Draft social studies standards raise state statute questions
After months of delay, the second draft of Minnesota’s K-12 Social Studies standards was published on July 30. Aside from the concerning themes dominating the standards and benchmarks, which represent the application of Critical Race Theory and reflect its framework, there are questions over whether the draft document is aligned with state statute requirements for academic standards.
How academic subject areas are defined
According to Minnesota statute 120B.021, social studies includes four strands: history, geography, economics, and government and citizenship. In the second draft, ethnic studies has been added as a fifth strand, but the legality behind this action is in question based on how social studies as a subject area is defined.
How academic standards must be written
Minnesota statute 120B.021 also states that academic standards must “be clear, concise, objective, measurable, and grade-level appropriate.”
Many of the standards/benchmarks in the second draft do not fit this criteria.
For example, 1st graders must “construct meaning of the terms ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power and identify examples” (22.214.171.124). Constructing meaning of advanced concepts seems hardly grade-level appropriate for 1st graders.
Another benchmark has high schoolers “develop a respectful awareness about how ideas and norms about gender have changed over time” (126.96.36.199WH6) — by no means measurable language.
A fifth-grade benchmark calls the colonization and settlement in North America the “exploitation and genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of indigenous lands,” with other elementary school benchmarks focusing on “anti-colonial resistance movements” and connecting colonization to discrimination and oppression. Hardly objective given the negative language the benchmarks are couched in.
Who provides advice on academic standards development
Under Minnesota statute 120B.021, the Commissioner of Education “must consider advice from at least the following stakeholders in developing statewide rigorous core academic standards.”
- Parents of school-age children and members of the public throughout the state
- Teachers throughout the state and elementary and secondary school principals throughout the state
- Currently serving members of local school boards and charter boards throughout the state
- Faculty teaching core subjects at postsecondary institutions in Minnesota
- Representatives of the Minnesota business community
The current makeup of the Social Studies Standards Committee appears to be lacking several of these voices, such as those representing the Minnesota business community and parents (although the Minnesota Department of Education would likely say there is overlap to capture these voices).
Public feedback on the second draft closes at 4 p.m. on August 16. You can submit comments directly to the Minnesota Department and the social studies committee here.
The Minnesota legislature is not part of the standards revision and approval process. Once a final version of standards and benchmarks is complete and signed off on by the education commissioner, it enters a rule-making process overseen by an administrative law judge. This is likely where questions about state statute violations will be raised.