Minnesota State Standards – Where are we headed?

The new standards in Science and Social studies were recently released by the

Minnesota Department of Education, and the Department is starting to receive reactions from all quarters. The Profile of Learning, though described as “state mandated curriculum,” had nowhere near the specificity of these standards. Even though these standards are telling all teachers what students must know, this has very little to do with what students will know how to do.

At his presentation of the college’s strategic plan, St. Olaf College President Thomforde, said that St. Olaf is taking a major pedagogical step forward and rearranging their Science Department to reflect the direction of modern science, which will result in the College being much more integrated in its approach to science instruction. Will the state’s new content based standards hinder students by leaving them unprepared to deal with the new science study at the college and university level?

Here is what some are saying about the new standards:

Local teachers scrutinize standards

By Jim Sturgeon

Minnesota’s proposed social studies and science standards for K-12 were scrutinized in Fergus Falls Tuesday night, with most local and area teachers showing the greatest concerns in the social studies area.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke and a couple of the panel members who put the standards together took testimony on the 87 pages of new standards.

Fergus Falls High School Teacher Lisa Nesbitt told the panel that teachers are concerned the social studies standards focus too much on memorization of facts and not enough on broad concepts and ideas.

“Students will not see the relevance of the facts unless they are able to make connections with them,” Nesbitt said. “The focus of teaching social studies should be answering questions like why is this event
significant, why does it matter and who cares, not who, what, where and when.”

Fergus Falls teachers using the block schedule have had to move away from lecturing to keep students’ attention during the longer class periods. Nesbitt said teachers are “gravely concerned that we are
headed back to a time when information was delivered by a teacher and then regurgitated on a test at the end of the unit.”

She said recent brain research studies have shown that students learn and remember 14 percent of what they hear (lecture) compared to 92 percent of what they learn and teach others through presentations and other methods.

“These standards will result in teachers teaching to the test, which takes the focus off hands-on learning and performance based assessment, which we believe is crucial to academic success,” Nesbitt said.

At the elementary level, teachers were concerned whether their students would be mature enough to understand the concepts they would be expected to master.

Kindergarten teacher Carolyn Rud said many of the proposed standards are not developmentally appropriate for the students she teaches.

She said history especially would be a challenge because of the need to understand time concepts.

“My young children do not really understand time concepts, so certain standards I felt are really beyond what they’re able to grasp, because they’re only five and six years old,” Rud said.

Likewise, the geography expectations of being able to identify things on maps would be asking too much of children that age.

“If it starts to get into things that are too abstract, it’s very difficult for five year olds because they cannot grasp a real abstract idea,” she said.

Rud suggested that making a map of the classroom might be a better way to introduce students to geography.

Reading and math are the concentration areas for students right now. Rud said there are too many benchmarks in the new standards to allow for any concentrated study.

Yecke said the proposed standards are a first draft, a starting point for discussion. She said after public hearings are held around the state, the standards will be modified before going to the legislature. She said the scope of the standards will probably be reduced by one third.

The commissioner disagrees that the new standards require students to merely memorize facts and figures and don’t teach them critical thinking skills.

“If you want to teach children to be critical thinkers, you have to be sure they have a solid foundation in facts,” Yecke said.

The science standards seem to be more acceptable to teachers, with minor adjustments rather than wholesale changes suggested.

Another common concern is the cost to school districts for new curriculums, textbooks and teacher training. One teacher called the standards another “unfunded mandate.”

From Rich Cairn, Cairn & Associates:

Friends of Good Science Education – Minnesota currently has one of, if not the strongest science education program in America. Yet the Commissioner of Education is going to throw out our excellent standards based on the National Science Standards (and highly ranked by national reviewers) in favor of ideologically-driven
standards cobbled together from Alabama, California, and Virgina’s.
What can YOU do to preserve the best science education system in America:
1. attend standards hearings and speak up (See below for a schedule)
2. send specific written comments to the Dept. of Ed. (see below)
3. write letters to the editor of local papers across Minnesota saying why enivironmental science matters to our economy and culture
4. call and write state senators (especially) and also representatives to tell them why this is important
5. ask others to do the same Pointers on writing letters on Standards:
– Submit brief and precise comments in writing, especially if you can’t get to hearings. They must be professional and respectful.
– Be specific, include page numbers and exact standard language that should be in- or excluded. (The Commissioner will likely tally a “score” of how many for this or that.)
– Urge parents and other non-teachers to write. The Commissioner ranks these more highly than professional educators, feeling professionals have had their share of input.
What to say:
– That’s up to you. General points include finding places to link human activity to environmental and technological issues. (Soil erosion is the only such example mentioned so far.) Also urge the commissioner to go back to existing standards, or to adopt the national standards. Tell her that as a parent, you believe in these standards. (She argues that parents must actually write the standards for them to be valid.)
– While you’re at it, look at the social studies standards and make specific recommendations there as well.
Thank you.
Rich Cairn, Cairn & Associates

Here’re some thoughts from a retired Iowa administrator about Bush’s education plan:
No Illusion Left Behind
By Jerry Parks
Sunday, September 21, 2003;

It’s scary when you feel like you’re the only sane person around.

I’m a recently retired Iowa elementary school principal, and I can’t figure out why educators all over the United States aren’t screaming and yelling about the federal No Child Left Behind law.

It’s hard to tell whether this law is more a product of arrogance or ignorance, but either way it’s shaping up to be a spectacular train wreck of a collision between bureaucracy and reality.

To read the rest of the article click here.

You can participate in the discussion by attending the feedback sessions listed on the MDE website:

Public Hearing Schedule Science and Social Studies Draft Standards

Monday September 22nd
St. Paul Central High School
275 North Lexington Parkway
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday September 24th
Willmar Education and Arts Center(District office)
611 5th Street S.W.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Thursday September 25th
Worthington Senior High School
1211 Clary Street
Location: Cafeteria
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Monday September 29th
Cloquet Senior High School
1000 18th Street
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday September 30th
Princeton Senior High School
807 South 8th Ave
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday October 1st
Hibbing: Lincoln Middle School
1114 East 23rd Street
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Thursday October 2nd
Bemidji Senior High School
2900 Division Street West
Location: Lumberjack Room
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Thursday October 9th
Coon Rapids Senior High School
2340 Northdale Blvd.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Monday October 13th
Apple Valley: School of Environmental Studies
12155 Johnny Cake Road
Location: Commons Area
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Monday October 20th
Forest Lake Senior High School
6101 Scandia Trail North
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday October 21st
Stewartville Senior High School
500 4th Street S.W.
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday October 22nd
Albert Lea Senior High School
2000 Tiger Lane
Location: Auditorium
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

You may also submit written comments to the Department:

Comments on Science Standards

Comments on Social Studies Standards


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