In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2004
DocumentSession 2004
DocumentFinance and taxes
DocumentHealth Care
DocumentPublic Safety
DocumentSocial Services
DocumentStadium Issues
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Senators give science standards a closer look
Larger view
Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke says the revised standards are fewer, but still expect students to learn a lot of important content. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
State Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke on Friday defended the proposed standards for social studies and science as "a reasonable amount work for students." At a state Senate hearing on the standards, critics complained about the volume of factual content, and whether there's enough time to for them to cover the required material in their classes.

St. Paul, Minn. — Parents and teachers complained loudly last fall about the first draft of the social studies standards. They said the list of names, places and events students need to learn was too long, and expectations too high in the early elementary grades.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke says the revised standards are fewer, but still expect students to learn a lot of important content.

Larger view
Image Sen. Steve Kelley

"While no one wants history or social studies standards to merely be a memorization list, the committee made clear there's a need for foundational knowledge and a clear understanding of the founding of this country and these things that unit us as Americans," she said.

The reduced number of proposed social studies standards, items students will be required to learn in kindergarten through 12th grade, is now at 210. The optional list of "examples" totals 541.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says there's still a lot of required material.

"I got to fourth grade and looked at the world history stuff, and there's just a lot of material in fourth grade. From the four major religions, to the highlights of classical Greek, Roman and Meso-American civilizations, to sub-Saharan civilizations like Kush and Ghana.

Teachers and curriculum directors from several school districts say they're concerned about the amount of required material.

Westonka teacher Marc Doepner-Hove, who served on the citizens committee that helped write the social studies standards, is also among the educators wondering how he'll fit the new standards into his classroom.

Some evolutionists go too far when they insist that evolution be taught completely without criticism.
- Dave Eaton, Minnetonka school board member

"I think what really needs to be looked at is not what is covered, it's the amount of what's covered in the issue of time. And it isn't that we want low standards. It isn't that we want to dumb it down. It's what's possible in a given school day," he said.

But Commissioner Yecke says local school districts can choose spread the social studies standards over several subject areas or classrooms.

"It would not only be possible and probable, but likely that early elementary teachers would integrate the social studies standards into the reading curriculum for example. If you're going to have children reading books, they certainly could read about glaciers when it comes to science or they could read about historical figures," she said.

Teachers are also concerned about the volume of the science standards. But much of the science debate centered on the treatment of the theory of evolution.

Dave Eaton, a member of the Minnetonka school board, served on the standards committee and co-wrote a minority report. He says says the proposed science standards don't require students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

"We agree with the evolutionists that the state should not try to insert religion in the biology classes. We're also willing to concede as well that the state should not mandate the teaching of scientific alternatives to Darwin's theory. But some evolutionists go too far when they insist that evolution be taught completely without criticism," Eaton said.

Commissioner Yecke described the science minority report language as reasonable, but she says she supports the standards as presented.

Another legislative panel will take up the proposed standards next week. The House Education Policy Committee has a daylong hearing scheduled Tuesday.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects