North Dakota Republicans Are Turning On Common Core


During the 2015 legislative session there was a pitched battle among lawmakers over Common Core. One faction wanted to pull the state away from the standards while a larger faction – the one which won the debate – wanted to stick with it.

Flash forward to 2016 and suddenly the Republicans are singing a very different tune on the issue.

State Senator Nicole Poolman – who was added to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s ticket as a candidate for lieutenant governor over the weekend – told Valley News Live’s Chris Berg last night that she’s for pulling the state out of the smarter balanced testing(pertinent segment starts at about the three minute mark in the clip above).

“We are working very hard to get rid of the Smarter Balanced test,” said Poolman, who is a school teacher in her day job. “What Common Core was supposed to be initially and what it is are two totally different things.”

Poolman acknowledged that she was previously a Common Core supporter.

“Watching the implementation over the last two years has been humbling because I thought it would be great,” she said. “Higher standards? We’ll save money? It was a conservative idea initially? The roll out has been problematic culminating in the Smarter Balanced examine that was troublesome last spring.”

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”We are working very hard to get rid of the Smarter Balanced test,” said Poolman, who is a school teacher in her day job. “What Common Core was supposed to be initially and what it is are two totally different things.”[/mks_pullquote]

Berg asked her directly, “No to Common Core?”

“No to Common Core,” she responded.

“I have been working for a year on a task force where I am working to get rid of the Smarter Balanced exam,” she said. “So we are trying to get rid of that test. The second thing is this summer we are going to be re-writing and re-evaluating the standards, because many people don’t know that in North Dakota we have to do that.”

“Three years is up this summer,” she added. “So both the English and math standards are going to be re-written and re-evaluated by North Dakota teachers and North Dakota stakeholders.”

She also said that the federal government is “loosening up a little” to allow more local control.

The task force Poolman is referring to is the one created by Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, who herself has been a supporter of Common Core but also saw her endorsement at the NDGOP convention get a strong challenge from an amateurish candidate running almost exclusively on the Common Core issue.

A little birdie tells me that we may see some movement in Baesler’s position on Common Core, too, over the summer.

UPDATE: I guess we don’t have to wait nearly so long to get Baesler’s position. I spoke with her this afternoon. “I think we all acknowledge that every single North Dakotan wants what’s best for our students,” she told me. “What’s become clear is that it takes all stakeholders to be on board. It’s obvious that all stakeholders are not on board with this, especially when it’s a group as large as important as parents and families.”

“It’s never going to work,” she added. “It’s time to come together and say that it’s time for North Dakota standards.”

Also, I called Stenehjem campaign manager Nate Martindale and confirmed that the governor candidate himself feels the same way.

“North Dakotans deserve North Dakota standards, and that starts with setting our own standards,” Martindale told me. “Wayne Stenehjem has been fighting federal overreach for the last 16 years as attorney general.”

That last comment aside, opposing Common Core is definitely a shift for most North Dakota Republicans.

Again, an effort to pull the state away from the standards failed in the Republican-dominated legislature last year.

So this is very much a new and interesting development.

I’ve reached out to the Doug Burgum campaign for their thoughts on Common Core. I’ll update when they get back to me.

UPDATE: This from Burgum campaign spokeswoman Kate Mund:

We have stated throughout the campaign that we do not support Common Core. More importantly, we support high standards for our kids, and we believe that North Dakota should not settle in order to have standards equal to the rest of the country. Rather, we should strive to have the best education system in the country. The best standards are set locally, not from Washington, D.C.