In the Spotlight

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In the Light of Day
by Tim Pugmire
May 11, 2000
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Legislative leaders' last-minute rush early Wednesday morning to craft a compromise on changes to the Profile of Learning graduations standards may have resulted in some unintended concessions.

The deal allows school districts the choice of dropping the show-what-you-know system of graduation standards for an approach that puts more emphasis on tests. But some parties to the deal are discovering they may have conceded more than they wanted, and those provision could now unravel the deal.

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Session 2000: Education

Guinea Pig Kids
THE PROFILE OF LEARNING has been the target of criticism since it became a state-wide classroom requirement two years ago. The system emphasizes hands-on learning through projects and performance, rather than memorization and test-taking. Teachers, parents and students complained loudly about the complex paperwork, lesson plans, grading system and extra burdens placed on high-achieving students.

The agreement reached by legislative leaders addresses most of those concerns. It also allows school districts to choose between the revamped profile and a back-to-basics system favored by the House called the North Star Standard.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he likes the agreement. "What it does, with the Profile language, is place more decision-making back in the hands of locally-elected decision-makers by changing the process, and it allows another process to come forward," he says.

Senate negotiators had wanted teachers - and not just school boards - to have a binding vote in deciding which system to use. DFL Senator Larry Pogemiller says they conceded that point in exchange for maintaining the number of content standards students must complete at 24. "We will allow every school building, the teachers and administrators in that building, to vote on how many standards they're able to implement at this time, with then a plan on how to proceed to the full complement of standards," Pogemiller says. "The school board has to agree to the level of that each building wants to accomplish at this time."

Pogemiller says he thinks every Profile of Learning school will be up to the full 24 standards in three years. The provision requiring progress toward the full 24 standards came as a surprise to House Speaker Sviggum. He says he thought he'd agreed to a permanent reduction. "I'm not the expert education guru," Sviggum concedes. "If Senator Pogemiller is saying that, then obviously he's not being true to the intent of the agreement."

Sviggum says he's also troubled by language in the conference committee report that would force a district to retain the Profile of Learning if the teachers and school board cannot agree on a switch.

With the questions and concerns mounting, Profile of Learning opponents say they're urging lawmakers to vote against the bill when lawmakers return for a final day of business on Wednesday.

Renee Doyle of the Maple River Education Coalition, a longtime Profile opponent and an architect of the North Star Standard, says there are too many conditions in place to give schools a true choice. "The only thing that's in this bill is the North Star Standard name," Doyle says. "All other aspects of the North Star Standards after that do not exist. This is in name only."

Doyle says she'd prefer another year of the current Profile of Learning rules than have the agreement passed into law.

If the Legislature does pass the measure Wednesday, it could still fall victim to Governor Ventura's veto pen. He warned lawmakers earlier in the session against making any major changes to the graduation standards.

Ventura's education commissioner, Christine Jax, says she doesn't like the idea of competing graduation standards. She also calls the North Star Standard poorly designed. With final action on the Profile scheduled for the final days of the session, the Legislature will have no chance to try to override a veto.