Educator’s View: It’s time to rethink how best to educate

/ 8 April 2012 / jennifer

Joseph Legueri, Duluth News Tribune Opinion, April 8, 2012 –

President Obama recently freed our state from following the No Child Left Behind law. That was because Minnesota had completed new academic standards to “show that they will prepare students for colleges and careers” and because Minnesota was prepared to set new targets for improvement, reward high-performing schools and help struggling schools.

In light of that, I thought it would be interesting to look at the new academic standards that are within my realm: the English Language Arts Standards and the Writing Standards. Because the Minnesota Department of Education was required to prepare students for college, I was interested in seeing how the department aligned standards to meet the expectations colleges have for students taking entry-level courses.

I hoped the Department of Education looked at the course descriptions and syllabi of entry-level courses from a great number and a great variety of colleges. I hoped the department also looked at several sample copies of past years’ ACT tests. A study of, let’s say, a couple of hundred college syllabi would enable the department to determine the common requirements of college entry-level courses and devise applicable standards to help students succeed in college. A study of the ACT would reveal what high school graduates need to know to pass this college-entrance examination.

So I accessed education. and found the new standards.

As it turned out, there was no evidence the Department of Education studied either the college syllabi or the ACT tests. It outsourced the task of creating new academic standards to the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices, or the NGA Center, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO.

Before continuing, I’ll ask you to remember that in the past the Minnesota Department of Education foisted a number of horrible programs onto Minnesota schools: the 1970s’ Minnesota Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP; Some Essential Learner Outcomes, or SELO; and, in the 1990s, the Profile of Learning. All these expensive, untested programs made guinea pigs of the students of Minnesota, and, in the end, the programs failed and went into the wastebasket.

It is my opinion the Department of Education is now so gun-shy after all its failures that it outsourced the task of creating new standards so it wouldn’t have to take the blame again for making guinea pigs of the state’s children.

To continue, when the NGA Center and the CCSSO finished their rough drafts of the Language Standards and the Writing Standards, the standards were submitted for feedback to organizations representing teachers (what, I wondered, do these organizations know about appropriate standards?), postsecondary educators, civil rights groups, English-language learners and students with disabilities. When the feedback sessions were completed, the new standards were put into their final form.

One would think that after all the trouble the Department of Education has caused in the past it’d have wisdom enough to run-test the new standards before implementing them. But it didn’t. To make sure this latest experiment was carried out, the Department of Education required every Minnesota school district to adopt the newly developed academic standards no later than the 2012-13 school year.

It is my opinion, once again, that the new standards are ill-conceived and, as I discovered, flawed.

While scrutinizing the Language Arts Standards and the Writing Standards, I discovered to my dismay they were presented as separate entities. Mastering language skills like grammar, usage and punctuation is useless in itself. Students need to be guided through the process of discovering how language skills enable them to write clearly and prevent them from making distracting errors.

This process is called Language by Function. This is the process of learning a concept first and then looking at examples of how grammar, usage and punctuation work in actual sentences. The new standards do not provide an opportunity for the necessary connection between the Language and Writing Standards.

Sure, the state Department of Education will say it doesn’t try to tell teachers what to teach, but that’s a bunch of malarkey. It didn’t have any problem telling teachers what to teach for the MEAP, SELO and, worst of all, the Profile of Learning.

Instead of continuously knocking our heads against the sidewalk with programs like MEAP, SELO, the Profile of Learning, Old Standards and New Standards, I believe we need to rethink the entire idea of how best to educate children. From what I’ve seen, I hope there’s still room in the Minnesota Department of Education’s wastebasket.

Joseph Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, lifelong Iron Range resident and retired educator who taught grades 7-12 for 35 years at Duluth, Biwabik and Mesabi East schools.

A waste of money

The Minnesota Department of Education produced the Minnesota Educational Assessment Program in the 1970s. That was thrown out and replaced by the program named Some Essential Learner Outcomes. Then, in the 1990s, the department came out with the Profile of Learning. The Profile was thrown out in 2003. It was replaced by Academic Standards. In 2009, the department decided to replace the 2003 Academic Standards with standards that were aligned to college entry-level courses.

Every one of these initiatives cost a mint.

Every one failed.

I ask: Does it look like the people who work for the Minnesota Department of Education know what they are doing?

This year the department has a budget of $19,811,000. We’re wasting our money.