Call to arms, Minnesota!


I got a letter from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. It seems there is some skullduggery going on to undermine our state science standards, from the Minnesota Rural Education Association. Well, cool: I’m an educator in rural Minnesota, but I know nothing about the MREA. I’m sympathetic to the idea of an organization that opposes/complements those elitist tyrants of the Twin Cities <shakes fist eastwards>. So what does the MREA want?

Minnesota Science Teachers and Citizens:

Science education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. As the Science Standards Revision Committee works to produce a new set of state science standards, the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is going to the state legislature this session in an attempt to reword statute 120B.023 thereby diluting the quantity, quality and rigor of the state science graduation requirements. Their proposed wording to the statute would still require biology and either chemistry or physics, but would reduce the current third science credit to a set of electives that does not require that “all academic standards in science” be met. This essentially removes earth and space science standards as part of the graduation requirements already in state statute 120B.024 (4) (ii.) and would allow districts to choose what science standards they will or will not teach.

If we, as science educators and citizens, want our students to receive a balanced, comprehensive background in all science disciplines, i.e., be scientifically literate, it is essential that you act now.

Below are samples of letters/emails that can be reworded or used as is and sent to your state representative and state senator. (These letters are also attached as a Word doc to this message.) Your voice must be heard or our new state science standards will be reduced in rigor and merit. Hand-picking which benchmarks will be taught in our schools harms science education for all students. A strong response from science teachers and citizens will tell the Legislature that our students deserve the best science education possible.

Go to https://www.leg.state.mn.us/ to find the names and e-mail addresses for your state representative and senator.

Please e-mail your state representative and senator as soon as possible. Be sure to include “Don’t Cut Science Education Standards” in the subject line. Thank you for your continuing efforts to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive science education.

Shorter version: they want to change the standards to allow high school students to focus narrowly in meeting their science requirements, and also want to open school districts to allow them to decide what science to teach. The first part I’m already disinclined to support because public school educations are already general enough — I’d rather they get a solid overview of multiple disciplines, because I care more about a broad background than that students get to ignore geology or chemistry if they want. As for the second part…I don’t trust rural school districts that much. State standards are there to make it harder for schools to compromise.

But OK, let’s be fair. What does the MREA say about their own plan?

MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan encouraged the state to amend the benchmarks statute 120B.023 that states, “Schools must offer and students must achieve all benchmarks for an academic standard to satisfactorily complete that state standard” by adding that high school students must meet the benchmarks in biology, physics or chemistry, and one elective set of benchmarks from the following: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences or engineering, or technology and the applications of science. Schools must offer at least two of these elective sets of benchmarks.

So currently, high school students should take biology, physics, and chemistry, and one of a defined set of electives. The MREA would like to change that to an or, and let the schools decide what the additional science elective ought to be. Why? They don’t do a good job of justifying the change.

Minnesota faces a well-documented skilled-worker shortage and Minnesota Academic Standards currently hold high schools back from providing the education and training needed to effectively prepare students for their future jobs. Today’s system operates on a one-size fits all approach for students no matter their plans after graduation.

Ugh. Education as a purely vocational enterprise. No, thank you. I have a lot of respect for good vocational training, but that’s not what public school should be about — it should be about giving citizens a broad, basic background knowledge so that they’re better informed, and know better what they want to do with their life after schooling. No matter their plans after graduation, students should have at least a rudimentary understanding of science (and art, and history, and language, etc.) Focusing on JOBS is counterproductive.

I also find it weird that they say they’re concerned about a skilled worker shortage, and their solution is … to teach less science? Strange. I think there must be other motives they aren’t talking about.

The MnSTA provides some sample letters for Minnesotans to use if you want to write to your rep. I’ll include them below the fold.

SAMPLE LETTERS TO YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVE AND STATE SENATOR
Date:
Representative [Name] or Senator [Name]:
It has come to my attention that the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) will
propose in this legislative session a change to statute 120B.023 that will reduce the rigor of
science education for all students by eliminating the graduation requirement in statute 120B.024
(4) (ii) that all high school students must meet all of the state academic standards in science.
As a science educator, I call on you to maintain the high school science graduation requirements
that include direct classroom instruction to meet all state academic standards in science. Without
a scientifically literate society, knowledgeable in all science disciplines, our state’s workforce
and economic future are seriously jeopardized.
Please maintain statutes 120B.023 and .024 as written. A balanced, rigorous and comprehensive
science education for all students is at stake.
Sincerely,
[Your name and contact information]


Date:
Representative [Name] or Senator [Name]:
One of your many important tasks as a Minnesota State Legislator is to help maintain and grow
the economy of this state. Minnesota’s economy, as you know, is directly dependent on its soil,
rocks/minerals, water and weather. A scientifically literate citizenry is essential to meet the
needs of the new workforce and to make the decisions that will steer our future.
Under the guise of “one size does not fit all” and “increasing student choice”, the Minnesota
Rural Education Association (MREA) is proposing to eliminate the need for all high school
students to meet the benchmarks for all academic standards in science. This is unacceptable. I
see this as an effort to bypass the earth and space science standards, effectively removing these
essential understandings of our earth and environment from our students’ science experience.
Our students need more earth science, not less.
Minnesota needs you to maintain the rigor of our students’ science education. Don’t let MREA
mislead you to thinking their proposal is somehow beneficial to Minnesota. It is a step toward
mediocrity and a simple effort to save the expense of teaching the crucial standards of earth
science in our high schools.
Please maintain statutes 120B.023 and .024 as written. A balanced, rigorous and comprehensive
science education for all students is at stake.
Thank you for your efforts to support a high-quality and comprehensive science education for all
Minnesota students.
Sincerely,
[Your name and contact information]


Date:
Representative [Name] or Senator [Name]:
I am very worried. The Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is proposing changes
to statute 120B.023 that would make the third science credit required for high school graduation
a potpourri of choices that will undermine the academic needs of students.
The MREA proposal would allow school districts to cherry-pick the benchmarks they want to
teach over the need for all students to have a comprehensive and inclusive science education.
Currently, all students need to show proficiency in all science standards as stated in statute
120B.024. We cannot allow every school district in Minnesota the option to choose the science
they will and will not teach.
Don’t let this happen. Everyone expects their children in any Minnesota public school to
develop the essential skills of reading, writing, and math as well as an understanding of history,
literature, health and technology. So why is a comprehensive science education becoming a
“choice”? I want my children to get all the science they can in order to compete in a world
economy based on science/engineering knowledge and skills.
You must maintain statutes 120B.023 and .024 as written. Thank you in advance for helping to
stop this blatant attempt to undermine science education in Minnesota.
Sincerely,
[Your name and contact information]


Date:
Representative [Name] or Senator [Name]
I am an advocate for science education. The future of Minnesota’s economy, environment and
our very planet are dependent on our students getting the best STEM education possible. This
means we set standards/benchmarks and assure that all of them are part of our children’s
education. This is not about “choice”. At the state level, this is about what every child in this
state must know and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school. That’s what
standards are all about.
The Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is proposing to change the statutes so high
schools get to choose what science standards they will teach. Making the third science elective
credit a group of “choices” means students miss exposure to essential knowledge/skills, and all
of the academic standards in science will not be addressed.
One of your many important jobs is to keep Minnesota “ahead of the pack” in STEM education.
Our economic future depends on it. I urge you to stop the MREA proposal from becoming
statute. It is a step backwards and would put Minnesota behind in science education while
endangering the future of our workforce, economy and environment.
Please maintain statutes 120B.023 and .024 as written. Thank you in advance for your efforts to
stop the MREA proposal.
Sincerely,
[Your name and contact information]

Comments

  1. nomdeplume says

    Seems to me the last thing America (and other countries) need is people knowing LESS Science. On the other hand there are certainly many politicians and lobby groups who see this as a valuable aim to make it easier to replace reality with ideology.

  2. whheydt says

    Looks to me like the real complaint is that they refuse to pay high enough salaries to find teachers who know the subjects they need and are willing to work in rural districts. Perhaps if someone told the locals that they need to pony up enough that the high schools can afford to pay for more science teachers they might be able to offer decent salaries and attract the the teachers they need to meet the standards.

  3. wcorvi says

    I think LIBRARY SCIENCE should fulfill the requirement. I mean, it has SCIENCE in the name, so that should be enough. It was the fact that I had two incredibly good science teachers in 7th and 8th grade that led me to a career in … science (and not the library type). Requirements had nothing to do with it.

  4. mareap says

    I’m generally an advocate of the MREA but in this case they are woefully wrong. The basic issues are 1) a dearth of high school science teachers in general, physical and earth/space science in particular , 2) rural districts pay squat, and 3) rural districts need flexible teachers who can teach more than one course – multiple field/general science license which the state of Minnesota no longer offers. Its a perfect storm – no one going into the field, low pay, and a state system that seems oblivious to the needs of schools other than multi-section suburban districts. I am hopeful that with the new profile of the MN legislature this issue will not gain any traction. I’m also proud of my fellow faculty in education and the sciences here in Winona who are actively advocating against this.

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