Herald and Journal, Dec. 4, 2000

Report says Profile of Learning is failure

By Renee Doyle, President
Maple River Education Coalition

Achieve, Inc. and CBE (Council for Basic Education) released their evaluation of Minnesota's Profile of Learning on Nov. 13.

The Achieve/CBE Report is totally consistent with the conclusions of Minnesota's teachers, students and parents. That is, the report describes how the Profile of Learning is a dumbing down of the curriculum in our schools.

The report lists three strengths of the Profile, but it also identifies six major defects. The liabilities of the Profile outweigh its assets by a two-to-one ratio. In addition, the listed strengths of the system are highly problematic.

The first identified strength, for example, is that the Profile is a "standards-based" system (meaning that the standards are set by state government, as opposed to being set by professionals in the various fields, as determined by local districts).

The second listed strength is that the Profile is "performance-based" as opposed to being knowledge-based (another characteristic of the new system of education), while the third strength is that the Profile offers students "multiple ways" to show what they can do.

All these "strengths" are merely characteristics of the new (and controversial) program of education being forced upon all the states. Since Achieve/CBE is committed to this brand of education, calling its features "strengths" is to merely engage in circular reasoning.

The identified defects in the Profile, however, are far more substantive.

The first defect, as stated in the report, is the following: "The emphasis on applied learning in the Profile of Learning comes with a price: content knowledge in each of the academic disciplines is minimized."

In other words, Achieve/CBE has echoed the objection of many Minnesota citizens to the Profile; namely, that it has sacrificed academic achievement in order to emphasize application. The report also correctly observes that overemphasis on application is unworkable because students cannot apply knowledge which they do not possess.

Other defects of the Profile which are noted in the report include the obvious conclusion that states cannot have "core" standards in as many as 10 (now 11) learning areas. To have core standards means that the standards emphasize a core-curriculum of language, mathematics, science, and social science ­ four areas, not 11.

The report also states, repeatedly, that the Profile standards are too vague and superficial to be meaningful.

The observations by Achieve/CBE, as stated above, appear to be accurate and significant. At the same time, however, the Achieve/CBE report fails to directly deal with the subsequent question that must be raised; namely, can the defects in the Profile be corrected or are they inherent in the Profile system? The answer to that question is that not only do the liabilities of the Profile outweigh its (supposed) assets, the most significant liabilities cannot be remedied without scrapping the Profile.

The Profile of Learning is designed to contain the high-school graduation standards for all public school students. The Profile is also, by its very nature, a performance-based system, not a knowledge-based system. Can a performance-based system, which all students must complete, require enough specific academic content so as to be a meaningful graduation requirement for all students? It cannot be done.

The nature of performance-based and standards-based requirements (OBE) is that they must have a low common denominator so that all students can complete them. That is why students who cannot pass the Basic Standards Test can, nevertheless, complete the Profile of Learning.

As a consequence, the real standard for graduation in Minnesota has become one of merely going through the motions. As Augenblick and Meyers observed, "little more than participation is required."

It is hoped that the Minnesota Legislature will agree with Achieve/CBE that the Profile of Learning is a flawed system. It is also hoped that the Legislature will stop experimenting on our children by forcing them into an incoherent system that cannot be repaired.

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