Social Studies Standards Committee will hold public meeting this Thursday (March 25), emphasizes first draft’s focus was standards

The Department of Education is defending its first draft of revised social studies standards by stating this early version “provided a revision of the standards, not the benchmarks.”

The Social Studies Standards Committee will hold its next committee meeting to discuss the draft standards this Thursday, March 25 starting at 8:30 a.m. Here is the link to watch the first part of the meeting, and the link for the second part following the lunch break.

Per state law, the Minnesota Department of Education is tasked with reviewing and revising K-12 academic standards on a 10-year cycle. This year it is social studies’ turn. The social studies committee, handpicked by then-Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, released a first draft of proposed social studies standards early December.

The committee’s admitted “shift in approach to standards and social studies learning” was evident in the draft standards’ content, with references to many key aspects of history and civics replaced with controversial and hard-to-measure benchmarks.

After “significant public feedback” — 80 percent facilitated through American Experiment’s “Raise Our Standards MN” campaign — “the department is building more time into the process of revising the standards,” according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

The department has also updated its social studies page to state that the draft standards “focused first on the social studies standards themselves, and had not yet dug in to [sic] the benchmarks underneath each standard.”

The benchmarks listed in this first draft are simply examples of what could be included under each standard. Historical U.S. and world events like WWII and the Holocaust are being taught in Minnesota schools and will continue to be taught. During the standards review process, benchmarks are fully reviewed and revised after the standards have received feedback from the public in the first draft.

This statement is likely in response to public outcry over the draft’s removal of benchmarks on the Holocaust and key events and figures in world wars, the American Revolution and the Civil War, to name a few.

But the first draft includes nearly 400 benchmarks — benchmarks from the current standards, benchmarks that have been watered down from the current standards, and new benchmarks that aren’t in the current standards. If these are “examples,” why would the committee transfer some benchmarks but not ones that cover major historical U.S. and world events? It’s hard to understand why key events such as the Holocaust — the largest act of genocide in the 20th century — weren’t included while references to the genocide of indigenous peoples were.

The department may now state on its website that more benchmarks will be added, but adding in history benchmarks in later drafts is not mentioned in the first draft. Instead, the draft standards notes the plan is to add “further clarifications, connections to local contexts, and/or examples” to the benchmarks in later drafts. But examples in benchmarks are optional and are not required to be taught by state statute (unlike the standards and benchmarks).

The first draft standards also says it will add “contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities” and “full attention to issues of diversity and equity” to the second draft, but no written plan to add more U.S. or world history.

Even if the nearly 400 benchmarks included in the first draft are “simply examples,” the five proposed history standards pale in comparison to the 23 standards dedicated to history in the standards currently being taught. Instead of being organized by historical time periods (as they are currently), the draft history standards are organized within an ideological framework.

Minnesota’s K-12 academic standards identify the knowledge and skills required for all students to learn so they are set up for success in postsecondary education, skilled work and civic life. These social studies standards will be the statewide expectation for student learning in public schools, and it is critical there is accountability regarding what that content will be.