Date: December 4, 2003
Subject: Thoughtful praise for the draft standards

During this lull in the targeted attacks on individual committee members and Commissioner Yecke, I thought it would be useful to return our attention to the draft itself and review some of the comments from the expert reviews:

"Overall I believe the Minnesota standards are outstanding, among the best that I have seen in reviewing many state documents. This is true for a number of reasons. First of all, any state standards should clearly delineate what is most important for students to know as future citizens in American democracy… Moreover, the draft is balanced and inclusive, and provides a ‘warts and all’ approach that covers the negative as well as the positive aspects of American history…The standards also thoroughly examine social and cultural history, geography, economics, civics and government, as well as political and intellectual history and ideas."

John Fonte, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

"…it is fair to say that [the draft standards] ask that students know more, certainly more in terms of detailed knowledge than does the current scheme, Profile of Learning. I am sympathetic to the new approach, largely because it does ask that students have some fact base upon which to frame their conceptual understanding. It is hard to argue, for example, about the correctness of civil disobedience, if you don’t know something about the life and times of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The trend across the country, moreover, seems to be mostly in the direction you are headed, but not without controversy. Clearly, the struggle is not to let the standards debate be tyrannized by dichotomies, with facts vs. thinking…On balance, I would give you high marks for having made real progress in that regard."

Kermit L. Hall, President and Professor of History, Utah State University

"These are the first standards I have been asked to review about which I had no major concerns. In both American and world history, in geography, and in economics they are easily the best standards I have ever seen. They will be a model for the nation."

Dr. Jerry L. Martin, Chairman, American Council of Trustees and Alumni

"If Minnesota adopts the new standards in something like their current form, it will be a huge step forward for teaching children in the state about the USA and other major civilizations of the world."

Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University

"I applaud you and your department for moving toward content-based standards…One could argue that defining standards in this way leaves no scope for critical thinking, for showing students that the facts we often take for granted are not so factual after all. This was the view of some of my History Department colleagues…My sense is that we have gone too far in this direction already, so that we get incoming students who are quite ready to question whatever they are told, which is fine as far as it goes, except that they themselves sometimes seem to know almost nothing that is worthy of being questioned. Thus instead of showing high school graduates that things are not as simple as they may think – the college teacher’s role – we have to spend time showing them what they should have learned at a lower level, so as to put question marks around it. In sum, it’s past time for a strong push in terms of standards that have recognizeably to do with History and Geography, time and space."

James D. Tracy, Department of History, University of Minnesota

The full text of these reviews, as well as the Science draft reviews, are available on the Minnesota Department of Education web site.