Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Back into the Fray. The House and Senate reconvened after their break for precinct caucuses and they tore back into it, especially in the Senate where they took up and passed several bills related to the filing of civil lawsuits. If today's proceedings are any indication, things are going to be spicy for the remainder of the session as the debate was prolonged and thorough. It's not like the opposition to the bills was petty; there are some major changes in how civil lawsuits will be handled and these changes have a lot of support in the business community. DFLers believe the changes go too far and hence, the debate.

Here is a link on today's Senate floor action:

The Senate Education Committee met later in the day and the lion's share of the committee's time was dedicated to the proposed social studies standards and SF 1656, a bill introduced by Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) that would require legislative approval on the revised social studies standards that are in the midst of being developed. The state Social Studies standards have always been the most controversial of the sets of standards developed for measuring the academic achievement of Minnesota students. The controversy surrounding social studies stanards, especially those relating to history (both American and World), is not isolated to Minnesota. One need only remember the debate by the Texas State School Board surrounding what students should learn to realize that the nature (and interpretation) of many subjects under the social studies umbrella are, for lack of a better term, more subjective (although there is a lot of objective knowledge in these subjects) than those in mathematics and natural science.

Here's my view from the cheap seats. When the social studies standards were developed in 2004, it was truly an ordeal. Both sides in the (again, for lack of a better term) culture wars insisted on having a certain sets of items included in the standards. Try as they might, the Minnesota Department of Education and the Legislature could not come to agreement on an abbreviated set of broad standards into which individual items could be incorporated. Both sides stuck to having as many of these isolated facts and movements spelled out specifically in the standards, which made the standards an unwieldy 120-page conglomeration.

I was not part of the development of the new social studies standards, but I can only guess that one of the goals of the groups working on them was to pare down references to specific items and organize the standards in a more streamlined fashion. Of course, when one gets out the blue pencil and starts editing, people start getting uncomfortable. This discomfort has affected both poles of the debate over the social studies standards, as the "perceived as conservative" Fordham Institute published a harsh review of the proposed standards, as did the "perceived as liberal" Southern Poverty Law Center. Needless to say, this debate will be center stage for the remainder of the legislative session. It's important to note that the effort to revise the social studies standards began during the previous administration, so it is difficult to discern how much "ownership" over the process Governor Dayton (and by extension, Commissioner Cassellius) believes he has. At any rate, it will make for another interesting discussion to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

No comments: