Browsing articles in "State Education"
Apr 27, 2012

John Fonte Review of Minnesota Social Studies Standards

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
Hudson Institute
1015 15th Street, NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
202-974-2435 direct

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.

Continue reading »

Apr 19, 2012

Stop Imperial Governance!!

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.

Continue reading »

Apr 2, 2012

MN Continues Fight Against Federal & Executive Overreach

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 »

Mar 29, 2012

MN Legislature Schools Dayton DOE on Separation of Powers

In answer to our March 9th query,” How Will Legislature Deal with Dayton DOE Lawlessness on QRS??,” both the House and Senate education committees have responded forcefully and well. On March 27th, the House Education Finance Committee passed their omnibus education bill, HF 2949, containing language that deals specifically with the issue of the Department of Education’s efforts to implement the early childhood scholarships by requiring that recipients attend a program that has been rated by the quality rating system (QRS). (Audio is available here).

The provision contains language from two different bills. One, HF 1828, by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) requires the scholarship funds to be evenly divided between metro and rural recipients. The other, HF 2729, by Rep. Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) after an excellent amendment by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), makes sure that parents can use the scholarship to attend the program of their choice and takes $250,000 of the scholarship funds for a voluntary, parent-involved, home-based literacy-only program that does not use or require the use of a QRS.  Education Liberty Watch was willing to suspend its usual skepticism of home visiting programs for this one based on the facts that it was not a typical home visiting program and that it was accomplishing other important purposes.

The Senate bill, SF 2107, is authored by Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) and contains only the funding for the home based program without any other changes. The bill passed unanimously out of committee after some minor amendments and awaits action on the Senate floor.

During the committee process, both the House and Senate firmly instructed the Department of Education on the separation of powers when they objected to the funding and other changes in the scholarship program. House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said during the initial March 14th hearing on the Loon bill:

“I stand up for the legislative branch as a coequal partner in government. If the department is of the opinion that they can get out the truck and drive over us on this issue, they are sadly mistaken and in a bad place to be” Continue reading »