June 9, 2005

NCLB for Minnesota Preschoolers
Julie M. Quist

        The education conference committee took up the Nanny state issues again last Thursday, June 2nd.

        Senator Stumpf opened the meeting by bringing in Senator Hottinger (DFL - St. Peter) for comments. Hottinger chairs the Senate Early Childhood Committee. He is chief author of the Senate language that EdWatch opposes in the Senate omnibus bill. In conference committee, however, Senator Steve Kelley is the point man for the Nanny State. Kelley's manner is intimidating and abusive, and he becomes angry at any  opposition to the curriculum standards, their implementation, and their screening. (See our "Early Learning Indicators," as the lynch pin of the Nanny State.)

Nanny State takes money from K-12
        Hottinger defended this major new spending proposal against criticism he is apparently receiving that Minnesota should first be fully funding  K-12 before creating expansive new education entitlements for toddlers. He insisted that "Early Learning" is separate, and it should not be linked to K-12. Members of the committee were too polite to remind Hottinger that all state spending is linked. Increases in any program requires either shifting money away from other program or increasing taxes. Hottinger, the conference members, and the Governor should continue to be reminded that the Nanny State -- curriculum standards, screening based on those curriculum standards, grants to child care programs to implement those curriculum standards, and a child care rating system based on those curriculum standards -- is a major, long term spending commitment with limitless spending growth potential. All money for the early learning system could be used instead for the K-12 per pupil formula.

OBE for toddlers
        The Senate members had numerous problems with the House bill. One was that the House limits the purpose of the early learning programs to preparing kids academically and physically for kindergarten and teaching them "self-discipline." The public thinks this is the meaning of being ready for kindergarten. Senator Linda Scheid (DFL- Brooklyn Park), however, considered that far too narrow and limiting. She wants the state to define and measure everything -- what children think and how they act. The Senate, in contrast to the House, wants no limits at all on how the state can define and screen all kids on their "readiness" for kindergarten. In other words, they insist on the old values, attitudes and beliefs of out-come based education (OBE) and the Profile of Learning. Their plan is a throw-back to the same old system parents have battled since the 80's, but this time it's for toddlers.

        Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) volunteered that she wanted to include "social and emotional skills" as part of what the state should define and measure. Even her DFL colleagues shied away from that language, however, since "social and emotional" has been undeniably defined as "mental health screening." Mental health screening for toddlers is integrated into the Senate bill, but, thanks to the public outcry, it has become too controversial to push for the moment.

Universal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for preschoolers       
        Another problem for the Senate was the House proposal to measure the success of preschool programs by comparisons between the K-3 performance of students from various types of preschool experiences. The House bill attempts to identify whether the "ready for kindergarten" programs actually improve student performance. The Senate objected. One has to wonder why the state shouldn't verify whether the Nanny State system works.

        Instead, the Senators propose universal assessments that mirror No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) most controversial mandate, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The Senate plan sets goals for the number of preschoolers "reaching proficiency on all measures of the assessment." Each year, the goal would increase: 6,000 in 2006; 18.000 in 2007; 30,000 in 2008; 45,000 in 2009; and 60,000 in 2010. The Department would report on progress toward these goals on a school by school basis. This AYP is straight out of NCLB. AYP has been the primary target of NCLB critics. All of the preschool assessments would be based on each child's compliance with the controversial curriculum standards, just as most states' K-12 standards are based on controversial and radical national education standards.

        Rep. Erickson (R-Princeton) asked why the state would assess increasingly more children, just to get comparison data. The Senators let Ready4K Director Todd Otis answer that question, indicating Ready4K wrote the plan. This assessment initiative, Otis said, is a transition to universal screening. All children will be screened. The initiative is intended  to "phase in an expansion of the assessment."

        The Senate language also actually states that "the kindergarten assessment initiative must be implemented in all school districts in Minnesota on a voluntary basis over a five-year period," and that "results of the assessment must be included in the annual school performance report cards under Minnesota Statutes."  This does not sound voluntary. If this misleading language sounds eerily familiar, it's because it is straight out of federal Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind. Voluntary is a joke, but the joke is on parents with young children.

        Other Senate language that references these controversial, non-academic, OBE, and Profile-like curriculum standards, although not discussed on Thursday, refer to them as what babies and toddlers "should know and be able to do."  This definition of standards is also a direct quote out of No Child Left Behind. 

        Senator Kelley has been chief public critic of NCLB in Minnesota. He has now lost all credibility, since he wants to extend that very system to toddlers.

        The major distinction between the Senate Nanny State proposal and NCLB is that the Nanny State will affect all Minnesota children, not just those attending public schools -- all children in child care, all children in early learning programs, all children identified vaguely as "at risk," and the assessments are set up to eventually extend universally to all children.

All issues are on the table
        All the Nanny State issues are on the table. (To see the differences between the House Early Childhood bill and the Senate Early Childhood bill, see our update.). We urge the Governor, the Speaker, and the Senate Majority leader to reject the Nanny State as part of a final, last-minute deal. Opposition to the Senate bill is non-negotiable!

        We thank the Governor for proposing no new funding for early childhood in his budget and for staying neutral on it in his latest budget proposal. We urge him to support the House conferees by refusing to trade away our kids in the end-of-session budget horse-trading. Put the Nanny State money in the K-12 formula instead. Keep out:
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