Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Academic Standards Law is Part of Minnesota Adequate Education Framework

We've been writing about the legal framework in Minnesota that describes an adequate K-12 education.  I'm writing these posts, because plaintiffs in two litigations (Forslund and Cruz-Guzman) have used the phrase "adequate education" as part of their assertion that disadvantaged students in Minnesota are being unlawfully deprived of a quality education.   In response, Governor Dayton and Commissioner Cassellius have asserted that the definition of that adequate education is beyond the reach of the courts, and is allocated entirely to the legislature.   However, in our view, that defense is irrelevant to enforcement of the Constitutional education clause to protect the rights of students to an adequate education, because the legislature has already defined adequate education:  the only constitutional question is whether the legislature has failed to implement a general, uniform, thorough and efficient system to deliver the education that the legislature has required. 

The constitutional education clause requires the legislature to provide a general, uniform, thorough and efficient system of public education.  It makes senses, doesn't it, that the legislature should play a leading role in deciding what level of education should be expected of Minnesota students, what level of education Minnesota school districts are expected to deliver.   In a recent case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the definition of an adequate education is not a judicial function, but is reserved to the Courts.  But for some reason, the Court failed to understand that Minnesota has a robust and rigorous legislative framework describing an adequate Minnesota education.

In the first post in this series, we explained two components of the legislative definition of a Minnesota adequate education:  Minnesota's World's Best Workforce statute and Minnesota's special education law.  This third post describes Minnesota's Academic Standards law, found at Sections 120B.018 and following sections.   The Academic Standards Law plays a central role in the rigorous definition of adequate education which the legislature has established. 

The statute defines "Required standard" as follows:

"Required standard" means (1) a statewide adopted expectation for student learning in the content areas of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts, or (2) a locally adopted expectation for student learning in health or the arts.
Section 120B.02 tells us that: The legislature is committed to establishing rigorous academic standards for Minnesota's public school students.....To that end, the commissioner shall adopt in rule statewide academic standards..."   Together, these departmental rules along with th Minnesota's Academic Standards statutes impose two basic requirements for students by the time that they graduate.  Students must:    
(1)    Satisfactorily complete the state course credit requirements under Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.024.  
(2)    Satisfactorily complete all state academic standards (or local academic standards where state standards do not apply.)  See Minnesota Statutes section 120B.021 subdiv 1.  
At this point, we are entitled to ask, how a Court could arrive at the conclusion that the Minnesota legislature has not established academic standards defining an adequate education? The academic standards law commands the Commissioner of Education to draft rules that set rigorous standards for mathematics, language arts, social studies among other subjects.  The academic standards rules are found in the Minnesota Code of Agency Regulations Part 3501, where one finds academic standards governing reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, arts, science, and social studies.  The Minnesota Department of Education explains that
The Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards are the statewide expectations for student achievement in K-12 public schools. The standards identify the knowledge and skills that all students must achieve in a content area by the end of a grade level or grade band.....All students—including students with unique learning needs—must meet the credit requirements and satisfactorily complete all state and local standards in order to graduate.
The state has an elaborate system to measures district, school and student progress towards meeting these adequacy goals.  All public school students must be assessed in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school. All public school students must be assessed in science in grades 5, 8, and once in high school. All public schools in Minnesota administer the following tests: •Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) •Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS) in reading and mathematics.   We'll post on the measurement structure later.

The academic standards law provides a robust framework describing an adequate Minnesota education.

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