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Despite changes, proposed social studies standards cause stir at Capitol
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Rep. Barb Sykora, R-Excelsior, the committee chairwoman, says everybody appears angry at this point. She says that probably means they have a pretty good, well-balanced set of standards. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
The latest revision of proposed social studies standards for Minnesota public schools contains fewer errors but no less controversy than previous versions. Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke presented a third draft of the grade-by-grade requirements on Tuesday to members of the House Education Policy Committee. Some critics say the changes go too far, while others say they don't go far enough. The panel's chairwoman says she thinks that means the document is about ready for a vote.

St. Paul, Minn. — Education Commissioner Yecke began editing the proposed social studies standards shortly after House and Senate committee hearings last month. She says the mostly technical corrections were based on public testimony, input from a handful of Republican representatives and reviews by outside national experts.

Yecke also adjusted some of the names, dates, places and events students must know. Some facts were moved to different grade levels, others were deleted and few were added. She credited most of those changes to two outside reviewers: Erich Martel, a high school teacher in Washington D.C., and Warren Solomon of the University of Missouri.

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Image Against the standards as written

"What was significant about those reviews is that they were specific," Yecke said. "And this is what we looked for also at every public hearing. I just urged people, 'tell me a page number. Give me specific feedback.' But what we heard mainly was a mile wide and inch deep, too much, and etc."

Yecke is still hearing those complaints and more. Mary Cecconi of the group Parents United says teachers are still expected to cover too many topics. She also objects to what she sees as standards that advocate a certain doctrine or type of behavior.

"For example, a benchmark requires students to define what it means to be a citizen in terms of loyalty. According to law, these standards are supposed to be measurable and cannot measure values, attitudes or beliefs. Therefore, these types of benchmarks need to be removed," Cecconi said.

The latest complaints are coming from across the political spectrum. Julie Quist of the conservative group Education Watch/Maple River Coalition says the latest revisions go too far. She claims changes were made that weaken the teaching of the Declaration of Independence.

Quist urged lawmakers to preserve the earlier versions, which a committee of teachers and parents helped write.

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Image Education Commissioner Yecke

"As soon as you start making substantive changes in this committee, it's wide open for anybody and everybody who has their pet changes that they would like to make," Quist said.

Democrats on the Republican-controlled committee say they were shut out of the latest editing process, and they don't like the results. They're even taking issue with specific words.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, tried unsuccessfully to replace the word "statesmen" with a more gender-neutral term.

"We have sexist language in our documents here. This is not a quote, this is a statement: 'students will become familiar with the character traits of statesmen such as...' It needs to be statesperson, plain and simple," Greiling said.

Rep. Barb Sykora, R-Excelsior, the committee chairwoman, says everybody appears angry at this point. She says that probably means they have a pretty good, well-balanced set of standards. Sykora says she's ready to move on.

"I don't anticipate us doing a lot past what we did today, because I think it's pretty clear that some people are going to be happy, some are not going to be very happy. The people who were happy are no longer happy, and the people who weren't happy, we didn't do enough to make them happy. You know how this is. You just can't please everyone, and we know that," Sykora said.

Sykora says the standards could be in bill form and ready for a committee vote by the end of next week. The goal is to pass the social studies requirements this year, but allow schools to wait until 2005 to begin the implementation.

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