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Education Reporter
Minnesota's 'Profile of Learning' in Chaos

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - The State Board of Education (SBE), along with Minnesota's Department of Children, Families and Learning (DCFL), has proposed a new Graduation Rule, which will be implemented in the fall of 1998 unless the state legislature acts to prevent it. The Minnesota House is considering a delay in the implementation of the Rule due to increasing grassroots opposition. The Senate narrowly rejected a similar effort in February.

At the heart of the controversy is the new Rule's "Profile of Learning," which has prompted concern and criticism from teachers, parents, education experts, legislators, and conservative groups. The Profile requires high school students to master 10 "learning areas" that are broken down into 48 specific subjects called "content standards." Subjects such as English and History will be replaced by categories such as "read, view and listen."

Elementary-school, junior-high and middle-school students will also face additional learning profile requirements. For each "profile standard," teachers will have to design a "performance package," a complex mixture of tasks that may not jibe with what they're already teaching. If teachers lack the time or inclination to design the packages, DCFL will provide "sample packages" for them, which raises grassroots concerns about a "state curriculum."

The Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis lists additional complaints about the "Profile of Learning," including:

Many excellent educators are dropping great lesson plans and teaching techniques to adopt "performance packages" from the state. Doing their own packages takes too much time and paperwork, and they face possible rejection from the DCFL.

Cost is out of control. A DCFL audit showed that the Profile of Learning is going to cost more than $180 million to implement fully. (Other estimates have reached as high as $194 million over two years.)

Loss of local control.

475 Pages per Child?

In a Feb. 17, 1998 letter to their colleagues, State Representatives Marty Seifert (R) and Gene Pelowski (DFL), both school teachers, expressed "deep concerns" about the Profile of Learning. "Although not known to very many people," they wrote, "the Proposed Permanent Rules have been submitted and will have the force of law unless the legislature does something to correct the situation."

Their letter also stated that, "In these rules, the statement 'A student shall . . . ' is used over 100 times. On the state mandated 'Performance Packages,' paperwork is outlandish. We compiled state sample packages needed to fulfill content standards in order to graduate. For each child, there were 475 pages of paperwork. For a class with 300 graduates, this would mean over 142,000 pages of information." Seiffert and Pelowski have been active in the effort to derail the Profile in the legislature, at least until "some corrections" are made.

In early 1997, the Minnesota Legis-lature granted the SBE the authority to require a state test and test guidelines in order to monitor the progress of every student. The testing requirement was part of Minnesota's compliance with Goals 2000. In response, political analyst, businessman, and gubernatorial candidate Allen Quist stated, "Minnesota is now establishing a state curriculum, which is really a disguised national curriculum. It's so detailed that some teachers are correctly calling it 'lesson plans.' Other teachers are saying, 'We aren't teachers anymore, we are now technicians.' "

Diversity Resurrected?

Many Minnesota citizens fear that the new Graduation Rule will resurrect the "Education Diversity Rules," which were developed and proposed last year by the State Board of Education, but then rejected by the board in January. According to Annette Meeks of American Experiment, "the same diversity component will very likely be incorporated into the Profile of Learning, and in the statewide tests."

In an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last October, Katherine Kersten, then-chairman of American Experiment, provided details of the rejected "Education Diversity Rules." She said they "have the potential to transform our schools almost beyond recognition. They give state bureaucrats power to dictate everything from what our elementary schools can teach about the Aztecs (for fear of offending), to the racial and socioeconomic makeup of our high school orchestras and football teams."

Kersten's article describes how the Rules would force school districts to target "at least three disparities at a time." For example, are there "too few" American Indians in the chess club or "too few 'free or reduced lunch' students" in honors English? The state would decide acceptable ratios, and would require districts to "have a plan - with timetables - to bring the numbers into line with middle-class white statistics."

The Rules further mandated that outstate districts hire paid consultants to counsel them on the "proper mix of inhabitants." All districts would be required to "reeducate teachers, whose 'stereotyping' and 'negative' attitudes often promote 'racism, sexism, and handicappism.' "

Diversity Rules or a Far Left Agenda?

The publicity about the Diversity Rules triggered a storm of controversy. Minneapolis lawyers John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson stated that "careful scrutiny of the Rules and their accom-panying Statement of Need and Reasonableness shows that the underlying intent is malignant, not benign. Rather than representing a confused but well-meaning effort to improve the educational performance of minority students, the Rules represent a carefully calculated effort to advance a far-left political agenda."

Amidst the outcry, two newly-ap-pointed board members introduced a motion to defeat the proposed Rules at the SBE's January meeting. The motion carried and the Rules were withdrawn. But that was not the end of the story.

The Minnesota Family Council has published comments from education experts on the new Graduation Rule. The Council quotes former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch as saying, "In the area of social studies, the Minnesota standards are among the worst in the nation. They are vague; they give no direction to teachers, assessment developers, students or parents. They are a missed opportunity to introduce youngsters to the excitement of learning. I advise the state to toss them out and start over."

In a 1997 report on "Making Stan-dards Matter," the American Federation of Teachers stated that "none of the subjects in the Profile of Learning is detailed and comprehensive enough to establish a common core of knowledge and skills for Minnesota's children."

Even one of Minnesota's DCFL's audit reports notes, "As different as the Profile of Learning is from current graduation requirements used by school districts, the risk of failure is relatively low. That is, while more students will have to participate in more learning activities than is probably the case today, not much more than participation is required to fulfill graduation requirements."

In a Feb. 8 article entitled "How the Profile of Learning Will Work," the Star Tribune featured one of the performance packages, positioning it as "the new, improved lesson plan." The package directs students to research the history of their school building and site, divides them into groups to conduct interviews and analyze documents, and finishes by requiring a "one or two page paper explaining what they learned. "

According to Katherine Kersten, the "Profile of Learning" was sold in the name of rigor and accountability. "Unfortunately," she says, "in many respects, it is likely to deliver the opposite, while draining the treasury and throwing students' and teachers' lives into chaos."

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