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Omdahl: Education reform opposition involves strange bedfellows

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opinion Fargo, 58102
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

The Russians invaded Ukraine and the New York Stock Market dropped 200 points. The situation stabilized and the stock market recovered.

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That underscores the fact that we are in a world economy and occurrences on the other side of the globe have a dramatic impact on the American economic system.

For the past 20 years, American economic leaders and thinkers have been keenly aware of the need for reforming our educational system to meet the growing challenges of an international economy. Unfortunately, progress has been bogged down in political wrangling and institutional resistance.

First, we tried No Child Left Behind, but that ended with every child left behind. The program was intended to raise the learning bar in our education system with tests to measure progress.

Unfortunately, expectations were too high, terrorizing teachers, school boards and legislators. And our willingness to change was too low, so the program was abandoned.

Now we have a new approach called the Common Core, intended to upgrade the analytical thinking of students, with emphasis on math and language skills.

The program was initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. North Dakota is one of 45 states that have adopted the principles of Common Core.

Common Core will be using a new testing system that will assess the progress of individual students. However, any kind of uniform testing from above is rankling liberals and conservatives alike.

Teachers do not want any assessing that could be used to link student performance to teacher competence. As an example, New York’s largest teachers union denounced Common Core standards after initially endorsing them because student test scores could be used for teacher evaluations.

Some vocal conservatives oppose Common Core, not for its substance but because it is being proposed at the national level. Even though launched by state officials, they worry about a federal takeover of education.

An anti-Common Core spokesperson in Colorado summed up this position, “We want to keep our education decisions local.”

With both liberal and conservative groups opposing implementation of the Common Core, the prognosis is just about the same as it was for No Child Left Behind. The same arguments that buried NCLB are likely to kill another plan to prepare American students to compete on the international stage.

As far as satisfying the objections of teachers, that will never happen because there are too many other factors affecting the test results of students in addition to the performance of teachers.

As a consequence, we will never be able to develop an evaluation system that will meet all objections. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to start with less than the ideal and improve as we go.

Now, as to dealing with the age-old controversy about local control of schools, maybe it’s time to face reality today rather than have American kids at a disadvantage tomorrow. The reality is that American kids will face more international competition for jobs and careers than any generation before them.

We have an intergovernmental educational system at present upon which we should be able to build. The federal government provides grants, loans and funding of all sorts; states create and fund school districts, and locally elected boards run the schools.

This ragged, uncoordinated system is not accomplishing what American young people need, but that is where we must start. Somehow, both the education community and the ideologues must yield some ground.

It’s time to quit talking about how we love kids and make some concessions to prove it.

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