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Minnesota's Profile of Learning: What Is It?

July 21, 2002

--"To call the Profile of Learning high standards would be laughable if it weren't such a serious issue as the education of our children," -John Knapp, Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Southwest High School, Minneapolis.

--"The patient [Profile of Learning] may not be on life support yet, but it's getting awful close."
-Senator Dan Stevens, 2002 Legislative Conference Committee

"Shouldn't they be telling us to enjoy our youth and get the best liberal arts education so that we can actually figure out what we even enjoy? Instead they want to split us up into career groups." -Freshman at Central High School, Saint Paul

Minnesota's Profile of Learning: What Is It?

For the past four years, Minnesota's Profile of Learning has been the most hotly contested item at the state legislature, teachers have found themselves subjected to unreasonable federal mandates, and our children have become the subjects of an experimental education. So what is the Profile of Learning all about?

Minnesota's Profile of Learning is the second part of the new Graduation Standards. The Grad Standards consist of two parts: 1) The Basic Skills Test and 2) The Profile of Learning. To graduate from a public high school in Minnesota, students must pass the Basic Skills Test with a 75% passing score, and they must have at least a score of "1" on required Profile of Learning "performance packages."

1) Basic Skills Test: Written at 6th grade level, but first administered in 8th grade, the Basic Skills Test sets minimum competencies in math and reading. Students who do not pass this test are allowed to retake it every year until they pass. The Basic Skills Test is the only objective test of academic achievement the state requires students to complete for high school graduation. Many are concerned that it only requires 6th grade level competencies.

2) Profile of Learning: Many recognize the Profile as its "performance packages," now renamed "standards." The performance packages consist of 80 content standards, 56 of them required in grades K-8th and 24 from 9th -12th. Packages are highly specific and detailed projects that focus on attitudes, values and beliefs of students, rather than on transmitting knowledge.

According to the U of M Study, The Impact of MN's "Profile of Learning, released April of 2002, underlying the development of these "high standards" is a "constructivist philosophy toward teaching and learning". No longer is the focus of education on academics; rather children "construct" their own meaning. Proponents of the Profile of Learning describe them as high standards, when in fact the Profile has continuously received failing grades from outside evaluators.

It is almost impossible to fail a performance package as a score of "0" represents an "incomplete," not a failing, grade. But then, how is one to grade a performance package? Defined by the Graduation Rule, a performance package is "a group of assignments and application activities [exercises] that a student must perform to demonstrate completion of the specifications of a content standard." For example, one class of juniors and seniors spent hours constructing a Mexican Government building out of graham cracker to fulfill their World Language requirement. Teachers often have to sacrifice chapters of academic education to pave way for time-consuming projects.

While much more could be written to further explain the Profile of Learning, it can be summarized as a federally mandated system which shifts the focus away from academics towards minimum competencies, attitudes, values, and beliefs. While project learning has been always been incorporated into education, students must first be factually grounded..

Minnesota's Profile of Learning: Where Does It Come From?

In 1994, the federal education funding bill (HR6, also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- ESEA) passed, the same year that the federal GOALS 2000 passed. HR6 required that states must comply with the so-called "voluntary" GOALS 2000 standards in order to continue receiving federal education money for schools, principally Title I money. Minnesota was already a prototype for the new education system, and in 1995, Minnesota accepted the GOALS 2000 money, along with its mandate to implement the Profile of Learning. GOALS 2000 created federal education standards and their aligned curriculum in all 50 states. Minnesota's Goals 2000 grant application states that the Graduation Standards are the "centerpiece" of Minnesota's compliance with the federal Goals 2000 regulations.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are the vehicle created to track and enforce the implementation of the Profile of Learning. The MCAs are a statewide system of assessments to hold schools, districts and teachers accountable to the Profile of Learning. State administrators used the federal education test, the National Assessement of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the federal job skills system (SCANS) as their foundation for the MCAs. All states are now required by federal law to participate in the federal NAEP test as a means of assuring that the state assessments are aligned with the federal standards.

Today, Senators and Representatives readily acknowledge that the Profile comes from the federal mandate, GOALS 2000. It was not always so. For many years, the Department of Children, Families & Learning (CFL), the state department in Minnesota which implements GOALS 2000 mandates, claimed that the Profile was simply a local initiative. However, in 2000, federal administrators threatened to pull federal funds from local schools if they did not implement the Profile of Learning. The Profile's federal connection is now accepted as fact.

Minnesota's Profile of Learning: What Structure Do They Put Into Place

Minnesota's Graduation Standards serve as the "cornerstone" [emphasis added] of Minnesota's School-to-Work System...This helps to ensure that Minnesota's efforts to establish a comprehensive statewide School-to-Work System are directly aligned with the state's Goals 2000 plan and the Graduation Standards." page 6, "Minnesota School-to-Work Initiative."

By shifting the emphasis of education away from academics, and placing it on performance, the Graduation Standards have altered the purpose education. Instead of providing a broad base of knowledge to equip students as well-rounded individuals, students are now taught entry-level job skills and given the time to demonstrate their "proficiency" by working various jobs during the school day. For instance, Eden Prairie students discover their future by learning to operate a cash register, while a Saint Paul student gains experience in "media arts" in the Walgreen's photo department. If students wish to pursue a vocational, instead of academic track, in high school, they should be given the choice; however, all students should not be forced into vocational tracks.

Yet, students' definitions of success are being altered. Instead of valuing an education, they are taught from a young age to place sole value upon their productivity in the workforce. As one 4th Grade Hought. Miff. Social Studies book taught, "The term human resources has to do with the value, or importance, of people. Every person is valuable in some way and is a part of the nation's resources." Under a "critical thinking" question, the student is then asked, "If a worker goes on vacation, or if she is ill and can't work, is she still a human resource?" The answer is "She is not a human resource for that job." In Saint Paul and Minneapolis, under the name of Small Learning Communities, 8th graders are forced to have a career focus for their high school education.

The implementation of the Graduation Standards and School to Work places government in the driver's seat of our children's future by making them the advisers for future occupations. We force children to grapple with career choices at the ages of 12 and 13, while many adults are still experimenting to find their likes and dislikes. When an individuals horizon are limited by narrow training, they remain dependent on government for "lifelong learning," or retraining in the next set of career skills.

Minnesota's Profile of Learning: What Can Be Done?

As a parent, the most important thing to do is to become involved in your children's education. Start reviewing their curriculum, looking at what is and is not being taught. Many times, simply voicing your concern can bring about change. On other occasions, you will be made to feel like you are the only one to have these concerns. If that were the case, why has the Profile of Learning become one of the hottest issues in the state? State law requires that every school district allow for parental review of curriculum and allowance for alternative instruction if requested.

Minnesota law also provides protection against mandatory career tracking. If your child is made to choose a career cluster or spend school hours at a job-site, you have the authority to stop this.

Parental involvement and non-compliance can have the greatest impact in stopping this system.

On the legislative level, states must seek waivers to remove them from the mandates of GOALS 2000. If the waiver is denied, Minnesota taxpayers need to ask themselves if it is worth handing over 100% of classroom curriculum and testing to federal government mandates when only 2% of the total cost is being born by the federal government for compliance with those mandates. Both Vermont and Maryland are considering similar actions and opposition is occurring throughout every other state. Legislators need to hear their constituents' views on these issues.

The highest academic standards ever attained in practice in the history of Minnesota occurred without federal or state mandates or standards. Let us not fear true local control. This is the most viable avenue to academic excellence. To do otherwise will continue to lead us away from freedom.


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