Critics Worried Common Core Task Force Won't Include Opposition Voices From Legislature

You can’t always get what you want, the Rolling Stones tell us, but sometimes you get what you need.

I believe that’s where the passionate and energetic opponents of Common Core find themselves heading into the 2015-2017 legislative interim. They lost a bruising battle in the legislature over bills that would have, among other things, withdrawn the state from the Smarter Balanced Consortium (one of the NGO’s tasked with implementing Common Core in the states adopting it) and established a committee to review state standards and testing.

But now after a disastrous rollout of Common Core testing this spring Superintendent Kirsten Baesler – a vocal proponent of Common Core who is facing a tough re-election fight in 2016 – is in the process of forming a taskforce to review state education standards and testing. “Everything will be on the table,” reported the Bismarck Tribune of the task force in May after a discussion with Baesler, “including leaving the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.”

In other words, the Common Core critics may not have won during the legislative session, but Baesler is giving them another opportunity to make their case and withdraw the state from Common Core.

So far so good, right?

But at least one critic of Common Core, the lawmaker who led the charge against the standards in the Legislature, is saying that the process of picking members of the task force leaves something to be desired.

…in order for the task force to have credibility you have to get some level of buy-in from all involved on the issue. Nathe can argue that Rep. Kasper isn’t on the House Education Committee, and Baesler can say that she doesn’t want to dirty her hands with legislative politics, but there’s no question that Kasper was the most visible opponent of Common Core in the Legislature.

Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo) got in touch with me yesterday saying that he had applied to Baesler to be a member of the task force. He felt that, given his position as the de facto leader of the opposition to Common Core in the Legislature would give him a seat. But Baesler told him that the participation of lawmakers on the taskforce would be up to chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees. That would be Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck) and Senator Tim Flakoll (R-Fargo), respectively.

Outspoken proponents of Common Core, both.

You can kind of see the issue Kasper is having.

I spoke with Baesler last night and she told me that while she “absolutely” wants “diversity” of views on the task force, she also doesn’t want to stick her nose into the “politics” of the Legislature. So she made it clear that whoever Nathe and Flakoll picked would be final.

Senator Flakoll has not responded to my inquiries, but I spoke with Rep. Nathe this morning. “She asked me to appoint some people to [the task force],” he told me. “I gave her office the names earlier in the week. I already talked to the two people who work in education.”

I told Nathe of Kasper’s concerns, and he said it wouldn’t make sense for Kasper to serve on the task force. “Rep. Kasper doesn’t really work in education,” Nathe told me, “he’s not on the committee.”

“Why would I appoint someone who doesn’t sit on our committee and doesn’t understand the education committees?” he added. “Why, just because he’s the loudest? Just because he’s the prime sponsor of the bill?”

But he did say that Kasper could engage in the process the same way other citizens are welcome to give their input.

“He can do what every other citizen does and come to the meeting and testify.”

Nathe declined to name the two lawmakers he had chosen to serve on the task force, but did acknowledge that both serve on the House Education Committee.

Nathe also doesn’t seem to be holding out much hope that this task force will placate critics of Common Core. “I know the critics will never be happy about any process. They’re going to be looked at with a jaundiced eye,” he said.

But Baesler struck a more optimistic tone when I spoke with her. “One thing the mainstream media is missing on this is that we are going to be looking at all of the testing,” she said adding that the North Dakota Home School Association will be represented on her task force. “How much testing do we really need to be doing? Do we just need to do the ACT test in the 11th grade? Should we be testing every subject in every grade every year?”

She expressed hope that federal legislation will pass soon giving more autonomy back to the states on the education issue.

When I pointed out that Rep. Kasper’s bill to withdraw from Smarter Balance and create a committee to review and establish state standards sounded remarkably like the task force she’s forming, Baesler told me that she would have worked with Kasper had he asked her.

“He never once communicated with me,” prior to having already decided on a course of action with legislation, Baesler told me.

I really like what Baesler is doing with this task force, as a concept anyway. I think it’s good for the state – the sturm und drang over Common Core isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so we may as well confront it – and politically it’s a wise move by Baesler who has to be worried about 2016 given that she’s made enemies of a vocal faction of her own party on this issue.

And she has won praise from some of the state’s editorial boards. “[S]tate officials aggressively should find out what went wrong, and avoid any effort to sweep the problems under the rug,” opined the Grand Forks Herald editorial board.

“Hopefully Baesler can create a task force with a wide range of expertise willing to work together to improve education and assessment in the state,” wrote the Bismarck Tribune editorial board. “It would benefit everyone.”

But in order for the task force to have credibility you have to get some level of buy-in from all involved on the issue. Nathe can argue that Rep. Kasper isn’t on the House Education Committee, and Baesler can say that she doesn’t want to dirty her hands with legislative politics, but there’s no question that Kasper was the most visible opponent of Common Core in the Legislature.

Leave him out in the cold is going to be a serious blow to an otherwise credible endeavor.

UPDATE: Just got this in from Senator Flakoll:

I don’t think it is really a Common Core task force. More of an assessment one to “examine what North Dakota needs and values from student assessments.”
My intent would be to have two Senators on the committee (based on the request to me).  I have not decided if I will serve on the committee or have someone else take that spot. To date I have not had the opportunity to visit with any of the prospects from my list.  I am thinking that between Chairman Nathe and myself, we will need to have one member of the minority party with knowledge of the issues on the committee.
I would not be asking any House members to serve on the committee – that would not be what protocol dictates. I have had Senators who have been suggested and others have been curious about serving on the committee.  Baesler would like to know by June 15 if I plan to serve or which to assign someone else. I would hope that by July 1 that I would have a Senator in place for the second slot.
I will also confer with Leadership on who they feel would be a good fit for the committee.
Whomever I request to be on the committee will have a history of showing that they can dissect challenges and provide improvements that can be adopted or passed through the Legislative process.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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