Date: January 23, 2004
Subject: Senate Hearing

I arrived at the Capitol complex and made my way through the catacombs between the State Office Building and the Capitol in time to meet the people coming out of the morning (science) session of the Senate Education Committee hearing on the Academic Standards. Supporters of the minority report seemed satisfied that their case was heard and points made. Since they adjourned late for lunch, the social studies session was moved back 30 minutes to 1:30 pm (it was called to order at 1:40 pm).

Sen. Kelley presided over the hearing, with Senators Skoe, Olson, Ranum, Michel, Stumpf, and Wergin in attendance. In addition, several members of the new Youth Advisory Council sat at the committee table and were given the same opportunity to ask questions as the Senators on the committee.

The hearing room in Capitol 15 is the large circular room directly under the rotunda. The glass "M" design in the rotunda floor appear as windows in the ceiling of the hearing room. The center of the room features a full-color state seal design in the carpet. It is a relatively plain yet elegant room, and as Sen. Kelley mentioned, the largest Senate hearing room at the Capitol. The Senators on the committee sit at a large semicircular table, as many city councils do, facing the testimony table and audience. The session is recorded on video and audio, in addition to any media present.

I mention all of this because this was the first legislative hearing I have ever attended in person. It must be intimidating for just about any first-timer, especially when you know that the committee chairman is noparticularlyry friendly to your cause, and has stacked the agenda with like-minded testifiers (his prerogative, incidentally). I forgot to count heads, but the audience area was about filled to capacity, with several dozen seated.

After Commissioner Yecke's presentation, which basically followed her summary of the December 19 draft last month, the members of the committee introduced themselves and were allowed to give statements. Committee members speaking were:

David Lanegran, a geography professor who spoke to the geography standards' alignment with national standards

Denis Biagini, an assistant principal at Wayzata High School, who gave a general statement of support

John Brady and Holly Dunsmore, classroom teachers who disagreed about the grade school benchmarks (Brady opposed, Dunsmore supported)

David Buller, chairman of the social studies writing committee, who testified that as writing committee chair he subjected all benchmarks to reality checks ("Can you teach this?") by classroom teachers on the committee.

Marc Doepner-Hove and Paul Seeba, who presented the new social studies minority report signed by the same four teachers who signed the minority report on the first draft

Next to offer testimony:

Sen. Steve Dille spoke on concerns about a lack of microeconomic education in the standards.

The Association of Metropolitan School Districts was represented by Ellen Delaney and Jenni Norland-Weaver, who opposed the standards.

The Education Minnesota teachers' union was represented by its president, Judy Schaubach, who urged the legislature to "do it right" and pointed out that there is no federal deadline date for adopting the social studies standards.

The Minneapolis Public Schools were represented by its interim superintendent and former Speaker of the Minnesota House, Dave Jennings; and Dana Carmichael-Tanaka. The latter has been a vocal critic of the standards, saying on WCCO-TV that "Too many benchmarks in the proposed [first draft] standards tell us the Declaration of Independence trumps the Constitution...I see it [the Declaration of Independence] more as a divorce document. But it's not where we should take all of our guiding principles from—the Constitution is." Sen. Olson challenged Carmichael-Tanaka's strong assertion during testimony that civic participation was missing from the final draft standards, even citing the page number where it is in fact covered. Carmichael-Tanaka was momentarily speechless, then made a vague statement about objecting to the tone of the standard.

The Saint Paul Public Schools were represented by Toni Carter, who gave by far the most eloquent and respectful criticism of the standards, praising the geography and economics standards while recommending that their adoption be postponed pending concerns about the history and government & citizenship strands.

Mike Chapman spoke for EdWatch (formerly Maple River Education Coalition), urging adoption of the standards because they raise academic expectations, they are knowledge based, and they remove anti-American bias compared with the Profile of Learning (not "hate speech" against America, but a more subtle endorsement of socialist-style governments).

I had to leave around 4:20 pm, just as James Tracy from the University of Minnesota began his testimony in support of the standards, and before other standards opponents (Mankato Public Schools, Edina Schools, Parents United, Minnesota PTA, Mahmoud El-Kati, and Michael Boucher and Paul Spies from MAPSSS), and standards supporter Dan Ritchie from Bethel College, spoke. I am trying to obtain Tracy's and Ritchie's testimonies; they were two of the professors who circulated letters supporting the standards, ultimately signed by 50 college and university professors from across the state.

Rep. Barb Sykora's Ed Policy conducts its hearing on Tuesday.

With Education Minnesota, individual teachers, and school districts opposed to the standards in their current form, it will be a big challenge for the commissioner and standards supporters to find a politically-acceptable way get them through the Legislature, to say the least. That's just the cold reality at the Capitol. More on this later.