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North Star Standard Flunks Legislative Test
by Michael Khoo
May 18, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Session 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

After several false starts on a Profile of Learning compromise, lawmakers eventually agreed on reforms to the state graduation rule. Missing from the agreement, however, were the alternative North Star standards favored by some House Republicans.

IN A REPEAT OF LAST WEEK'S all-night legislative session, disagreement on how to reform the Profile of Learning again kept lawmakers working through the night. But this time, the deal held together long enough to pass both houses.

Supporters of the bill say it eliminates the controversial performance packages and returns implementation to the local level. The bill's principle feature allows teachers and local school boards to determine the pace for adopting the Profile school building by school building.

Children, Families, and Learning Commissioner Christine Jax says that should ease concerns about students being trapped in a mess of paperwork and bureaucracy. "The districts can have a hold-harmless for their kids if they feel that that's important," Jax says. "Kids can be graded at grade level now. There are a lot of reasons to celebrate because we've got the fixes that people have been asking for. And I think teachers are going to have a big collective sigh of relief when the see what the Legislature did."

Jax says Governor Jesse Venture will sign the bill. In a late-night surprise, however, the competing North Star Standard was dropped from the bill. As late as midnight, the proposed compromise would have allowed local school districts to choose between the hands-on, performance-based Profile and the test-oriented, back-to-basics North Star.

DFLer Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis was the lead Senate negotiator on reforming the graduation rule. He says North Star supporters tried to reach too far and ultimately were cut out of the deal.

"The far right was so eager to destroy high standards that they couldn't even agree to accept an option on their own North Star," said Pogemiller. "Their greed and inability to consider the children of the state got us to this result."

But Profile opponents say the proposed choice between the two was merely cosmetic. Representative Tony Kielkucki helped author the North Star system. The Lester Prairie Republican says the Senate position that there be a mechanism for comparing the two standards would have held North Star schools captive to Profile requirements. Kielkucki says he couldn't swallow that provision. "If I had to go back to the people and told them it was a clean North Star, I couldn't say that and be honest," Kielkucki said. "I'd rather be honest about what I thought was there and that's why I did what I did."

Kielkucki says North Star advocates will reconsider their options, and he says the debate isn't over. Even supporters of the final Profile bill say it's likely to be re-examined.

Dassel Republican Bob Ness was the lead House negotiator. He clashed with Kielkucki over including the North Star option and in the end he supported adjusting the Profile without allowing the North Star choice. But he acknowledges that a scheduled independent review of the Profile cod re-open the controversy.

"I expect when the external audit comes back and has their recommendations without standards, the appropriateness of the level of difficulty and all the other things that go with the Profile, or the assessment of the standards, yes, I think this will be revisited; perhaps on an annual basis," he said.

The external review of the Profile is expected to be finished in time for next year's legislative session.