Feb 3, 2013

Education Commissioner About to be Confirmed w/o Notice & Despite Multiple Issues

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With almost no forewarning to allow the public to prepare testimony, the Minnesota Senate Education Committee recommended the confirmation of Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius. Although committee Republicans asked some good questions, there was ultimately little that they could do given Democrat control.  The nomination was forwarded to the full Senate on a voice vote with only slight dissent. We have just found out that the full Senate vote will likely occur tomorrow, Monday, February 4th. Although it is unlikely to stop her final confirmation, Education Liberty Watch wants the public and the legislature to conduct the upcoming vote with their eyes wide open as to the alarmingly long list of legal and constitutional violations and sidesteps committed by this commissioner. Please consider forwarding this list to your senator (contact info here), regardless of party, so that they know what they are doing as they cast their vote, and so that you may hold them accountable in the future.

State Statutes Violated
Standards Process (See our testimony and our response for more information)
  1. Constitutional Consistency: Both of the major Department of Education documents submitted to the judge during the standards hearing process (Statement of Need and Reasonableness SONAR and their Response to testimony) fail to mention the statutory requirement that the standards “be consistent with the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Minnesota.” (120B.021, Subd. 2b3). Our testimony noted, “The focus on globalization and reliance of the [standards] committee and the SONAR on a document titled “Preparing Citizens for a Global Community” and making the statement on page 35, “Several leading social studies sources support the need for students to develop skills to become effective global citizens,” seems to be emphasizing loyalty to entities and governance outside of the US and is inconsistent with the US Constitution.”
  2. Benchmarks: These are the specific smalller ideas under each standard. After the big fight over standards and benchmarks in 2003 and 2004, Minnesota Statute 120B.023, subdivision 1(c) was passed that says, “Once established, the commissioner may change the benchmarks only with specific legislative authorization and after completing a review under subdivision 2.” There has clearly been no act of the legislature to do this and the Department’s response to this concern basically says that because it is more convenient for them to do so and because they have done it for other subjects, they may disobey the law.
  3. Revise and Align: Minnesota Statute 120B.023, subdivision 2(f) states, “The commissioner in the 2010-2011 school year must revise and align the state’s academic standards and high school graduation requirements in social studies to require that students satisfactorily complete the revised social studies standards beginning in the 2013-2014 school year. The commissioner must implement a review of the academic standards and related benchmarks in social studies beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.” As stated in Senator Hann’s written testimony (page 12) and Senator Olson’s hearing request(page 1), the Department has gone far beyond the specific and limited authority of “revise and align.” They have done a wholesale rewrite.
  4. Academic Rigor: Minnesota statute, 120B.02, subd, (b)(1) states that, “the rule is intended to raise academic expectations for students, teachers, and schools.” The extensive testimony at the public hearing on the social studies standards by subject matter experts and college professors shows that these new standards are far from rigorous. In addition, the social studies standards are linked to the Common Core English Standards, which have been evaluated to be at a 6th to 8th grade level.
  5. College Readiness: As stated in Minnesota statute 120B.03 and explained on page 30 of the SONAR, the standards by law are to “identify the academic knowledge and skills that prepare students for postsecondary education, work and civic life in the twenty-first century.” Four current or past college professors and content matter experts have extensively testified that these standards do not comply with that legislative intent, including a college professor that teaches future teachers (MacPherson) and a former professor that has been involved in standards development for many states and test development for NAEP and CIVITAS (Fonte).

Early Childhood Scholarships – We have extensively chronicled how the Department of Education unlawfully implemented these scholarships by requiring involvement in the quality rating system without legislative authority to do so, how this has alarmed even proponents of the scholarship program, and how it creates the following four problems:

          1. Mandated  preschool curriculum
          2. Usurpation of legislative and constitutional authority
          3. Government takeover of private and religious childcare and preschool
          4. Destruction  of parental autonomy and violation of conscience

Teacher Evaluation Statute – As chief House author of the teacher evaluation law, newly elected Senator Branden Petersen has repeatedly mentioned implementation problems with this law due to this commissioner. 

Federal and Constitutional Issues:

Social Studies Standards – Both Education Liberty Watch and American Principles in Action testified that because of the link loudly trumpeted by the Department between the social studies standards and the Common Core English Standards unwisely adopted by Commissioner Alice Seagren in 2010, the social studies standards are in violation of three federal statutes:

      1. The General Education Provisions Act
      2. The Department of Education Organization Act
      3. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

All of these statutes contain similar language that “prohibits the Department from “exercise[ing] any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel” of any school.  Both the Commmon Core English standards which never should have been adopted and the social studies standards that are linked to them violate these statutes.

In addition, in the Department’s brief (SONAR) supporting the social standards, they stated that Minnesota would lose federal NCLB funds it these new social studies standards were not adopted.  NCLB is one of the most major federal interferences in states’ education prerogatives ever  The constitutional impropriety of this federal meddling in education was even mentioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the majority opinion striking down the Medicaid mandate in NFIB vs. Sebelius (Obamacare) decision as well discussed in Senator Sean Nienow’s testimony (p.7) about the standards.

No Child Left Behind Waivers – The conditional waivers of the Obama administration for No Child Left Behind that are skirting the legal reauthorization process have been criticized by legal and educational experts across the spectrum.  This commissioner’s implementation of those waivers is against the law of No Child Left Behind, is further destroying state sovereignty, aiding and abetting the destruction of separation of powers at the federal level, and was obtained by fulfilling the administration requirement of using national standards (in this case, the Common Core English standards) which, as discussed above, is both illegal and unconstitutional.

Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge – Commissioner Casselius is bragging about the fact that Minnesota received $45 million from the federal government to implement what we have described as a nationalization of preschool.  In order to receive that $45 million, the application states that Minnesota will spend nearly $200 million more over the next 4 years on early childhood education that it does not have for programs that are invasive, ineffective, and harmful.  The Department also brags in its application how it is imposing early childhood curriculum standards on every childcare program that must submit to the “voluntary” quality rating system if it wants to be able to care for early childhood grant recipients. This is in addition to the legal and constitutional issues involved with federal interference.

Conclusion: These are the major issues from Education Liberty Watch alone.  It is difficult to imagine what other groups would have brought if there had been adequate and proper notice of the confirmation hearing. Please oppose this confirmation.

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