Forget Common Core: Education Policy Should Be Set By North Dakotans

Forum Communications reporter Jennifer Johnson has a story out regarding “tensions” building over the Common Core issue based on emails between lawmakers and lobbyists “obtained by the Herald.”

And by “obtained by the Herald” they of course mean they read SAB back on December 24th. But whatever.

[UPDATE: In an email, Johnson writes: “About your post from today – I requested the emails from Jon Martinson.  I never saw your post at all, in fact. I initially planned on writing a different Common Core story than what ended up in the paper, so when I heard about the emails I just asked for them.” Of course, Johnson might not ever have  heard of the emails had they not been published on SAB a week before her article, but that’s her story. I can’t dispute it. Forum Communications has a pretty lousy track record of selectively editing me out of stories I break, and flat-out insulting me in editorials, so pardon me if I’m skeptical.]

There’s no question that there will be an intense debate over Common Core in the coming session. Opponents of Common Core are outspoken (to put it mildly), but with big organizations like the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the teacher/public worker unions and the state School Board Association lining up in support change won’t come easy.

But for me the debate over Common Core is far less important than the debate over how education standards in North Dakota are set.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Common Core is a big distraction. It’s the latest fad. A shiny object dangled in front of the activists and bureaucrats that will tarnish a decade or so hence, like many policy fads before it, to be replaced by something new. Making the debate over education policy in the coming legislative session about just Common Core is a mistake.”[/mks_pullquote]

One of the major problems with education in America is that we’ve moved away from localism and flexibility toward top-down, one-size-fits-all policies. Common Core is a recent example of this sort of folly, as was No Child Left Behind before it.

These days school districts can’t even set school lunch policy without interference from the federal government.

On what planet does that make sense?

Rep. Jim Kasper, a Republican from Fargo, is leading the charge against Common Core in the legislature. Indeed, he’s already proposed legislation to “repeal” Common Core in the state (though Kasper told me in a conversation before Christmas that he didn’t like his initial draft of that legislation which I posted here on SAB and would be entirely revising it). But something Kasper said to me about the larger issue of education policy in this state made a lot of sense. He told me that his goal was to change how standards in North Dakota should be set.

That resonated with me. The fight in the 2015 legislative session should be less about Common Core than about North Dakota’s control over its own education policy.

What Kasper is hoping to achieve is to withdraw North Dakota from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium of which the state is currently a member. Membership in this consortium obligates the state to accept the consortium’s standards (i.e. Common Core). Kasper hopes to then create a process through which North Dakota develops its own standards for education.

The state would then be free to adopt whatever education standards leaders deem fit for our students. And, frankly, they could still adopt Common Core or whatever other set of standards they deem appropriate. But it would be a decision made independently by North Dakota, not foisted on the state by an interstate consortium.

A distinction without a difference? I don’t believe so. In public policy, how decisions get made is often as important as what decisions get made. I am for any policy that gives state and local leaders in North Dakota the maximum amount of flexibility to chart their own course.

Let’s face it: Common Core is a big distraction. It’s the latest fad. A shiny object dangled in front of the activists and bureaucrats that will tarnish a decade or so hence, like many policy fads before it, to be replaced by something new. Making the debate over education policy in the coming legislative session about just Common Core is a mistake.

Common Core as public policy will run its own course. What’s much more important is that North Dakota leaders maintain their independence to set policy for North Dakota students.

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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