 60 kids at their sixth-grade commencement, class valedictorian Juan Martinez didn't understand that his life was about to change.

“The principal kind of pulled me aside and said, ‘Did you hear what he said? He promised to pay for you all to go to college,’” recalls Martinez. “And at that time, I was 12 years old. It didn't really quite sink in because college was a lifetime away. But slowly, I began to realize how big and monumentous that actually was.”

It was a big deal, especially since Lang was told that more than three-fourths of these kids would drop out long before graduation.

When 60 Minutes saw “Lang’s Gang,” the original dreamers, back in 1986, they were all chasing a dream. Desire Rodriguez wanted to be an entrepreneur. David Nieves said he wanted to be “rich,” and Martinez said his dream was to win the Nobel Prize in Science.

Martinez never won that Nobel Prize. Instead, he’s had to settle for becoming a corporate attorney in one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.

He says the “I Have A Dream” foundation changed his life: “I was given opportunities and exposed to people and places and situations that otherwise I wouldn't have had access to.”

Not all of the kids went on to fame and fortune, but 90 percent graduated from high school or earned their GED -- and 70 percent went on to college.

Rousana Serrano is now a vice-president at J.P. Morgan. Rafael Rodriquez is a dentist who runs his own clinic. And Arisides Alvarado became a New York City cop.

The group also includes a music promoter, a lab technician, a computer specialist, an executive secretary, a general contractor and a teacher. And they haven't forgotten the man who made it possible.

Two years ago, more than a dozen of that first batch of dreamers took Lang to dinner on Father's Day. “There isn't anything original about anything I did. Nothing. The only thing is, I did it,” says Lang. There are now 19 states with "I Have A Dream" programs. And in rural Georgia, 54 kids are getting the same incredible deal that Lang's dreamers got almost 20 years ago.

Tom Kelly and his wife, Kathy, always planned to retire early to help disadvantaged kids. Kathy was once mayor of Clearwater, Fla. Tom was an executive at a health care company. But when Kelly first walked into Greensboro Elementary School, principal Joan Antone thought he was a salesman. Well, she was right. He was.

“He basically told me about a program, ‘I Have A Dream,’ and he said, ‘It can happen at your school or it can happen at another school. But it will happen,’” recalls Antone. “And I said, ‘Well, it's going to happen here.’"

When Antone found out that her school was selected, she said, “Finally, someone has heard my voice to say ‘Can you do something for the children in Greene County?’"

More than a third of the kids live below the poverty line in Greene County, and half of the girls get pregnant while they are teenagers. The Kellys, however, lived in a very different part of the county.

“It's sad. You know, when the situation is, you know, no heat, no electricity, that sort of thing. It's just so sad,” says Kathy.

The Kellys are well-off, but they aren't well-off enough to make promises to all the kids at Greensboro Elementary. So they decided to help half of the 120 students in the kindergarten class.

How did they pick them? “We asked each of the kindergarten teachers to give us a list of 10 kids. And of course, they all gave us a list of 20, because they wanted all their kids in the program,” says Tom. “At the end, we got real scientific. We picked the last names out of a hat!”

The Kellys sent letters to the parents of the lucky 60 students - parents like Tyesha Dalton's mom, who didn’t believe the news.

“I was just kind of shocked,” says Toby Moore, Tyesha’s mother. “I said, ‘Well what kind of program is this?' You know, I thought it was, like, sorta a tricky thing.’”

It was a tricky thing for Tom Kelly, too. He now had to raise a quarter of a million dollars a year to build up that tuition fund.

“The first year, I hated it, you know,” says Tom. “And friends would kid and say - they can caller ID - they say, ‘Oh crap. It's Kelly on the phone. I'm sure he's asking us for another check.’”

The Kellys have recruited dozens of volunteers to tutor the kids after school. But the acid test of whether all this is working is the dreaded standardized exam.

“We have a program they've been going to on Saturdays, learning to take the test,” says Kathy.

“Eighty percent of the dreamers in the last test results tested at or above the national level,” adds Tom. “Eighty percent. Phenomenal.”

And it doesn't stop there. The Kellys also run something of a finishing school for the kids at a nearby country club. But if you think the Kellys have their work cut out for them, meet Arne Duncan.

Duncan is CEO and superintendent of the Chicago school system. He's convinced the dreamer concept can help him turn around the third-largest school system in the country – where 60 percent of the students failed the state exam.

It turns out that 12 years ago, Duncan sponsored a sixth-grade class at a Chicago school with a 67 percent dropout rate. But 87 percent of his kids graduated.

“What we were trying to do is prove to the outside world that when you give these children concrete opportunities, when you give them guidance, there's a world of possibilities out there for them. And they will achieve,” says Duncan.

But how can they apply this concept to the school system of Chicago – and make it a personal experience?

“Let’s go right down the line. We are breaking up large failing inner-city high schools because they're too big and we're creating much smaller learning environments,” says Duncan. “Why? Because those lessons we learned through ‘I Have A Dream,’ of the importance of adult relationships, the importance of having adults who know about children and care about them, are so critically important.”

Another lesson Duncan has borrowed from the “I Have A Dream” program is to keep kids in school long after the final bell. Classrooms are now filled with tutus, and Hip-Hop.

At one school, kids are tutored by Boys & Girls Club volunteers. The gym has been turned into a homework center. And the computer class is full.

“All of these students are here on a voluntarily basis. School's been out for a couple of hours,” says Duncan.

“I think what it speaks to is an investment we have to make in these young people. We simply have not invested in them. We've just accepted the status quo and said, ‘They're poor. They're probably minority. They can't accomplish anything.’ But what ‘I Have A Dream’ does is put the lie to that belief.” Back in Greensboro, the dreamers are proving to be unstoppable.

“A dreamer has the attitude that ‘I am somebody,’” says Antone. “You’re looking at students who are getting it together, who know where they're going. And who are dreaming.”

Simon talked to one student who has three other brothers and two sisters at the school. But this child is the only one who was selected to be part of the program.

As it is, focusing on more than 50 active fourth-graders has turned the Kellys' retirement years into a blur.

Most of these kids had never been out of Greensboro until the Kellys came into their lives. Now, they've been on more than 40 field trips.

Tom Kelly says part of the program is getting them out of Greensboro: “Some have already been to New York, to Florida, to Pennsylvania. I mean, they’ve been to the museums. They’ve been to the restaurants. They’ve been to the cities. And they know it’s going to take a degree to continue this lifestyle.”

When 60 Minutes met with the kids, all of them said they wanted to go to college.

“They believe they can be anything. And, we have won, just because of that,” says Tom.

“When I grow up, I would like to be a lawyer,” one student, Willie, told Simon. “Because I wanna give back to the community and give the people justice that they deserve. … I know I can do it.”

Breath in - Breath out: Maple River should embrace being outside the mainstream

This is a surprisingly acurate, though biased, assesment of the Commissioner's downfall accept for this phrase, "The real issue in her downfall was that she shared the biases of parents and the lay public, and she opposed the biases favored by educators."

She actually shared the biases of a few extremists like Maple River.

MR refuses to believe the simple truth. They are not mainstream. If they would just admit that to themselves and embrace it, their lives would be better.

They believe in national sovereignty, not based on reason or evidence, but just because. Just go with that. Breathe in-Breath out.

From the Scholar's notebook

J. E. Stone, Ed. D.
Education Consumers ClearingHouse & Consultants Network

If anyone wonders why regulation of the public schools by state education agencies has done so little to promote the kind of changes wanted by the public, they should consider what happened to Minnesota's Cheri Pierson Yecke.

She was well qualified and experienced, and she was trashed—primarily by educators—for siding with the parent and taxpayer critics of the public school curriculum.

"[Senator Steve] Kelley whose Education Committee recommended Yecke's firing last month, argued that the commissioner had split the state's education community of parents and educators into two warring camps." (Star Tribune, "Senate fires Yecke," May 17, 2004.)

Yes, but wasn't it the job of Yecke's agency to set directions for the schools and to hold them accountable to the public—and not vice versa?

It can be argued that her curricular views were biased, but bias is a relative matter. As all post-modernists know, the question is, "whose bias?"

The real issue in her downfall was that she shared the biases of parents and the lay public, and she opposed the biases favored by educators.

Had she gone along with the curricular preferences of Minnesota's education establishment, she would have been welcomed and affirmed.

So if the education establishment is able to exercise that much control over the choice of a state education agency's leadership, is it realistic to expect that that agency will be able to lead education in the direction wanted by the public?

The object lesson is clear. Congress, governors, legislators, and school board members are free to enact all of the reform policies they would like so long as implementation and enforcement remain in the hands of a captive agency.


Does this make him a Nabob or just a nincompoop?

The results are in at Warren Anderson's school (New Spirit Middle) and the wonderful core knowledge curriculum he advocated!!! 7th grade Math a whopping 15% passed and a bit more impressive at 7th grade Reading 19% passed (pioneer press, 5/19/04).

See his bizarre rant here.
"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.""

Warren Anderson has been awfully quick to point out the statistics for Minneapolis/St. Paul test scores in an attempt to denigrate traditional public school systems. A MinnBest member had the unfortunate experience to have to listen to him drone on and on as he was the chair of the 6-8 social studies committee. With statistics like these does this make him a Nabob or a Luddite???


Reasonable people understand Yecke was not good for Minnesota

Nick Coleman
Star Tribune
Sour grapes from Yecke

C heri Pierson Yecke, having been fired as education commissar, is now bad-mouthing Minnesota, claiming she was whacked by partisan thugs (beaten like a "piñata," she says) and victimized by a political culture that has "fallen into the gutter."
What happened to Minnesota Nice, she is asking, which is like Lizzie Borden asking what happened to Mommy and Daddy while holding a dripping ax.
Yecke, the most political education commissioner the state has ever had, came from Virginia on a mission to remake the state's educational system in her image, and if she didn't entirely succeed at that, she did manage to ratchet up the rhetorical wars. But Minnesotans hardly need be ashamed that she has been given the heave-ho.
Her firing by the DFL-controlled state Senate, which gave her the sack as the clock ran out on the Legislature early Sunday, wasn't as shocking as she makes it sound.
Yecke had been on probation for a very long time and she got expelled for very familiar reasons: She didn't listen, she called people names, she didn't play nicely with others and she couldn't count -- not to 34, anyway.
That's how many votes she needed -- 34 -- to win confirmation of her appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But her historic rejection, on a 35 to 31 vote along party lines, was not preordained. If she had taken advice from people like Mary Beth Blegen and Wendy Swanson-Choi, she might have survived.
Blegen is the 1996 National Teacher of the Year, a Democrat who now works as a consultant for the St. Paul public schools. Swanson-Choi is a parent from Eagan, a Republican who volunteered on Pawlenty's election campaign. Both say that if Yecke is looking for someone to blame, she ought to get in front of a mirror.
Swanson-Choi is a leader of Parents United for Public Schools, a group that has criticized the No Child Left Behind approach to education reform.
"She did herself in," Swanson-Choi says of Yecke's ouster. "From the time I met her and saw her interacting with people, I thought, 'You know what? We're set up for a problem here.' She didn't listen to anyone. It was just, 'We're doing it my way. I'm right.' "
Swanson-Choi, who served on Yecke's language-arts committee, was turned off by Yecke's "name-calling." (Yecke said critics had a "hate-America agenda" and "education establishment" were always dirty words).
Swanson-Choi also was appalled by the lack of curriculum experts on her committee and the influence of religious conservatives and private-school backers. She said this was so pervasive that her committee wasted time on discussions such as whether students should learn the concept of "inferring" something (I see Tommy is wearing a parka; therefore, I infer that it is cold outside), or whether inferring things might lead to denying literal interpretations of Scripture.
"Now Yecke is saying that Minnesota politics are in the gutter," Swanson-Choi says. "But I say, 'You are part of the reason things have gotten to this level.' I feel bad for anyone who loses her job. But this is best for the kids."
Blegen, who taught history in Worthington, Minn., for 30 years before winning National Teacher of the Year honors, tried several times to meet with Yecke but eventually gave up. Like Swanson-Choi, she watched in horror as what could have been a nonpartisan reform effort became a train wreck.
"I'm just an old teacher, but I would have talked to her about how to work with teachers and build bridges to people who disagreed with her," Blegen says. "Teachers aren't against standards. But we don't need people who don't know what MY school's problems are telling us what to do."
Blegen, who spent three years as a teacher in residence in the U.S. Department of Education, says that Yecke's strident and ideological views inflamed the reform issue and that matters worsened when she gave too much influence to partisan think tanks, downplayed the growing racial diversity of Minnesota, gave short shrift to the state's largest school districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and shut out many veteran educators with impeccable credentials who found they were not wanted.
One teacher who didn't get a place in the discussion? National Teacher of the Year Mary Beth Blegen.
"A first-grader in 2004 won't get out of college until 2020," Blegen says. "The world won't be the same as it is now. We can't just give them facts to memorize. We have to give them the skills and the ability to adapt and adjust and work together and step into a culture of change. If we don't, we will fail."
In the end, Cheri Pierson Yecke didn't learn how to adapt, adjust or work together. Her rejection in the Senate shows that the fight over education can only be resolved by consensus and bridge-building, not by polemics, partisan rhetoric and arrogance.
The surprising thing is she came within three votes of confirmation. She deserves an "A" for effort. But when her final report card comes in, it will show that Yecke was not a good fit for Minnesota.
The only thing worse than her firing might have been if she had stayed.
Nick Coleman is at ncoleman@startribune.com.


Common Sense from the Strib

Editorial: Hard lesson/K-12 chief must build bridges
May 19, 2004

Personally stung by the rejection of his education chief, Gov. Tim Pawlenty lashed out Monday at the Senate DFL caucus for being "mean-sprited" and blatantly political, to the detriment of the state. The governor said senators sought to prove their "relevance" by refusing confirmation for Cheri Pierson Yecke, whom he called a "talented, energetic" leader.

That's a response with a partisan bias of its own. Blaming the action completely on Senate DFLers' desire for political muscle-flexing ignores concerns raised by hundreds of Minnesotans during the past few months. Senate opponents of Yecke did not make up the controversy that swirled around the commissioner during her bumpy 15 months on the job. Rather, senators listened and responded to what grew into a groundswell of constituent complaints.

Yecke's critics included classroom teachers and other education establishment types, but also many parents. One parent group collected 4,500 signatures in favor of blocking her confirmation. Many of those critics had participated in the effort Yecke led to establish new education standards -- and come away from the process disenchanted with the commissioner.

Although Yecke worked hard and had a strong résumé, no cabinet appointee of recent memory became such a polarizing, divisive force. That was not the Senate's doing. The cumulative effect of Yecke's expressed beliefs on issues ranging from a state student survey to middle school practices to collective learning got her into trouble.

Through their complaints and concerns, Minnesotans demonstrated that Yecke was not a good fit for education in this state. Over time, it became clear that some of her views were extreme and unrepresentative of Minnesota values. Simply put, in some areas she wanted to lead this state in an educational direction that many thought wrongheaded.

Instead of continuing to blast DFLers, Pawlenty should pay attention to why they turned down only one of his several dozen commissioner choices. As the governor mulls over selection of a new commissioner, he should use the lessons from this contentious process to make a better choice.

Minnesota needs an education leader that is, as Sen. Steve Kelley rightly said, "a uniter, not an active divider." The next state school chief should acknowledge the great successes of local schools, even while calling for reforms to address challenges.

It is expected that the governor will select a commissioner who shares his views on education and who will likely be more conservative than liberal. That is not a problem, to a point. But both Pawlenty and Yecke overreached in their determination to make changes that many Minnesotans regarded as radical and beyond Pawlenty's political mandate. Just as important, whatever the political bent of the commissioner, he or she must have the temperament, good judgment and people skills to work well with disparate groups.

Beating up on the Senate majority, and by extension the many Minnesotans who agreed with their decision, does not advance the state's education agenda. Like it or not, Pawlenty must understand that he has to work with this Senate to get a strong education leader in place and to generally guide the Legislature toward agreements for the common good.


BANNED!!!! Sob!!!


Unlike you, we refuse to endorse things we have not read.

MinnBEST was there all the way through the process and kept track of every step. Every change in wording was monitored. There was a lot of give and take, but in the end, though too voluminous, they are not the bizarre version you never read, yet endorsed.

They are on the senate webpage awaiting your endorsement. The Econ standards are largely the ones passed by the house.

Your hyperbole is amusing. No one was shot. Now Yecke has her dream of making much more money working for the Heritage institute.

It is also hilarious that you would call us the Taliban. It is you who prefers ideology and party politics to reason.

All the Best
MinnBEST | Email | Homepage | 05.17.04 - 7:26 pm |

Banned by webmaster. Your comments will not be added

MinnBEST was there all the way through the process and kept track of every step.

Thanks, further proof that you have far too much influence with the DFL. You did all that and kept teaching and grading too? And you believe you're overworked and underpaid?

I don't believe you read them. I don't believe a majority of the people who voted for them read them. You replayed the Profile strategy and passed them under cover of darkness and continue to besmirch the good citizens of this state who helped write the House standards, as well as those who came out to debate the first draft in good conscience. And our children will pay for your desire to continue in thought-control.

Don't bother writing again, M. Your usefulness to this site has ended, and with it your posting rights.
King | Email | Homepage | 05.17.04 - 8:34 pm | #

Poor King. Not only did he lose his cause, lose his champion, but now he has lost his sense of humor.

Too bad he refuses to believe that MinnBEST is a vast coalition.

You can email him to tell him what you think.

Earth To Yecke: Its about YOU!

Make sure to thank all those who voted to fire her!

Senate says no to Yecke


Pioneer Press

Just hours after the Minnesota Senate removed her from her job as state education commissioner, Cheri Pierson Yecke lashed out Sunday at Senate leadership — blaming partisan politics for the loss of the job she has held for 16 months.

Yecke was rejected 35-31 in a party-line vote at 3:40 a.m. Sunday. Capitol watchers say it is only the second time in more than 50 years that the Senate removed a state commissioner from the job.

"It's unfortunate there were not members of the Democratic Party who could be statesmen and look at the facts instead of voting along party lines,'' Yecke said during a news conference at her Blaine home. "I'm profoundly disappointed in the stalemate and the bickering that went on.''

Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators said Yecke was too divisive and polarizing a figure to be education commissioner. Her rejection was a stunning rebuke by the DFL-controlled Senate to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It highlights the bitter feelings between party leaders at the close of this year's legislative session, which left major items including a budget bill unfinished before Sunday's adjournment.

"In the dark of night, the Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have done a great disservice to our state,'' the governor said in a statement. "By rejecting Commissioner Yecke on a party-line vote, they have rejected innovation and accountability for our education system. My disappointment in their action and the loss to our state is deep and profound." He promised to continue the same education policies he supported under Yecke.

Yecke admitted her tenure has been controversial. But she said her rejection has more to do with the current state of politics in St. Paul than her outspoken support for the federal No Child Left Behind Act and her work on state social studies standards, which some complained were too conservative and biased.

"This isn't about me. This is about the whole process and the whole political atmosphere,'' she said. "I'm walking away with my head up high. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished.''

In other votes Sunday morning, the Senate approved three other controversial appointments of Pawlenty's, including Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as transportation commissioner. The other confirmations included Cal Ludeman as the commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations and Annette Meeks as a member of the Metropolitan Council.

The vote against Yecke came as a surprise. In recent days, Republicans were voicing confidence that she would survive this political storm, which included a contentious committee hearing and a negative recommendation by the Senate Education Committee. Even early Sunday as the Senate took up the confirmation debate, agency spokesman Bill Walsh and Republican senators thought several DFL members would end up voting for Yecke. The commissioner, who had been keeping a relatively low profile in recent months, was not at the Capitol during the debate but heard of it by phone from Walsh as it took place.

Yecke said she was shocked when she heard the vote tally. She said Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, told her in a private meeting earlier this month that he would not call up her confirmation for a vote unless she had the votes necessary to prevail. But Johnson said he phrased it more as a challenge to Yecke to go out and gather the needed votes as opposed to a pledge that her job was safe.

In a half-hour of debate before the vote, Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, argued that while any governor has the legal power to name commissioners to run state agencies, none has an absolute right to have the appointments approved by the Senate.

"A commissioner doesn't just work for the governor," Kelley said. "A commissioner works for the people."

Kelley, who is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has been critical of Yecke on many issues, including her book published last year that attacked trends in middle school education. He said the language she used in her book was not respectful to opponents. He also cited Yecke's use of the phrase "hate America agenda'' to describe some critics of new social studies standards.

"What we observed," Kelley said of the committee, "was Minnesota has become divided since the commissioner was appointed."

Responding to an earlier comment from Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, that the Legislature had no right to insist any commissioner be a "healer" of existing problems, Kelley called Yecke an "active divider."

Another Democratic critic, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Thief River Falls, accused Yecke of stifling the flow of information from the Education Department bureaucracy to the Legislature. He said department employees sometimes gave information to the Republican majority in the House but withheld it from the Senate DFL majority.

But Republicans defended Yecke's work and said her rejection was a direct challenge by Senate Democrats to Pawlenty's ability to run state agencies.

"They just declared the governor can't run his own government," said Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna.

"It's not just a shot over the bow, it's a shot into the bow," said Sen. Bob Kierlin, R-Winona.

The governor has not named an interim commissioner. Among the possible candidates for Yecke's replacement are assistant commissioner Mary Ann Nelson, a former superintendent of Fridley public schools; and Alexandria superintendent Ric Dressen, whom the governor named last year as co-chair of his education finance task force.

The last commissioner rejected by the Senate was Steve Minn, who had been appointed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura as commissioner of the merged departments of commerce and public service. He was voted out in 2000.


The vote against Cheri Pierson Yecke early Sunday fell along party lines:

Republicans for: David Gaither, Plymouth; William Belanger, Bloomington; Betsy Wergin, Princeton; Bob Kierlin, Winona; Brian LeClair, Woodbury; Cal Larson, Fergus Falls; Carrie Ruud, Breezy Point; Dave Kleis, St. Cloud; David Hann, Eden Prairie; David Knutson, Burnsville; David Senjem, Rochester; Debbie Johnson, Ham Lake; Dennis Frederickson, New Ulm; Dick Day, Owatonna; Gen Olson, Minnetrista; Pat Pariseau, Farmington; Claire Robling, Jordan; Geoff Michel, Edina; Thomas Neuville, Northfield; Steve Dille, Dassel; Paul Koering, Fort Ripley; Warren Limmer, Maple Grove; Mike McGinn, Eagan; Mady Reiter, Shoreview; Julianne Ortman, Minnetonka; Sean Nienow, Cambridge; Julie Rosen, Fairmont; Mark Ourada, Buffalo; Michael Jungbauer, East Bethel; Michele Bachmann, Stillwater; Michelle Fischbach, Paynesville.

DFLers against: Ellen Anderson, St. Paul; Keith Langseth, Glyndon; John Marty, Roseville; Jim Vickerman, Tracy; Jane Ranum, Minneapolis; James Metzen, South St. Paul; Gary Kubly, Granite Falls; John Hottinger, St. Peter; Don Betzold, Fridley; Dean Johnson, Willmar; David Tomassoni, Chisholm; Dan Sparks, Austin; Dallas Sams, Staples; D. Scott Dibble, Minneapolis; Becky Lourey, Kerrick; Lawrence Pogemiller, Minneapolis; Yvonne Solon, Duluth; Charles Wiger, North St. Paul; Sandra Pappas, St. Paul; Wesley Skoglund, Minneapolis; Ann Rest, New Hope; Thomas Bakk, Cook; Steve Murphy, Red Wing; Steve Kelley, Hopkins; Satveer Chaudhary, Fridley; Leo Foley, Coon Rapids; Rod Skoe, Clearbrook; Richard Cohen, St. Paul; Mee Moua, St. Paul; Linda Scheid, Brooklyn Park; Linda Higgins, Minneapolis; Linda Berglin, Minneapolis; LeRoy Stumpf, Thief River Falls; Sharon Marko, Cottage Grove.

Independence Party member against: Sheila Kiscaden, Rochester.
Jim Ragsdale and the Associated Press contributed to this story. John Welsh can be reached at jwelsh@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5432.



Who could have predicted that the efforts of our coalition would bring down the powerful forces at work to destroy our schools?

In September, when the first draft of the Science and Social Studies Standards were released, we defined victory in two ways.

1. Science standards based on science, not ideology.

2. Social Studies standards that were mainstream and did no harm to schools.

We also understood that a confirmation of the Commissioner would be an endorsement of her ideologies, therefore she had to be removed.

At 3:45 AM 5-16-04 Commissioner Yecke was removed by the Senate.
At 6:55 AM 5-16-04 The Senate passed a joint version of the Science and Social Studies Standards.

There are no words that will do to congratulate the coalition members on our victory. Despite the laughable attacks that called us a "well funded" effort, your patriotic fervor, days and months of hard work, and smart leadership paid off. Democracy still works in Minnesota.


The Kind of thing Yecke wants to crush under the heel of Ideology

History lesson in song emphasizes life lessons
Maria Elena Baca, Star Tribune
May 15, 2004

At Longfellow Humanities Magnet School's 120th anniversary celebration today, students will showcase history lessons they didn't learn in a textbook.

The elementary students' voices that swell in the school won't be a litany of names and dates, but a collection of life lessons and stories.

With help from Minneapolis folk singer Larry Long, students interviewed elders from their community, then chose the best phrases and wove them into song. Minneapolis gospel singer and conductor J. D. Steele helped them to polish their performances.

Long and Steele have known each other for more than 20 years, and the longtime friends' classroom presence couldn't be more different or more complementary.

Long sat cross-legged on the floor, cradling his guitar on his lap. He listened intently, leaning forward to look into students' eyes, telling them how happy their voices have made him.
Larry Long works with Longfellow students.
Richard Sennott
Star Tribune

Leading students in "Something for Me, Something for You," a song about mutual respect that Long and Steele co-wrote, Steele danced around the room, waving to students to join him on their feet. He guided their voices and movement with extravagant gestures and a countenance of pure jubilation.

The result of their collaboration with students is a moving collection of earthy wisdom and wit, practical advice such as staying in school, eating lots of vegetables and helping the poor.
J. D. Steele greets students at Longfellow.
Richard Sennott
Star Tribune

"Nobody is better

Than anyone else

Because of the color of skin

Two feet, two arms,

One mouth, two eyes,

To talk, to walk, to sing."

Suzy Lovestrand's class interviewed Janebelle Taylor, 83, a St. Paul matriarch and social worker who grew up as the only black girl in an all-white neighborhood.

Taylor told the third-graders that she was taught that skin color makes no difference in people, a lesson she's shared since she was their age.

"It's not a difference if you have different shades of skin," remembered Myroslava Shevchenko, 8. "You can still be friends."

"I was born on the Red Lake Reservation.

I'm a member of the Anishinabe Nation.

We grew up in the woods.

Life was hard, but it was good ...

I'm proud of who I am:

Anishinabe Indian."

Elsie Fairbanks, 65, a nutritionist, has lived in the Twin Cities for more than 30 years, and now works at a St. Paul food shelf. Jane Harstad's third-graders said Fairbanks' stories of living in the wilderness taught them not to take for granted the conveniences of modern life. Hearing that Fairbanks' parents downplayed Anishinabe culture to keep their children out of boarding school, and how precious Fairbanks now holds that culture, taught them to value and share their own cultures.

"With my family

We're now living

In the city of St. Paul,

Far away

From my ancestors.

Each day I hear them call."

Youa Teng Xiong, 59, was a freedom fighter in the Lao Royal Army, fighting alongside Gen. Vang Pao. He lost six brothers and many friends to the war. In 1979, he carried his children across the Mekong River to safety in Thailand. He joined his sons in St. Paul in 1984. Xiong's grandson, Fue, 9, is a student at Longfellow.

A group of fourth-graders interviewed Xiong, with translation help from Fue, and from their teacher, Keng Young.

"He said the reason he was so lucky was that he was so loyal and honest," said Orlando Ortiz, 10.

"He risked his life to save a lot of people and to save his family," said Jojamba Matthews, 9. "In his culture, when he's close to the ancestors, when he prays to them they can help him out, but when he's far away, it's hard."

Students said they hope that, despite the sadness and loss in his life, Xiong will be uplifted by their song.

"He'll be happy that we understand that he's sad that his ancestors died and he misses them," said Tyrone Tauzell, 11.

"We stand on the shoulders

Of those who came before,

Those who give their life

To help the poor."

Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, 68, said he didn't know what he would tell Carol Hannum's third-graders. "I saw a globe, and it struck me that the first thing to tell the kids was where my ancestors came from because it was such a faraway part of the world," he said.

From Latimer's stories about his Lebanese mother and his English father, students took a lesson about working to fulfill a dream.

"He gave advice to stay in school and be respectful so people will treat you the way you want to be treated," said Kiara Foxen, 10. "He told us to never give up on dreaming of what you want to be, because he never did."

From the whole process, students said they learned the power of their own creativity. Many said it was easier and more fun to sing these songs than it was to sing other songwriters' music.

"It was fun because I liked doing the motions and making up the words," said Grace Hersey, 9. "It was fun looking at the script and picking out the words to put in the song."

And the fun fits in well with the school's mission.

"We're part of a story that began before any of us was alive, and we expect that will continue," said principal Howard Wilson. "So, when we celebrate the story of Longfellow, it's important to honor those who have gone before."

Maria Elena Baca is at mbaca@startribune.com.