Tell it to the judge: Raise our standards

Proposed controversial K-12 social studies standards are one step closer to formal adoption following the recent release of the Minnesota Department of Education’s Statement of Need and Reasonableness (SONAR). (For a refresher on the years-long revision process, visit here.)

Intended to provide background on and reasons why the changes to the social studies standards are “needed” and “reasonable,” MDE’s SONAR states the current standards need to be repealed in their entirety and replaced to “reflect the reality and condition of the world today” to “help ensure that students have the skills necessary for long-term success.”

Which, according to MDE, includes a “shift away” from standards “that list a set of content students are expected to know” to standards that focus “on the underlying concepts and skills” of social studies education.

The SONAR will be reviewed by an administrative law judge before the 25 new standards — on citizenship and government, economics, geography, U.S. and world history, and ethnic studies — will enter Minnesota public classrooms. Only the standards, not the corresponding benchmarks, are involved in this rulemaking proceeding.

This is where Minnesotans come in.

Public comment period

From now until Wednesday, October 25 at 4:30 p.m., public comments can be submitted here to the judge for him to consider in conjunction with MDE’s justifications in its SONAR document.

Because the judge is weighing whether the proposed social studies standards comply with the statutory requirements for revising academic standards, American Experiment encourages public comments to focus on these requirements and point out procedural inconsistencies.

For example, under Minnesota state statute 120B.021, academic standards must be clear, concise, objective, measurable, and grade-level appropriate.

Below are a couple of examples of standards that do not appear to meet those goals.

Currently, a citizenship and government standard is as follows.

The United States is based on democratic values and principles that include liberty, individual rights, justice, equality, the rule of law, limited government, common good, popular sovereignty, majority rule and minority rights.

Under the proposed changes, it now reads as follows.

Subp. 2. Citizenship and government.
B. Democratic Values and Principles: The student will explain democratic values and principles that guide governments, societies, and communities and analyze the tensions within the United States constitutional government.

The proposed changes remove foundational knowledge and context that exist in the current wording, lack specificity, and introduce conclusions to fulfill without content.

Here is a proposed geography standard.

Subp. 4. Geography.
E. Culture: The student will investigate how a sense of place is impacted by different cultural perspectives.

It is not clear what is meant by “sense of place” or how teachers will be expected to interpret that.

The addition of ethnic studies as a strand of social studies, despite it not being included in the state’s definition of social studies, introduces standards that also appear to contradict how academic standards should be written.

Subp. 6. Ethnic studies.
A. Identity: The student will analyze the ways power and language construct the social identities of race, religion, geography, ethnicity, and gender. The student will apply understandings to one’s own social identities and other groups living in Minnesota, centering those whose stories and histories have been marginalized, erased, or ignored.

This standard is training students to view themselves and society primarily in terms of race and group identity, which is not objective or politically neutral. Using language such as “centering,” “marginalized,” “erased,” “ignored” deal with ideological framing and are not objective.

Subp. 6. Ethnic studies.
B. Resistance: The student will describe how individuals and communities have fought for freedom and liberation against systemic and coordinated exercises of power locally and globally. … The student will organize with others to engage in activities that could further the rights and dignity of all.

Preparing students for political activism and to “resist” our nation’s fundamental institutions is not objective and is beyond the scope of what we should expect from academic standards. Additionally, there is an assumption that children have the requisite knowledge on what constitutes “systemic and coordinated exercises of power.”

Subp. 6. Ethnic studies.
C. Ways of Knowing and Methodologies: The student will…apply lessons from the past in order to eliminate historical and contemporary injustices.

How do you measure the elimination of an injustice? And who decides that it has, in fact, been eliminated? This standard is not measurable, nor is it concise because of its broad ask.

Request a public hearing

*UPDATE: Thanks to those who requested a public hearing on the social studies standards! It will be held on November 8 from 6-8 p.m. and November 9 from 1-4:15 p.m. Click on each date to find the webinar link and call-in number.

This is another opportunity for Minnesotans to weigh in on the proposed social studies standards.

For a request to be valid it must:

  • include your name and mailing address
  • be emailed to Rogers at [email protected] or mailed to Rogers at the Minnesota Department of Education (400 NE Stinson Blvd., Minneapolis, MN 55413)
  • request a hearing on the “Proposed Permanent Rules Relating to K-12 Academic Standards in Social Studies,” Revisor’s ID Number R-4733
  • identify the rules (standards) you object to or state that you oppose the entire set of rules
  • be received by 4:30 p.m. on October 25

Here is an example:

Dear Ms. Rogers,

I hereby request a hearing on the “Proposed Permanent Rules Relating to K-12 Academic Standards in Social Studies,” Revisor’s ID Number R-4733. I oppose the entire set of rules.



Local control

Regardless of what version of standards gets sent to school districts for implementation, school boards have the authority to select curriculum and instructional materials.

Additionally, parents and community members should ask their school boards about serving on a district’s advisory committee, which helps plan and improve the instruction and curriculum affecting state and district academic standards. “Whenever possible, parents and other community residents must comprise at least two-thirds of advisory committee members.”