105 Peavey Rd, Ste 116
Chaska, MN 55318
April 8, 2003
Should Minnesota Repeal or Tweak the Profile of Learning?
By Al Winters, Buffalo, Minnesota
Parent member of the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee
The Minnesota Senate Education Policy Committee recently released its version of a bill to replace the Profile of Learning (SF 639). The Senate version quite frankly doesn't replace the Profile of Learning. In all reality it is a rework of the same disastrous plan that has failed to fulfill the education needs of our children. A hidden and threatening agenda does exist within SF 639.
Unfortunately the education of our children remains a political issue that is trapped within the Senate Education Committee. In an effort to discredit our work some would say that the draft proposals submitted by the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee on March 11 were hastily prepared. They claim that the proposed standards lack appropriate input by qualified educators.
There are complaints about scope and sequence between grades. There are claims that the proposals directly reflect the standards used in the state of Virginia.
Let's set the record straight. As an example of the work involved and the resources that were used, let's refer to the Grades 6-8 Language Arts committee. The standards drafted by the Grades 6-8 Language Arts committee are a unique product. Many sources were used while compiling and validating our work. Among the sources available were current standards from six highly-ranked states. We compared our work with standards that committee members brought from local schools, and a list of teacher recommendations compiled last year from Minnesota teachers. We also benefited from a combined 138 years of teaching experience our committee members brought with them. Seventy percent of the committee members were education professionals.
Our purpose was to draft standards that are clear, concise, and measurable. Department of Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke never attempted to influence the committee in any way regarding the use of one set of state standards over another. We met five times and communicated by e-mail and telephone. Our committee discussed the concerns of parents, teachers and schools both geographically and culturally. I personally invested over 120 hours working on the document. The proposed standards have clear and specific meanings for students, teachers, curriculum directors, and parents. Curriculum review and development procedures, an ongoing process in most schools, will provide the avenue for implementation without the need for additional funding. I have verified this with our local curriculum director.
The draft standards are not perfect. Committee members and the Commissioner understand that some fine-tuning still needs to be done. The integrity of our work and the representation on the committees from a broad range of philosophies should not become an issue. Commissioner Yecke and the CFL staff offered truthful and unbiased leadership. Through the public hearing process we hope to gain valuable ideas from your constructive criticism.
The proposed standards are intended to be rigorous yet allow for flexibility within individual school districts. Autonomous decisions by school boards, teachers and parents can be made regarding teaching materials and curriculum focus.
The Profile of Learning "tweaked"
Proposed legislation to replace the current Profile of Learning was recently introduced in the Senate Education Committee. One of the legislative pieces is known as SF 639. Work on this bill began during the summer of 2002. Most of the work was completed during the term of former Governor Ventura and his Commissioner of Children, Families, and Learning, Christine Jax. Several questions must be asked:
Senate File 639 is merely an extension of the prescriptive Profile of Learning. The proposed legislation encompasses six areas of learning. Regrettably, there appears to be an agenda buried within the standards. While reading through the 144 page document you will find more than sixty references within the standards that direct students and teachers to recognize "individuals with diverse perspectives." There is nothing wrong with students understanding a wide-range of perspectives on topics. However, the overwhelming focus on multicultural studies forces every school to develop and adopt specific curriculum. Under this proposal curriculum directors and teachers must design curriculum that addresses every cultural identity. Could this be a curriculum director's nightmare? Nearly every standard area contains this focus.
The attention given to cooperative learning projects is expanded in the proposed standards. There are at least twenty-two references to group projects and students evaluating other students' work. While some amount of group projects is needed, the appropriate amount of attention devoted to them and the evaluation of student's work should be the teacher's responsibility.
References to environmental studies occur thirty times. The standards specify both individual and group projects designed to encourage student activism within local and regional areas. While the study and understanding of our environment is very important, a disproportionate amount of class time is given to developing action plans for students to carry out. Again, teachers are forced to adopt curriculum and teaching methods.
Dance trumps the Constitution
Within the Arts and Literature standards there are at least forty-nine references to dance. Every student at each grade level will be required to study and interpret dance. Many grade levels require students to perform dance. Contrast that with only five references to the United States of America within the entire document. There is one reference each to the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. For example, the only direct reference to the Declaration of Independence states: "The student will demonstrate an understanding of the contribution of individuals to historical events [for example, the signers of the Declaration of Independence or modern civil rights leaders]."
The only direct reference to the Bill of Rights requires students to "demonstrate an understanding of the origin and influences of diverse ideas and beliefs in history [for example, the competing interests that lead to the formation of the Bill of Rights]."
Unfortunately the author of SF 639 fails to properly state our form of government when referencing the U.S. Constitution. The language in the bill states that students are to "demonstrate an understanding of how the United States Constitution and other foundational documents embody the principles and ideals of a democratic republic." This is an incorrect statement. Our foundational form of government has always been and continues to be a Constitutional republic. There are profound and undeniable reasons why the founders of the United States chose a Constitutional republic as our form of government. Is there a reason why our form of government is misstated in this document? Surely our elected representatives know what form of government they serve under.
Standards in SF 639 that direct students to study economics imply a focus of study on failed economic systems. This is worrisome, as the author appears to modify the recognized form of our national government through word substitution. By substituting the word constitutional with democratic when describing our republican form of government, the author paves the way for alteration. Whether this is intentional or not will depend on the author's explanation. One of the purposes described within the standards is that students "understand how individuals, businesses, and governments allocate scarce resources to satisfy unlimited wants and needs". Another standard directs students to "demonstrate an understanding of " how individuals and groups responsibly meet wants and needs when resources [for example, food, shelter, and clothing] are scarce. Not once is the successful economic model of our free-market system mentioned.
What exactly is the intent of this legislation? What kind of economic system is the next generation being prepared for? Is it the premise that citizens must rely on Government to allocate scarce resources?
Students are to "demonstrate the ability to use research and civic dialogue to examine issues involving rights, roles, and the status of individuals in relation to the general welfare of society." Missing within the Senate proposal are standards that require students learn about national sovereignty and the limited power of government. The basic concept of self-governance is eerily missing.
De-emphasis of core academics
The Senate document devotes eighteen pages to standards that focus on Arts and Literature, beginning in kindergarten. The focus of these standards revolves around dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. Literature as reading is not addressed independently until high school. Nowhere does the document suggest that students should read high quality traditional, classical, and contemporary works of American, British or World literature. Contrast the eighteen pages of standards devoted to Arts and Literature with only ten pages of attention given to Social Studies. Buried within the Social Studies standard are just two pages dedicated to the study of United States history. Clearly, the study of relevant history and culture that conveys the heritage of America is minimized.
Consider that sixteen pages of standards are devoted to Health, Physical Education, and Career Awareness while math standards receive only twelve pages of attention.
Language Arts that include reading, vocabulary development, and spelling, along with writing, speaking and listening received only ten pages attention. This core area is possibly the most important area of study. Understanding the proper use of the English language both in written and oral form lays a foundation for the future success of our children. Interestingly, the proposal never specifies that students use dictionaries, thesauruses, or encyclopedias for reference in finding word meaning and usage.
Biological evolution, a topic of controversy within school curriculum is addressed six times. The author asserts that biological evolution is a scientific truth. In fact evolution is an only one theory, among many theories that attempt to explain the formation of our world and our human existence.
By citing this evidence I hope to draw attention to the prescriptive curriculum found within this legislative piece. Absent within SF 639 is clear and appropriate focus on important core academic standards. Clearly, there is an agenda that focuses on activism, diversity, multiculturalism, environmental issues, revisionist history, and values.
I ask the author and supporters of this profoundly inappropriate and damaging education document to justify and defend the contents publicly. I ask that they answer my questions publicly.
If SF 639 is passed every child will be obligated to study and learn using curriculum derived from these standards. State assessments will compel school districts and teachers to develop curriculum that incorporates the narrow and dogmatic focus of these standards.
The draft standards developed by the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee do not contain prescriptive standards or curriculum. Schools and teachers are free to choose how and what to teach. Individual school districts can balance the level of diversity, multiculturalism, and environmental studies that are appropriate for their students.
The choice is yours
We have an opportunity to bring needed change to our educational system here in Minnesota. The process is being held up by a select few who control the progress of appropriate legislation. There is a bill SF 60 that is also up for consideration by the Senate Education Committee. Senate File 60 repeals the Profile of Learning and sets forth five areas of education standards development. They are language, math, science, history, and geography.
Positive action will not occur unless concerned parents and members of the public clearly understand the issue and begin voicing their opinions.
The comments and interpretations that I have presented here are strictly mine. These findings are based on my review of the standards as proposed in SF 639. The interpretations in no way reflect the views of the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee or Commissioner Yecke. I would encourage everyone with a stake in this issue to review the Senate proposal privately. We do deserve to have our questions publicly answered.
Published with permission of the author.*******
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