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.

6/22/2004

Public and Private school Kids in Minnesota: The Very Best in the nation at History!

Gosh, one wonders what Dick Day has to say about this. What about our former commissioner who called Minnesota History Standards, "an embarassment."

State kids clobber competition in history contest

Minnesotans take 5 top prizes; runner-up state wins 2

BY JOHN WELSH

Pioneer Press

Minnesota students put on an impressive performance this week at the National History Day competition, winning five of the event's 14 top prizes Thursday.

No other state took home that many national honors during the weeklong competition at the University of Maryland. Massachusetts was the only other state with multiple winners; it had two.

"To have that many winners shows a level of excellence that is amazing,'' said Tim Hoogland, the Minnesota History Day coordinator. "It's a remarkable achievement by these kids.''

Among this year's Minnesota winners were five women from White Bear Lake High School who won the senior group exhibit category for their work on the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Their project looked at the cultural and technological impact of the fair, including how certain products — including shredded wheat, hamburgers and diet cola — were first introduced at the fair. Their exhibit included a working model of a Ferris wheel. They estimated they had spent 1,000 hours on the project since January.

"We didn't get extra credit or class credit. It was totally on our own time. It was for our own enjoyment,'' said Rebecca Doffing, who recently graduated from White Bear Lake High School. "We all love history.''

Though History Day officials knew the names of the winners on Wednesday, the prizes weren't announced until a ceremony Thursday morning.

"We all screamed at the top of our lungs,'' Doffing said. "We were in shock.''

History Day is an annual contest that offers students in grades six through 12 the chance to build a project or performance around an American history theme. Nearly 30,000 Minnesota students took part in the state competition this year, and 52 of them competed at the national event. The state's History Day program is sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota Department of History.

Here are the state's first-place winners in the national competition:

• James Bluhm of Christ's Household of Faith School in St. Paul won in the senior individual performance category with his entry "King of Hearts: Dr. (C. Walton) Lillehei's Medical Odyssey,'' about the impact of open-heart surgery techniques developed at the University of Minnesota.

• Doffing, Bao Fang, Melinda Kernik, Ami Wazlawik and Marie Zettel of White Bear Lake High School won for senior group exhibit.

• Juan Cisneros and Kong Yang of W. Harry Davis Academy in Minneapolis won in junior group exhibit for "Exploring Mass Transit: Street Cars in the Twin Cities.''

• Katy Indvik of Carondolet Catholic School in Minneapolis won in junior individual exhibit for "The Little Rock Nine: Encountering Civil Rights in their Courageous Fight for an Equal Education.''

• Drew Piepkorn, Jason Rohlf and Peter Sarbacker of Christ's Household of Faith won in junior documentary for "Encountering Dr. Seuss: Exploring Imagination and a Lifetime of Exchange.''

Other top finishers included a second-place finish in the junior documentary category by Molly Hensley-Clancy and Brenna Kruse of Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis. Two entries were named outstanding state entries. Those winning students were Rueben Lange, Ben Hovland and Mira Lippold-Johnson of Minneapolis South High School and Berit Goetz of Capitol Hill Magnet School in St. Paul.

National History Day spokesman Mark Robinson said he didn't think any state had won so many first-place awards during one year.

"It's quite impressive. It shows that Minnesota has a very strong program," he said.

6/17/2004

Cheri Pierson Yecke continues to try to mislead Minnesotans

I want to thank Cheri Pierson Yecke for clarifying to the casual follower of education politics in Minnesota one reason why she was fired from her job as Commissioner of Education. She has no grasp of America’s History or founding, yet continues writing on the subject.

A quick look at the facts shows that as president, Jefferson interpreted the first amendment to mean that there is a separation between church and state. Jefferson’s metaphor of a “wall” is unambiguous and flows from a lifetime of writing and fighting for freedom of thought. In his eloquent, Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom of 1786, Jefferson states, “… no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, … nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

In 1800, Jefferson wrote, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Hopefully our new Commissioner will share his commitment.


Michael Boucher

President Elect of the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies
Social Studies Department Co-Chair, South High School, Mpls


Cheri Pierson Yecke: The separation myth Notion of a wall between church and state is nowhere to be found in the Constitution
June 17, 2004

On a technicality, the U.S. Supreme Court has dodged the opportunity to address the Pledge of Allegiance issue.

The controversy began two years ago, when a California atheist convinced a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to declare the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because it contains the phrase "under God." The claim was that the phrase violates the "constitutional" concept of "separation of church and state."

But there is a serious problem with this interpretation of the First Amendment: The phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in this founding document. How it has come to be interpreted as a tool to erase religion from the public square is based upon a gross misrepresentation of historical documents and the founders' intent.

First, a little history. Discussions over the wording for the First Amendment are recorded in the Congressional Records from June 7 to Sept. 25, 1789, and the phrase "separation of church and state" is nowhere to be found.

The first time the phrase appears in the context of the First Amendment is in an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to members of the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. This group had expressed serious concerns over the fact that religious freedom was addressed in the First Amendment, as they felt the free exercise of religion was a God-given right, not a government-given right.

As the first Anti-Federalist president, Jefferson believed in limited powers of government. He interpreted the First Amendment to mean two things: that the federal government had no right to establish a national denomination, and that the government was not to prohibit the practice of religion. In his letter to the Danbury Baptists, he declared:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God ... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

But if the primary historical source for the phrase -- Jefferson's letter -- does not provide enough evidence to establish its meaning, we should examine the actions of our founding fathers to determine their intent. How did they want the First Amendment to be interpreted? Historical fact shows that their intentions were very different from today's interpretation.

While president, Thomas Jefferson was made chairman of the school board for Washington, D.C., and in this capacity he required two books as the principal classroom texts: the Bible and Watts Hymnal. He also signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indian tribe that provided federal funds for both the building of a church and for missionaries.

Furthermore, evidence of the founders' intent can be seen in the law they established for allowing new states into the union. The Northwest Ordinance (1789) states: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In other words, the founding fathers believed that government schools were a proper place for the teaching of religion and morality. And it should be noted that members of Congress were working on the First Amendment and the Northwest Ordinance at the same time.

So we need to ask: How did we get to where we are today?

The intentions of our founding fathers are inconsistent with today's interpretation of the First Amendment largely because of a 1947 Supreme Court decision, Everson vs. Board of Education, that misread the founders' intent. The court announced:

"The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."

This ruling disregarded over 150 years of practice, policy and judicial precedent.

Fast-forward now to the 1985 case that challenged a mandatory moment of silence in Alabama schools, Wallace vs. Jaffre. The Supreme Court overturned the moment of silence law in this case. But listen to the words of Justice William Rehnquist in his dissent: He wrote about the "mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intentions" of the Founding Fathers. He further stated:

"It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of Constitutional history ... [The recent court decisions] are in no way based on either the language or intent of the drafters [of the First Amendment]."

Rehnquist is right -- but how many people have been misinformed about important aspects of our nation's history? Survey after survey indicates that our students are not being given an adequate foundation in understanding either our government or our history.

We have an obligation to ensure that citizens have an accurate understanding of our nation's history -- or we may live to see our freedoms eroded one by one.

But here we are in 21st century America, where a patriotic acknowledgement by school children is deemed unconstitutional by a panel of activist judges; where a cross on the Los Angeles County seal is removed while a pagan goddess is allowed to stay, and where the ACLU actively searches for copies of the Ten Commandments in the public square so it can sue to remove them. Next on the hit list will probably be the phrase that appears both on our money and in the last verse of the Star Spangled Banner: "In God We Trust/In God is Our Trust."

The ACLU will undoubtedly work to bring this issue back. We can only hope that judges will base their decisions on historical fact, not on 20th century revisionist misinterpretations.

Cheri Pierson Yecke is a former American history teacher who served as commissioner of education for Minnesota.



6/09/2004

District 196 School bond passes!!!!!


Great Job to all those MinnBEST members who worked to get this measure passed. Your dedication to Minnesota Kids is an inspiration!


65% vote for $68 million to upgrade buildings
Future Rosemount and Apple Valley high school students won't have to attend classes in shedlike buildings next to the schools. Voters in the 28,500-student Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district Tuesday overwhelmingly approved spending $68 million to replace portable classrooms with permanent ones, to add science labs to meet new state requirements and to improve security and technology district-wide.

6/05/2004

Some wisdom from Ronald Reagan.

If only our current president understood this concept when it comes to "No Child Left Untested"

``This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan for ourselves.'' - Oct. 27, 1964, televised speech for GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.


And the Maple River Coalition needs to take this to heart when they start to imagine "National Sovereignty" in the Declaration.


``All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government. ... Steps will be taken aimed a restoring the balance between the various levels of government.'' - Inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1981.

What needs to be said louder to be heard above the echo-chamber

The Governor is listening to the echo-chamber of the taxpayer's league when he should be listening to the taxpayers. FUND OUR SCHOOLS!!!!

Editorial: School funding/A crisis of will at the top
June 5, 2004

The Minneapolis mom learned Thursday that her son's public high school won't have frogs for biology class, paint for art class or toner for the copy machine next year unless parents and other donors chip in $100,000 by Sept. 1.

But on Friday, she heard Gov. Tim Pawlenty say at the Humphrey Institute that money is an old-fashioned measure of society's commitment to public education. "We now have the sophisticated ability to measure what we're getting for the money. The debate is about to change," he said.

On Thursday, she heard her child's principal boast that a third of this year's graduates of the school's International Baccalaureate program scored in the top 5 percent in the nation in standardized college entrance exams.

The next day, the governor cited Minneapolis as the case in point when he said, "We spend a lot of money in some school districts that are getting very poor results."

He allowed that he might be willing to send some Minneapolis schools more money, as an experiment, but he sounded doubtful that money would make a real difference.

On Thursday, the mom was impressed to meet upwards of 80 parents who spend long hours on school committees, volunteer their expertise to teachers and administrators, open their homes for fundraisers, and write checks to keep the school in light bulbs and copy paper. The principal said his 2004-05 budget skimps on supplies because parents objected to the alternative -- increasing class sizes or laying off counselors, which would do more to diminish educational quality.

The next morning, the governor voiced the opinion that the biggest problem with public education is not meager resources, but irresponsible parents.

"The number-one challenge facing kids today is that their families are not in a position to take care of them in a way that is appropriate, responsible, or at least helpful," he said.

Pawlenty offered parents a battery of advice for improving public education: "Make sure [your children] are ready for school, get their sleep, get a decent breakfast . . . do their homework, elevate school and education over other nonsense that's eating up our children's life and time."

The mom wondered why the governor didn't mention the parents' responsibility to buy transparencies for overhead projectors or materials for science experiments. The principal did.

Next year, the state's biggest school district is facing its fourth straight year of budget cuts in excess of $20 million. State government has done nothing to date to ease that pain.

"We have a crisis of will to fund public education in this state," Jim Grathwol, the district's lobbyist at the State Capitol, said at the parents' meeting Thursday.

On Friday, the mom began to see why.

6/04/2004

The fear that drives the Far- Right movement

A member of our coalition has been doing some thinking about the movement behind Yecke and the standards and has come up with a profound and instructive list.

These are ten fears (a list which is by no means complete) I have come across as I have participated in the process of developing state standards and in recent information about ed issues. Feel free to add to the list.

A focus on these fears takes focus off making sure kids are reading, writing, learning math, history, and other subjects necessary to prepare them for future success in school and work. While I certainly will be the first to acknowledge that I understand some of these concerns, a fanatical reaction is not necessary. We do not need to reject early childhood education, discourage writing, change the legal status of a historical document like Declaration of Independence, reject student surveys or reject any use of technology for instructional purposes. In many cases there are solutions to address the concerns and schools try to accommodate them. But these fears overshadow decision making and just as completely ignoring the concerns could result in problems, extreme responses to them can jeopardize Minnesota's education system and student's ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

Fears:

Fear #1. Student will reject family/religious values and beliefs because of higher order thinking skills which are a form of government mind control. Students don't learn to accept facts as absolute truths, and instead are encouraged to question and come to their own conclusions.

Fear #2. Children's attitudes, values, and beliefs will be influenced to a greater extent by the government than by the family/church if public education includes early childhood education.

Fear #3. Conservative students will be harshly graded on essays, especially persuasive essays, because of their values, attitudes, or beliefs.

Fear #4. Students will not fight for what is special about our country if we do not include a myth of National Sovereignty being in the Declaration of Independence, and our nation will become vulnerable and will not remain free if national sovereignty isn't included in a social studies Declaration of Independence benchmark.

Fear #5. Students will look to government for rights rather than realize they are born with self-evident, absolute-truth, natural rights. Students will become vulnerable and will not remain free if unalienable rights and self-evident truths aren't included in social studies Declaration of Independence benchmarks and aren't given legal status.

Fear #6. Students will reject family/religious values if evolution is taught as a scientific law.

Fear #7. Students will somehow have their privacy violated by a government who is collecting data through surveys of sexual activity/drug use/etc. for purposes of social engineering and job security for those in the social service profession.

Fear #8. Students will have their privacy violated if schools require technology use for instruction or assessment because the government will collect data and engage in data mining for social engineering purposes.

Fear #9. If the language arts benchmarks say that students must read literature from a variety of cultures in America, our nation will be weakened, but if the benchmark is worded that students must read a variety of American literature, we can "homogenize" (to quote from a language arts committee member) and strengthen our nation.

Fear #10. In general, the education establishment from educators to principals to superintendents to board members, are to be feared and cannot be trusted because they are all involved in numbers 1-9 above.