Date: July 31, 2003Here is my report on the Social Studies committee, grade 9-12 subcommittee, Government & Citizenship strand.
Subject: Day 1
Greetings from the Department of Children, Families, and Learning, which will be renamed tomorrow the "Department of Education." No matter what you call it, it's still a huge bureaucracy. If you ever worked at the headquarters of Control Data, Honeywell, or other large corporation, or studied at the monolithic Wilson Library at the U, you would feel right at home amongst the meeting rooms and cubicles of this huge building just off of Highway 36 and Snelling Avenue in Roseville. When I passed an employee with his head in his hands, sobbing, I asked him what was wrong. He said, "My teacher died."
Seriously, I sat down with my coffee and an obscenely large apple fritter in our large group meeting room before 7:30 am, in The Conference Center (I told you it was big). I was soon speaking with teachers and an associate principal from Wayzata High School. The buzz was upbeat and energetic as strangers met and colleagues were reacquainted ("I saw your name on the list!"). The percentage of K-12 professionals is higher this time than when the math and language arts standards were developed. I think that, at least in my committee, the teachers' expertise and experience had a positive influence. I have never been to a teachers' conference, but I imagine that in the best moments among friends, similar displays of enthusiasm, dedication, and professional expertise must shine.
True to the Commissioner's mission to put the "public" back into the "public schools," the over 80 volunteers who constitute the committee also include parents, college professors, and businesspeople, but no legislators(!).
At 8:00 am we were addressed by Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke; Mary Anne Nelson, assistant commissioner for the Office of Academic Excellence; and Beth Aune, director of the Division of Academic Standards and Professional Development. They all had different aspects of the day and our task to explain, and all did a fine job doing so. A scheduled appearance during the lunch hour by Gov. Tim Pawlenty was cancelled due to a last-minute scheduling conflict.
The Commissioner mentioned a survey conducted by Public Agenda, "A Lot to be Thankful For," in which parents express what they want their kids to learn in school about their country. She asked the social studies committee to "look to the greatness of America" when composing the U.S. history and social studies standards.
We started with the standards framework (outline) provided by Commissioner Yecke, and examined the exemplar standards for ideas and starting points. The exemplar standards are from: Arizona, Alabama, Kansas, Virginia, and California. We borrowed the most from Arizona, Virginia, and California. We then added our own ideas and changes, almost in a brainstorming fashion, with the knowledge that this is just a rough draft.
National standards were not discussed or referenced. Although we had to use the framework provided, we had complete automony and no direction regarding the creation of our standards and benchmarks ("what the student should know and be able to do").
We made excellent progress, drafting standards and benchmarks for all of our framework categories. Other committees did not make as much progress, and will meet again. This draft will be posted onto a file sharing and message board web site, similar to Yahoo! Groups but with a nicer threaded discussion feature (more like newsgroup readers or groupware applications), hosted at the University of Minnesota. This web site is password protected for Academic Standards Committee members only. We will use this technology over the next few weeks to continue to refine our standards from the comfort of our computers. Based on yesterday's experience, so far I trust my teammates enough to have confidence in this process.
THE FIGHT FOR LIBERTY
All of us seem committed to composing rigorous, knowledge based standards. All were very knowledgeable about U.S. history and civics; I had the weakest knowledge of the group. All spoke disparagingly of the Profile.
Our standards draft so far references natural law and the purpose of government. It's a good start. Refinements that must be made include emphasizing the principles stated in my previous posts to this blog.
THE ROAD AHEAD
On August 20 we will reconvene to work on scope and sequence within each strand. So our subcommittee will meet with the K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 Government and Civics committees to see where the gaps and redundancies are in our standards, and adjust accordingly. So my job will be to stay engaged, communicate with allies, and try to hold it all together in my corner of the world.
After that, we will submit our first drafts to the Commissioner, who will take them on the road and post them on the MDE web site for public comment. The final drafts are due to the Legislature in February when the reconvene.
See the MDE web site for an updated meeting schedule -- it changed from the one published previously. I will post the schedule on my web site this weekend.