Date: April 12, 2004The Minnesota Senate should use its advise and consent role to confirm Governor Pawlenty's well-qualified appointees, and allow him to govern as mandated by the voters who elected him. Cheri Pierson Yecke is eminently well-qualified to serve as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education. The Senate should confirm her appointment.
Subject: Confirm Cheri Pierson Yecke
Commissioner Yecke brings to the Minnesota Department of Education a twenty-year career of teaching and public service, as a classroom teacher, member of the Virginia Board of Education, Deputy Secretary and Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a director at the U.S. Department of Education, and senior advisor to the USA Freedom Corps.
Governor Tim Pawlenty brought Commissioner Yecke to Minnesota as a "change agent," to help restore the core academics that were left behind by the Profile of Learning, to refocus her department back on education, and to create tools that would help Minnesotans to better understand school and student performance. Within twelve months of her appointment, she is well on the way to achieving all of these goals. Commissioner Yecke's opponents in the state's liberal establishment are disturbed by the success of this appointee of the popular Republican governor, and are working overtime to defeat her confirmation.
As a public school parent and member of the Academic Standards Committee, I had the opportunity to learn first-hand that Commissioner Yecke is an outspoken advocate of knowledge-based academic achievement for all. Under her leadership, citizen Academic Standards Committees created new graduation standards in mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies, to replace the discredited Profile of Learning. As directed by the Legislature, the new standards are clear, concise, objective, measurable, and raise academic expectations.
Commissioner Yecke has put the “public” back into public education. The process used to create the four new standards documents was the most public in state history. The committee meetings were subject to the state open meeting law, all committee members' names were made public, early draft standards were posted on the department web site prior to their submission to the Legislature, and hundreds of pages of public comments were collected and considered from hearings throughout the state, the department web site, e-mail, postal mail, and telephone.
Contrast this process with that used by Commissioner Yecke's opponents to create the alternative social studies standards, which the DFL-controlled Senate Education Committee recently passed on a party-line vote. The alternative standards were created far from public view by education elites, including professors at the University of Minnesota and the former head of the National Council for the Social Studies. Minnesota citizens were not allowed to comment on the draft before the committee vote. According to Sen. Steve Kelley, chair of the Senate Education Committee, the standards represent low-expectation minimum competencies, a “floor we expect every child to get to.” This is all tellingly similar to the Profile of Learning.
Many of those opposing Commissioner Yecke's confirmation would turn back the clock on Minnesota education policy. They would block passage of any social studies standards this session. They would discard the work of the citizen Academic Standards Committee (which the Senate is already doing, contrary to the Profile of Learning repealer law passed last session), form a new standards committee and start the standards writing process from scratch. Some would make state education policy less accountable to the public by making the commissioner an appointee of a revived state board of education, which was disbanded by the Legislature in 1999.
The DFL is poised to use its slim majority in the Senate to reverse the progress made to restore knowledge-based academics to Minnesota public schools, which only began last year with the repeal of the Profile of Learning. Minnesota needs Commissioner Yecke to insist that the public, including but not limited to educators, should have a say in public education policy, and to oppose a return to Profile of Learning-style minimum competency standards. Please urge your state senator to confirm Cheri Pierson Yecke as Commissioner of Education.