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Minnesota Legislators Resist Race to the Top

K-12 Common Core Standards Available for Public Comment

By Karen R. Effrem
March 19, 2010
As the Common Core Standards have finally become available for public comment, resistance from all points on the political and philosophical spectrum to both Race to the Top and the imposition of national standards has increased.
Using Minnesota as an example, while the teachers' union has consistently opposed legislation that will call for alternative teacher licensure, another of RTTT's many components, legislators of both parties are increasingly alarmed at the unconstitutional nature of the mandates, the loss of state sovereignty, the absolute requirement of national standards, and the costs of implementation.  Led by Representative Gene Pelowski (D-Winona), a strong and consistent opponent of the No Child Left Behind law, he has been joined by Republican co-authors Mark Buesgens, Kurt Zellers, Dean Urdahl, and Dan Severson in introducing HF 3677.  It is important to note the Rep. Zellers is the House minority leader who had originally signed a letter of support for the grant application in an effort to try to redeem some of the heavy tax burden sent to Washington on behalf of Minnesota's schools and their many innovative programs. Now, however, he has become concerned with the loss of control, the mandates, and the implementation costs. Eden Prairie Republican Senator David Hann, also a long-time fierce and principled foe of unconstitutional federal interference into education, introduced the Senate bill, SF 3181.
The legislation is short and sweet and says the following:
S.F. No. 3181,  as introduced - 86th Legislative Session (2009-2010)  
Posted on Mar 09, 2010
A bill for an act relating to education; prohibiting participation in Race to the Top grant program. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

The commissioner of education shall cancel and withdraw the application submitted by the state of Minnesota to the federal Department of Education for Race to the Top grant funding established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Public Law 111-5, and any other applications or agreements submitted by the state of Minnesota pertaining to the Race to the Top grant program. The commissioner shall not reapply for any federal Race to the Top grants established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Neither the commissioner nor any Minnesota public school shall accept funding or mandates from the federal Race to the Top program. All memoranda of agreement concerning the federal Race to the Top grant program are nullified.
EFFECTIVE DATE. This section is effective retroactively from January 20, 2010.
Sadly, however, the Democrats in charge of both the House and Senate have refused to schedule a hearing on the bill, even though there is widespread bipartisan opposition to both the mandates and federal control. A desire for money for cash-strapped school districts appears to be stronger than principle.  The teacher's union, which opposes the RTTT mandates on teachers and its changes to teacher licensing rules, has also refused to come out in favor of this legislation, saying that they prefer to "remain neutral."
Thankfully Minnesota did not make the first round for receipt of these grants, which was announced as this legislation was being drafted. Governor Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Department of Education blamed the teachers' union.  Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren has said that the decision to reapply in June of this year "will be informed by the legislature's willingness to continue to support and pass important education reforms that would help our application like alternative licensure, additional performance pay for teachers, and tenure reform." These
reforms have split the Democrats and its future in this contentious legislative session is uncertain.  
In the meantime, the K-12 Common Core Standards have finally been released and there continues to be significant criticism of these standards both by experts, education officials, and politicians. Standards expert Sandra Stotsky of Massachusetts includes the following in her criticism of the latest draft:
  • No research base supporting the empty 10 College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Reading on K-12 grade-level standards (see p. 6 and p. 31 of the main document)
  • Emphasis on the use of a confusing "complexity" formula for English teachers to use to determine the complexity of the literature they teach.
  • Few content-rich Literature and Reading standards in Grades 6-12
Republican governors Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota have both stated that the current draft is a step down for their states and that their states should not adopt them.  Education officials in Massachusetts governed by Democrat Deval Patrick have made similar statements:
"While we support the development of internationally benchmarked targets, we do not have a desire to substitute the common core standards for our Standards of Learning." - McDonnell
"The math portion of the draft K-12 education standards unveiled today would water down Minnesota's rigorous standards that require students to take algebra by eighth grade. In a hypercompetitive world, Minnesota should not adopt less rigorous standards than we currently have in place." - Pawlenty
"'I'm cautiously optimistic that this will end up in a positive place,' Reville said, 'but we are not going to endorse anything that is not at least as rigorous as our own standards.'''
While it is good that these officials are concerned about the quality of the standards, they should be more concerned about the constitutional and state sovereignty questions than adopting national standards and submitting to all of mandates in the Race to the Top application would engender.
University of Virginia professor Daniel Willingham calls RTTT a "doomed bribery scheme."  He said in his Washington Post blog post:
This was one of the more important lessons of the "No Child Left Behind" act. To whatever extent you believe it worked, it's obvious that the impact was lessened because states gamed the system. There is no reason to think that the "Race to the Top" initiative will be any different. The administration is motivating states to shove their dirty laundry under the bed. Eventually that will be discovered, but in the meantime we will have wasted a lot of time and money."
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