Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Curriculum Content Standards Help Define a Minnesota Adequate Education

Minnesota's Educational Adequacy Framework Part IV

We've been writing about the legal framework in Minnesota that describes an adequate K-12 education.  Today's post provides follow up on our last post on the Minnesota Academic Standards.   The Academic Standards law commands the Department of Education that the Commissioner promulgate regulations on what students must learn. In essence, the Academic Standards law calls upon the Commissioner to  establish specific  learning content and specific academic standards that form part of the definition of a Minnesota adequate education.  That law requires that content standards be established  in literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies.  Today's post takes a look at the nature of these standards in the literacy domain, to emphasize the level of rigor and detail that has been established by the legislature.     

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 to these two litigations, Governor Dayton and Commissioner Cassellius (or their lawyers in the Attorney General's office on their behalf) have asserted that deciding the content of a Minnesota adequate education is beyond the reach of the courts, and instead allocated entirely to the legislature.   The suggestion seems to be that these litigations must fail, because there is, as yet, no legislatively defined adequate education   However, in our view, that defense is fundamentally wrong, because the legislature has already defined adequate education:  the court's focus should have been on whether the legislature has failed to implement a general, uniform, thorough and efficient system to deliver the adequate education that the legislature has already required.  

The Department's regulations require all districts  to put these state content standards into place so all students have access to high-quality content and instruction, (See Minnesota Department of Education's web page).  The Department's Standards Q and A explains: 
The standards will be reviewed again during the 2018-2019 school year.  The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach ....While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers. The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified herein.
Minnesota standards are grade- specific.  They form the core of Minnesota's core curriculum and instruction.  Teachers, curriculum specialists and district leadership are expected to align curriculum to these standards. Students are tested on their mastery of the standards through a massive program of state standardized testing.  The results of standardized tests are published annually, and the results are used extensively in the media to evaluate the performance of schools and districts against state established proficiency norms.  It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive system of adequacy demands than we have in Minnesota.   The real issue in Minnesota is whether the legislature has failed to provide districts the tools they need to achieve state established adequacy standards, and whether this failure adversely impacts disadvantaged students. 

It is thus essential that both the plaintiffs and defendants  and the courts in these constitutional litigations accept the expansiveness and the full rigor of the Minnesota content standards.    We keep hammering home the point that  there should be absolutely no doubt that the Minnesota legislature, aided by legislative authorized standards, has established robust and rigorous standards for  a public school education.     .  

Take, for example a few excerpts from the literacy standards for fourth graders, setting the following particularized expectations:

 ==Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking. a. Use relative pronouns (who, whose, whom, which, that) and relative adverbs (where, when, why). b. Form and use the progressive (e.g., I was walking; I am walking; I will be walking) verb tenses.c. Use  modal auxiliaries (e.g., can, may, must) to convey various conditions. d. Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns (e.g., a small red bag rather than a red small bag). e. Form and use prepositional phrases. f. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons. g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to, too, two; there, their      

  ==By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, drama, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently and independently with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

  ==Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and   traditional literature from different cultures, including American Indian.

  ==Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

   ==Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

These are just a sample of the required Minnesota standards in the reading, writing and speaking domain.   The K-12 standards in this domain alone consume over 30 pages. These are components of a massive infrastructure defining a Minnesota adequate education.

Below are sample sections from the MDE's narrative description of state exit expectations for  "Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Viewing, Listening, and Media Literacy and Language" taken from the above cited Q & A Standards.   These summaries are not the standards themselves
  • [Students] demonstrate independence [in Reading]:   Students can, without significant scaffolding, comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of types and disciplines, and they can construct effective arguments and convey intricate or multifaceted information. Likewise, students are able independently to discern a speaker’s key points, request clarification, and ask relevant questions. They build on others’ ideas, articulate their own ideas, and confirm they have been understood. Without prompting, they demonstrate command of standard English and acquire and use a wide-ranging vocabulary. More broadly, they become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials.
  • They build strong content knowledge. Students establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance. They become proficient in new areas through research and study. They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise. They refine and share their knowledge through writing and speaking.
  • They comprehend as well as critique. Students are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers, listeners and viewers. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.
This series begins with a Post on the World's Best  Workforce Law 
Past Posts on Education and Constitutional Law
McCleary v. State, Part I   McCleary v State Requires Legislature to Base Funding on Actual Cost
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part II
McCleary v State and Determining the Cost of Education
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part III
 McCleary v. State: what level of scrutiny is appropriate for legislative funding decisions
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part IV
Correlating the cost of education: fund the child.
Jvonkorff on Education  McCleary V. State Part V
Summary of Decision Network for Excellence
Washington Supreme Court Blog  
JvonKorff on Education, The Rose Decision 
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part I
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part II
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part III
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part IV

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