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Profile of Learning debate will likely return
By Tim Pugmire
Minnesota Public Radio
January 29, 2002

The long debate over Minnesota's graduation rule is expected to resurface again during this year's legislative session.The education agenda facing lawmakers this year is primarily centered on school funding issues. But the state's top education official is also seeking some minor changes to the academic standards known collectively as the Profile of Learning.

"The changes we're talking about making would improve the Profile but it wouldn't necessarily be very obvious to a parent or student," CFL Commisioner Christine Jax said.
(MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

Christine Jax, commissioner of the Department of Children, Families and Learning, released a plan last March for improving the Profile of Learning graduation standards, which took effect in the 1998-99 school year. The plan mostly focuses on rewriting and reorganizing the controversial learn-by-doing system to make the requirements easier to understand. Jax will ask legislators again this year for the special authority needed to make those adjustments.

"The changes we're talking about making would improve the Profile but it wouldn't necessarily be very obvious to a parent or student," Jax said. "What it would do would give a little bit more direction and guidance to teachers within the classroom."

That means adding specific language within each of the 48 standards to more clearly outline what a student must know, along with examples of the content teachers could use. The commissioner's plan closely resembles the recommendations made by a 12-member academic panel last year, but she nixed a proposed consolidation of the Profile's 11 broad learning areas.

Legislative changes two years ago let each school district decide how many of the standards students must complete to graduate. Jax says her modest changes should ease any remaining concerns about the graduation rule.

"There are people out there who want more statewide curriculum," she said. "They want what happens in one district to be the same as what happens in another district, and they would like that to be similar to what happens in other states. But at the same time these groups also do like local control, which is what the majority of Minnesotans like as well."

David Thompson of the Maple River Education Coalition is promising the group's continued effort to kill the Profile of Learning.
(MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

While Jax looks to tweak the state graduation rule, critics promise another attempt to scrap the whole system. David Thompson of the Maple River Education Coalition says the Profile remains a unnecessary burden on teachers and a loss of local control in public schools.

"When you have a big, huge elephant in the classroom, the solution isn't merely to put the elephant on a diet or make it more accommodating for the elephant," Thompson said. "The Profile of Learning is a big, huge elephant. The solution is to get rid of the elephant."

But Minnesota must soon lock in its commitment to the Profile of Learning or another set of academic standards. New federal education law requires each state to use standards in the annual testing of all third through eighth grade students. Tests already in place for third and fifth graders, known as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, are aligned to the existing standards of the Profile. Republican Representative Alice Seagren, chair of the House K-12 Finance Committee, says now is the time to reassess the graduation rule.

"We still need to look at those standards and make sure that they are what we want to see our kids achieve," Seagren said. "And if it's too complicated, if there are too many, if the learning areas become so much of a weight upon the school system that we can't accomplish some of the basic core values that we want for our kids, then we're just spending a lot of time and money and effort that's not going to result in anything good."

Seagren and her House colleagues have tried several times to kill or replace the Profile. Firm support from the Senate and Governor Ventura has prevented its demise. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the Senate Education Committee, says it's time to for everyone to accept the graduation standards.

"I really hope that we're ready to move on, and kind of set that issue to rest," Pappas said. "Every state has standards. The federal government is requiring standards. It's not that this is some left wing conspiracy to force all children into a mold."

Pappas say she'll consider the CFL commissioner's request for rule making authority. Representative Seagren opposes the move, saying the issue requires more involvement from legislators, parents teachers and other stakeholders.

More from MPR
  • Session 2002 Issue Brief: Education
  • Guinea Pig Kids From the MPR News archive. An extensive look at the Profile of Learning. (February 2000)