Feb 6, 2012
ELW

Dayton DOE Admits Plan to Control Preschool Curriculum via State & Federal Funds

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

In three different and very significant ways, the Dayton administration has admitted that their ultimate aim is to have the state control the curriculum standards first for those governing all preschool and childcare programs in the state that “volunteer” to become involved in the Parent Aware Quality Rating System (the QRS), the Race to the Top preschool grant program, or the early childhood scholarship program regardless of whether these programs are public, private or religious. This seems to be the foundation for then controlling ALL preschool curriculum. (More on that in future alerts).

Minnesota’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant application neatly ties all three situations together. The document unabashedly states (p. 87):

“Minnesota’s Early Learning and Development Standards (called the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress, or ECIPs-see C1) for children birth to five are at the foundation of [Parent] Aware. Parent Aware Program Standards require that instruction and assessment be aligned with the ECIPs and the ratings are built on the ECIPs, which function like a scaffold. For example, ELD Programs must ensure that their staff members are familiar with the ECIPs before earning 1 star, and to reach 3 or 4 stars requires both familiarity with the ECIPs and also alignment of curriculum and assessment with them.” (Emphasis added)

In other words, the Parent Aware QRS, even though “voluntary,” mandates a top-down government run curriculum in order for programs to receive the highest ratings, and therefore all of the financial and policy goodies that accompany those top ratings. Adherence to program standards of the QRS that include curriculum alignment to these standards is then the cornerstone of both the Race to the Top Application and the early childhood scholarships. The quality rating system was the top point garnering criterion on the $500 million Race to the Top application which also requires statewide preschool standards and wide participation by preschool programs, including private and religious ones, which comprise more than 80% of the childcare market in Minnesota. The scholarships were a high priority of some of the lead House education negotiators during the final closed negotiations of the shutdown at the end of the 2011 session. The Dayton Education Department recently and arrogantly reported (January 26th) to the House Education Finance Committee that, despite the lack of statutory authority to use the QRS in distribution of those scholarships, they are going to allow use of scholarship funds only at programs that earn 3 or 4 stars, i.e. that require these standards, and parents may not conscientiously object to these standards if they want a scholarship. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Here is a summary of the problems with this approach:

1) Mandated curriculum – Even if these standards and the curriculum they control were perfectly academic, objective, and non-controversial, which, as we have been chronicling for several years since the Pawlenty administration started this same terrible process, they are not; the state and federal governments have no right to impose a one-size fits all curriculum on every child in the state or nation that receives these government grants.  The ultimate goal seems to be to set up a large government driven and controlled preschool system that will eventually encompass all children, not just the poor children initially targeted for these grants. In fact, the big government Democrats in the legislature passed language legislation saying that all Minnesota children should be ready for kindergarten by 2020. Their definition of “ready” is based on these same standards. This is analogous to what is happening on the K-12 with the Common Core Standards and in health care with the individual mandate, exchanges, and the rationing boards.

2) Usurpation of legislative and constitutional authority – The Race to the Top initiative, Parent Aware and Minnesota’s early childhood scholarships are being implemented via executive fiat. The Race to the Top program violates the US Constitution, which does not specifically mention education and has been implemented by the US Department of Education with little to no oversight by the US Congress as part of the 2009 stimulus bill. Every aspect of the QRS, including the standards, and the scholarships are being implemented by the MN DOE who blithely does whatever they want, and then decrees their decisions to the legislature.

3) Takeover of private and religious childcare – More than 80% of the childcare and preschool in Minnesota is private, and a significant percentage of that is faith-based. Yet in order to receive these grants, these private programs will have to subvert their curriculum to what the state or federal government think is proper for young children to be taught. While it is bad enough that some voucher programs are requiring private schools or their students that receive the vouchers to take state tests, there would be a thunderous uproar if that level of government control of standards and curriculum were being perpetrated on private schools at the K-12 level.

4) Destruction of parental autonomy and violation of conscience -There is no conscientious objection waiver for parents or providers regarding these standards. Curriculum and standards are no longer a consensus decision between parent and provider. Regardless of their opinion on a particular topic or whether a parent wants their child taught about gender identity or careers or the environment or social activism at age 3 or 4 and regardless of whether a provider wants to teach to those standards or use a government approved curriculum, parents lose the choice over what their children will be taught and the provider must teach what the state decrees, regardless of their conscience or what their customers, the families want. This is also analogous to what is happening with Obama’s new health care regulations forcing faith based groups to offer contraceptive and abortion services.

This same battle is going on in other states and in the K-12 realm, and as mentioned above, in health care. Hopefully legislators at both levels will understand that trying to walk the middle of the road with big government will inevitably result in their being hit from both sides – on one side from the liberal disciples of big government that given the slightest bit of encouragement, will do whatever they want regardless of statutory or constitutional authority and on the other side from parents and taxpayers that are getting very tired of losing their rights to raise and educate their children according to their own beliefs.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

1)  Ideally, education standards and policy should be determined on the local level. The federal Department of Education should be eliminated. However, until proper legislative authority is restored, the responsibility for these decisions does not belong to the executive branch. The congress and legislature must be induced by the people to reassert their authority. States should not have sold their souls for money and gave up the right to be involved in the setting policy regarding preschool standards, distribution of grants, or other criteria. This is also true of the Common Core National Standards in K-12 and the federal No Child Left Behind waivers. This issue needs to be brought up with office holders and candidates on the state and federal level. Fortunately there are some bills moving forward on both levels that will do this and these bills need to be supported. More details will come soon.

2) Besides rewriting policy, the other important way to reassert authority is to stop funding these programs. After Republican control, Congress should never have continued the Race to the Top funding that enabled these grants. The federal Department of Education needs to be eliminated. Federal education money needs to stop for Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind and Head Start.  On the state level, particularly in states like Minnesota that won Race to the Top preschool grants, the money and strings must be refused.

3)  As caucuses and party meetings continue in the states, please see examples of resolutions soon to follow that are to be offered in Minnesota that may be brought in your state as it works on its party platform.

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