A Critical Comment of the Proposed Social Studies Standards ((8/18/2011 draft)
I Executive Summary
Until 2003, guidance for the K-12 curriculum in Minnesota was provided by the ‘Profiles in Learning,’ a group of ten ‘Learning Areas,’ one of which (‘Peoples and Cultures’) had reference to Social Studies.
The preface to the Standards for Social Studies adopted by the Legislature in 2004 indicates that these guidelines aim to enrich the cognitive content of the K-12 curriculum. In other words, the presumption is that one goes to school to broaden one’s mind. This goal is achieved by defining the requirements not in terms of the generalized themes of a traditional social studies curriculum (e.g. Peoples and Cultures), but rather in terms of four Strands, each based on an academic discipline: History, Geography, Economics, and Government. In the History and Government Strands, on which our comment focuses, there is an emphasis on the founding of the American Republic, on the democratic institutions of the United States, and on the common values that Americans share, without regard to race, creed, or color.
The 2011 Standards do not attempt to overturn the 4-Strand or 4-discipline framework adopted in 2004, but in the Government and History sections – if not in the Economics and Geography sections – one senses an intent to tilt things back in the direction of a Social Studies framework. The Introduction states that ‘the aim of social studies is the promotion of civic competence.’ The citation containing this phrase comes from National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, a 2010 Publication of the National Council for Social Studies, an advocacy group for Social Studies teachers. The National Council’s standards presume a curriculum that is based not on academic disciplines, but on cross-disciplinary ‘themes’ like Culture, Time and Continuity, People and Places, Personal Development and Identity, etc. Those who remember Minnesota’s Profiles in Learning may hear in this message some familiar ideas. Accordingly, the cognitive content of the curriculum for Government and History – again not, or at least not so much, for Economics and Geography – is significantly reduced. In some areas – notably on the founding principles of our political system, and the European background from which they derived –content is drastically reduced. In return, there is a stress on students learning to participate actively in civic life. While teachers could use these guidelines in a politically neutral way, all the benchmarks given come either from a multicultural perspective, or from left-of-center agendas.
In a nutshell: the 2004 Standards for History and Government require students to learn about the world in which we live. The 2011 Standards would require them to be active in bettering the world (with the concrete examples of improvement all coming from one side of the political spectrum). If one believes, that school-years are a precious opportunity for learning about our world, and that students ought not to have political opinions fed to them by their teachers, one must conclude that replacement of the 2004 Standards for History and Government by the newly proposed Standards would represent a giant step backwards for Minnesota’s K-12 students.
April 19, 2012
Review of Minnesota 2012 Social Studies Standards
To: Greg Marcus
Senate Education Committee
Minnesota State Senate
From John Fonte
John D. Fonte, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for American Common Culture
1015 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Let me preface by stating that my experience includes examining and vetting history-social studies curricula for around 25 years:
- · as a member of the steering committee of the congressionally-mandated National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), “the nation’s report card” for content in civics;
- · as a senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education for nine years, who worked on content issues in history and civics for NAEP;
- · as principal advisor for CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education funded the Pew Charitable Trust, and appointed by the general editor to write the chapter on The Federalist Papers;
- · as an educational consultant for the Texas Education Agency, the Virginia Department of Education, the California Academic Standards Commission, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania.
- ·as a history and social studies teacher in junior high school, high school, and college
In reviewing the 2004 Minnesota History and Social Studies Standards I wrote at the time, “Overall, I believe the Minnesota standards are outstanding, among the best that I have seen in reviewing many state documents.” The most important task of social studies-civic education in American public schools is to prepare our children for citizenship in American liberal democracy. Therefore, standards should delineate what is most important for students to know in order to prepare them for citizenship in the United States in the Twenty-First Century.
The education finance omnibus bills were taken up in conference committee beginning at 8AM today, April 19th. Before the House and Senate versions were even presented “side by side,” the conference committee presented a draft of the proposed conference report that appears to have been pre-negotiated between the Department of Education (DOE) and the legislators in secret without a hint of public discussion. This draft was based on a letter from Commissioner Brenda Casselius to the chairpersons of the education committees listing eight items that she apparently would not tolerate. Chairman of the House Education Finance Committee and chairman of today’s conference committee session proceeded to take testimony only from the commissioner and adopt only those sections of the draft with which she agreed. Other items about which she is “concerned” may be adopted later in the discussion.
One of the most important issues among those eight that was cut out due to this imperial steamrolling by the DOE is the legislature’s important efforts to stand for legislative authority and separation of powers in the implementation of the early childhood scholarships. We explained here that the DOE is despite glaring lack of legislative authority implementing the early scholarships by requiring the administratively expanded quality rating system (QRS) at any program where these scholarships might be used. We had previously explained here that the QRS requires the radical and non-academic Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (a preschool version of the Profile of Learning) and many other expensive and bureaucratic hoops for private and religious providers with no real evidence of increased quality. Hopes for fidelity to the MN Constitution and the rule of law were buoyed when both the House and Senate education committees passed legislation spelling out the use of some of that money for a voluntary, high quality, home based, parent-led literacy program as well as the House language allowing parents to make their own choice as to what program their children will attend and ensuring equity between rural and metro program funding.
The omnibus bills left committee and passed their respective floor votes with the early childhood language unchanged, despite an effort by retiring early childhood maven, Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL – Maplewood) to strip out all of the new early childhood scholarship language. That effort was rejected not only by all of the Republicans but by 13 Democrats. [Anzelc, Eken, Falk, Fritz, Hosch, Kath, Melin, Morrow, Pelowski, Persell, Poppe, Rukavina, Simon]
Although Rep. Jennifer Loon, Senator Terri Bonoff, and Senator Gen Olson did ask the commissioner this morning about trying to find a way to fund this parent child home literacy program, it appears that now all of these efforts to provide parental choice, deal with regional fairness, & hold the executive branch accountable, as well as all of the grand words about the “legislature as a co-equal partner in government” and this expenditure being a “prerogative of the legislative branch” are now in danger of becoming irrelevant with barely a whimper from our elected representatives UNLESS YOU ACT.
As the state and federal controversies increase over the unconstitutional and illegal requirements of the No Child Left behind waivers and the equally unconstitutional and illegal implementation of the Common Core Standards via federal funding and requirements, Minnesota legislators continue to step up to the plate.
The House Education Reform Committee passed the companion to the bill that we described in our recent alert, MN Takes Center Stage in Academic Standards Battle this Week. The House bill authored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), chairwoman of the House Education Reform Committee, simply requires that there be approval by the people’s representatives in the legislature before the state department of education would adopt future Common Core Standards such as happened with the English language arts standards under the Pawlenty administration or the wholesale rewriting that is producing the very revisionist social studies standards being put in place by the Dayton administration. That bill passed the committee essentially on a party line voice vote (audio available here starting at about 27:28 with Dr. Effrem’s testimony at about 1:07 A written version of her similar recent Senate testimony is available here).
The other big development is the introduction of a bill, HF 2905 by Representative Bob Barrett (R-Schafer), and SF 2928 by Senators Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) and David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), to require the commissioner of education to seek Minnesota’s own waiver to No Child Left Behind based on the state’s needs and laws. This would be in place of the illegal, unconstitutional, conditional and temporary waiver that Minnesota received from the Obama administration, one that among its other problems, in essence requires the Common Core Standards. This bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support during the 2008 legislative session when the Democrats were in control of the legislature and passed the House floor unanimously as an amendment by Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL- Columbia Heights) to the education finance omnibus bill. Sadly, it was removed from the omnibus bill after a veto threat by then Governor Tim Pawlenty.
These bills are closely related and very important, not only in Minnesota but around the nation to the whole essence of state’s rights, separation of powers, the rule of law, and academic freedom. As Neil McCluskey of the Cato Institute correctly points out, although overshadowed by the health care reform debate at the US Supreme Court, these issues are analogous to and should be viewed as the “other, almost complete, federal takeover.” Continue reading »
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