Yecke holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Hawaii, a master's of science degree in teaching from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Virginia. Yecke served on the Virginia State Board of Education under Governor George Allen (1995–1998) and then was Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Education (1998–2001) and Secretary of Education (2001-2002) under Governor Jim Gilmore. She also served as the Director of Teacher Quality and Public School Choice at the U.S. Department of Education for the Bush administration (2002–2003), during which time she was detailed to the White House as a senior advisor for USA Freedom Corps. Yecke then became the Commissioner of Education for the State of Minnesota for Governor Tim Pawlenty (2003–2004).
As Minnesota's education commissioner, Yecke drew criticism in what was a tumultuous political battle between the newly elected governor and the DFL-controlled Senate. Yecke held her job from January 2003 to May 2004 before being forced out in a party-line vote. She then worked as a senior fellow at the Minnesota-based conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment for education and social policy, but has not been associated with the group since 2005.
Yecke ran as a Republican for Congress in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District before being offered the job in Florida as Gov. Jeb Bush's Chancellor of K-12 Education, a position she took up on October 3, 2005.
Yecke had previously announced her run for the Florida state education commissioner's chair earlier in 2007, and had been among the list of three finalists being considered. However, it was announced on Oct. 8, 2007, that the position was given to Eric J. Smith, a senior vice president with the New York-based College Board. Having lost her bid for education commissioner, Florida's top public schools job, Yecke resigned as Florida's kindergarten-through-12th-grade chancellor in December 2007.
On April 25, 2008, it was announced that Yecke was named dean of graduate programs for Harding University. Harding is a private liberal arts Christian university located in Searcy, Arkansas.
Intelligent design and Teach The Controversy
In July 2003 during her term as education commissioner, Yecke proposed that the Minnesota Science Standards include a technique favored by intelligent design proponents called Teach The Controversy in science curriculum. She cited the pro-intelligent design Santorum Amendment as supporting her effort. The versions of the Minnesota Science Standards circulated by Yecke contained language used by intelligent design advocates in the Teach The Controversy campaign which casts doubt on evolution while offering intelligent design as a competing theory. The version that was circulated among the public did not include these revisions. PZ Myers and other critics of intelligent design deemed the move an attempt to misinform the public in order to sway the committee decision in favor of intelligent design using public opinion.
In her campaign to be Florida's next education commissioner, Yecke has attempted to groom her reputation online. In June 2007, she disputed the accuracy of a 2003 newspaper article which reported her as saying that the Minnesota state education department policy supported schools deciding whether to include intelligent design in science curricula, and hired the Internet accuracy-watchdog service ReputationDefender as her advocate. Wesley R. Elsberry, marine biologist and critic of intelligent design whose blog The Austringer had referenced the article linking Yecke to the Teach The Controversy method of promoting intelligent design was contacted by ReputationDefender in June 2007. They requested that he remove a quote from Yecke on the issue of teaching creationism and intelligent design on the grounds that she disputes the quote in the original newspaper article. In considering the request Elsberry has asked for proof that the newspaper article did indeed quote Yecke inaccurately, going so far to contact the original reporter. Readers of blog then provided links to archived recordings of Twin Cities Public Television broadcasts from 2003 showing Yecke saying that teaching intelligent design was a decision local school districts could undertake and teaching intelligent design is supported by the Santorum Amendment. Elsberry says her statements in these broadcasts are consistent with the quote Yecke disputed and tried to remove in the newspaper article. PZ Myers, who had commented extensively on Yecke's support of intelligent design in the past, described the recent effort by Yecke to distance herself from intelligent design as an attempt to "whitewash the past and silence her critics".
Allegations of nepotism
Both in Minnesota in 2003 and in Florida in 2005, allegations of nepotism were raised by state legislators and the press over Yecke's husband being placed in state jobs soon after Yecke had taken her positions. During her tenure as Minnesota's education commissioner in 2003, Yecke's husband was appointed as a deputy commissioner with the state's economic development agency by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty during a hiring freeze.
Again, in 2005, this time as the K-12 education chancellor in Florida, Yecke's husband was hired as the deputy secretary of professional regulations by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). This hiring later raised questions by politicians whether his qualifications did not significantly distinguish him from the rest of the qualified candidate pool available in Florida. However, the Florida Department of Education pointed out that "there was 'absolutely' no discussion of a job for her husband" and DBPR secretary Simone Marstiller said that "she was 'taken aback'" by the concerns, "calling his qualifications 'very impressive.'"
- The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools
- 296 pages. Praeger Publishers 2003. http://www.waragainstexcellence.com/
- Mayhem in the Middle: How middle schools have failed America, and how to make them work
- 65 pages. Thomas B. Fordham Foundation 2005. http://www.fordhamfoundation.org/foundation/publication/publication.cfm?id=345
- Yecke: "every local district should have the freedom to teach creationism if that is what they choose" Minnesota Public Radio, June 9, 2003.
- Cain, Andrew (1998-03-31). "Va. schools get new chief". Washington Times. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- Hotakainen, Rob (2003-02-03). "Yecke well-schooled in education debates; Minnesota's new education chief tackled some tough topics in Virginia, inspiring both delight and dismay". Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- "Center of the American Experiment - Commentary and Op-ed Archive". Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- Solochek, Jeffrey S. (2007-02-28). "Sorry, Charlie: She's not applying". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
- Stacy, Mitch (2007-10-08). "College Board administrator named Florida education commissioner". Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- Jeb Bush ally Yecke out as state K-12 chancellor Associated Press, December 20, 2007.
- Conflict evolves in science standards debate John Welbers. St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 18, 2003.
- More than 80 to work on new science, history lesson plans Norman Draper. Star Tribune, July 18, 2003.
- "Squelched Standards Hedged on Evolution 2 Versions' Circulation as Simple 'Screw-Up'". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. 2003-09-10. pp. A1.
- How confusing! PZ Myers. Pharyngula (blog), September 10, 2003.
- Heart of Darkness: a trip to Willmar PZ Myers. Pharyngula (blog), September 26, 2003.
- Intelligent Design is Creationism in a Cheap Tuxedo PZ Myers. Pharyngula (blog), September 29, 2003.
- "Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, K-12 chancellor for Florida’s Department of Education, has apparently hired a company called ReputationDefender to search the Internet for information about her and, on her behalf, challenge items she disputes. Florida Citizens for Science member Dr. Wesley Elsberry recently received an e-mail from the organization asking him to remove or modify a quote he has on his personal website about Yecke. The quote was taken from a Minnesota newspaper that reported Yecke specifically had included a go-ahead to schools in that state to incorporate 'intelligent design' into science benchmarks in 2003. Yecke was the Minnesota Commissioner of Education at that time." Yecke Information Challenged Florida Citizens for Science, June 25, 2007.
- Matus, Ron (2007-06-26). "Candidate: Story on me is wrong. The education official disputes a newspaper and a blogger.". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
Back in October 2003, the Princeton Union Eagle wrote that Cheri Yecke, then Minnesota's education commissioner, explained in "advance publicity" for a public hearing that "schools could include the concept of 'intelligent design' in teaching how the world came to be." Big news? Apparently not. The line was buried in the 22nd paragraph. But four years later, Yecke is Florida's K-12 chancellor and a leading candidate to be its next education commissioner. And now she says the newspaper got it wrong. Through an Internet company called reputationdefender, Yecke recently asked a scientist who riffed on the statement to either remove his blog post or modify it.
- Elsberry, Wesley R. (2007-06-26). "Cheri Yecke, Intelligent Design, and Scrubbing the Past". The Austringer. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
- Yecke in Her Own Words Wesley R. Elsberry. The Austringer, June 29, 2007.
- Minnesota education standards and creationism PZ Myers. Pharyngula (blog), July 20, 2003.
- The futility of being Cheri Yecke PZ Myers. Pharyngula (blog) June 26, 2007.
- Husband's Hiring Raises Concerns Joe Follick. The Ledger, November 3, 2005.