On Tuesday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Jenny Starr ordered that the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) may implement the vast majority of its new, left-wing social studies standards. The judge’s order comes after the new standards generated significant controversy during the multi-year approval process.
The chief judge’s order concurred and followed exactly a recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, a former Republican state legislator. Despite acknowledging that the new standards “represent a significant revision,” Judge Lipman recommended that nearly all of the new social studies standards be adopted.
Among the many changes was the introduction of a new social studies category: ethnic studies. According to MDE, the ethnic studies portion will ask students to “Analyze the ways power and language construct the social identities of race, religion, geography, ethnicity and gender. Apply these understandings to one’s own social identities and other groups living in Minnesota, centering those whose stories and histories have been marginalized, erased or ignored.”
The ethnic studies standards will be implemented at every K-12 level.
For example, according to the standards’ corresponding benchmarks, kindergartners will be asked to “Retell a story about an unfair experience that conveys a power imbalance.” Fourth-graders will be asked to “Explain the role that stereotypes and images based on race, religion, geography, ethnicity and gender play in the construction of an individual’s/group’s identity.”
Fifth-graders will be asked to “Analyze anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance movements of culturally, racially and ethnically diverse people throughout the world.”
Additionally, high-school students will be asked to “Investigate how the establishment of the Minnesota and U.S. government upheld and violated ideas of freedom, equality and justice for individuals and groups” and “Examine the construction of racialized hierarchies based on colorism and dominant European beauty standards and values.”
Despite his recommendation that the ethnic studies standards be adopted by the MDE, Judge Lipman did recommend that one portion of the ethnic studies standards be rejected: “Ways of Knowing and Methodologies.”
This portion of the ethnic studies standards asked students to “use ethnic and Indigenous studies methods and sources in order to understand the roots of contemporary systems of oppression and apply lessons from the past in order to eliminate historical and contemporary injustices.”
In his report, Judge Lipman wrote that this ethnic studies category was “impermissibly vague and not supported by an affirmative presentation of facts.” As such, Chief Judge Starr concurred with Judge Lipman and rejected Ways of Knowing and Methodologies.
Throughout his career, Judge Lipman has worked for many prominent Minnesota Republicans including U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. Additionally, Lipman served as a Republican state representative in the Minnesota House of Representatives for nearly four years. He became an administrative law judge in 2006.
Every 10 years, social studies standards for K-12 public schools are reviewed and updated by the Minnesota Department of Education. In 2020, MDE assembled a committee tasked with revising the standards. After several drafts, the commissioner of MDE approved the new standards. However, the process also requires that the standards be examined by an administrative law judge and undergo multiple rounds of public comment.
“With small changes from the Department of Education, these unmeasurable, subjective, and overly abstract standards will soon be imposed on local school districts, placing the burden of interpreting them on teachers,” said Center of the American Experiment education policy fellow Catrin Wigfall.
“Judge Lipman took a very narrow look at how the standards technically met the requirements of the rulemaking process, and the result is a standards document that will at best confuse teachers and students and at worst force them to endorse a divisive and conflict-based ideology,” she added.
According to MDE, the new standards are expected to be implemented during the 2026-27 school year.