Minnesota Rejects Common Core Math Standards

Published August 13, 2010

Despite nearly two-thirds of U.S. states choosing to sign on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, Minnesota has decided to opt out of the math portion of the national curriculum frameworks.

The Gopher State was among the first to join the voluntary effort by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009 to develop common English and math frameworks. But now Minnesota officials have decided to step back—and risk losing a portion of federal Race to the Top and Title I funds—in order to maintain control of their own education standards.

Texas and Alaska opted out of the initiative last year. Several other states are still debating whether to adopt the final standards, which were released in June. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged states to adopt the standards, saying it would improve their chances of winning a portion of the remaining $3.4 billion in federal Race to the Top funds in September. Minnesota was not included among the 19 round-two finalists.

‘Leery of Federal Involvement’

Although most states have adopted the national standards with little dissent or debate, resistance to the Common Core initiative in Minnesota has been surprisingly bipartisan.

“I think you would find a mixture of perspectives” among opponents to adoption, said Andrew Wittenborg, director of public affairs for Minnesota’s Democrat Farm Labor Caucus.

“It is a fact that state legislators are leery of what federal involvement means,” said State Rep. Carlos Mariani (D-St. Paul), chairman of the Minnesota House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee. “Given the federal government’s less than honorable history in under-providing special education funding after mandating it as a priority, we are prudent to be skeptical.”

Tom Mushlinski, executive director of Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an organization of professionals working to improve math instruction, echoed Mariani’s sentiment.

 “We were skeptical,” said Mushlinski. “The [Common Core] standards were not viewed as bad, but there was not enough improvement from the ones adopted in 2007 to start over again.”

Math Standards Too Low

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) made the final decision to opt out of the Common Core math frameworks.

“Essentially, the common core math standards did not meet the expectations,” said MDE spokeswoman Christine Dufour. In 2007 the state adopted new math standards, revamping requirements for students to prepare to take algebra in 8th grade. According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II test, the number of students scoring proficient in the math has increased 11 percent in the last three years.

“More students are achieving proficiency and meeting Minnesota’s rigorous math and reading requirements,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said. “We need to continue our efforts to prepare every Minnesota student for success in the 21st century through greater academic rigor.”

Common Core ‘Less Rigorous’

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) supports the decision to keep Minnesota out of the Common Core math standards for now.

“The math portion of the draft K-12 education standards unveiled today would water down Minnesota’s rigorous standards that require students to take algebra by eighth grade,” Pawlenty’s office said in a statement. “In a hypercompetitive world, Minnesota should not adopt less rigorous standards than we currently have in place.”

Although Rep. Mariani expressed reservations about excessive federal meddling, he criticized Pawlenty, saying his stance “will isolate Minnesota from an important national discussion.”

“If common standards and assessments don’t just invite another level of bureaucratic oversight, if it smartly allows us to pool our resources and open up the ability to develop ever-empowering assessments that aid students and teachers, then it may well be the right thing to do,” Mariani said.

‘A Step Backwards’

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, did not issue a statement taking a position on Common Core, but the union criticized the national proposed standards in its July newsletter.

Adopting the national math standards, the union newsletter writer argued, “would be a step backward,” for the state. The writer argued, “The national standards ‘are better than probably at least 85 percent of the [participating states’] standards … but it’s not better than Minnesota.”

Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a policy analyst in education studies for the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.