Feb 8, 2012

Education Liberty Watch Testimony on SF 1656 – Legislative Approval of Standards

Karen R. Effrem, MD

President – Education Liberty Watch

February 8, 2012

Dear Chairwoman Olson and Members of the Senate Education Committee,

Thank you for your willingness to consider these written comments on SF 1656.  Education Liberty Watch enthusiastically supports SF 1656.  We are grateful to Senator Nelson for sponsoring it and to Senators Michel, Harrington, and Madame Chairwoman as well for their willingness to co-author it.  The list of sponsors speaks to the Minnesota legislature’s long and proud heritage of bipartisan and ideologically diverse opposition to both federal and executive branch interference in education matters.  This fidelity to separation of powers doctrine, state sovereignty, local control, and parental rights is admirable.

As to the merits of the legislation, it has many.

1)      Legally and constitutionally, it is important after the Profile of Learning debacle from 1998-2003, the bureaucracy and unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind, the unconstitutional and illegal efforts of the Obama administration to go around Congress, the unilateral actions of state departments of education to commit to the federal department of education’s requirements for waivers that include imposition of national standards, and the Race to the Top Process which also required this imposition of a federal curriculum, it is very important for the people’s representatives in the legislature to have a say about these standards and their implementation.

2)      From a fiscal and fiduciary standpoint, the legislature must also weigh in.  Changing standards and the associated assessments is an enormously expensive undertaking.  California has estimated that it will cost $3 billion dollars to develop new assessments that comply with the Common Core National Standards.  While certainly not likely to be that high in Minnesota, there is already much concern about the number, cost and rigor of the myriad of assessments that Minnesota already gives to comply with federal mandates without developing a whole new set for these less than ideal standards.  Given the precarious financial situations of both the Minnesota and federal governments, it is wise to proceed carefully in changing its standards.

3)      And most importantly from the quality perspective, these national standards should not be implemented without much greater scrutiny.  Before the Pawlenty administration imposed the English Common Core Standards without legislative input, they were quite universally panned by experts across the country.  Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who had reviewed Minnesota’s English standards coming off the Profile refused to validate the Common Core standards when they were developed.  The math standards are even worse as witnessed by the opposition to them by Minnesota’s own experts such as Dr. Larry Gray.

Finally, although this legislation deals with K-12 standards, the very same situation is playing out in the pre-K realm with the state department of education attempting to impose statewide preschool standards that have never been reviewed by the legislature to force compliance with the Parent Aware Quality Rating system by bribing or blackmailing poor parents and private childcare programs and preschools with scholarships and Race to the Top grants.  Even if these standards were perfectly academic and non-controversial, which they are not, the imposition of one top-down, government mandated set of standards on all programs – public, private or religious who “volunteer” for this rating system cannot be allowed to stand.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.


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