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No child should be left behind in N.D.

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Ten years ago, President George Bush saw the entrepreneurial leadership of the U.S. in the world slipping away as China, Japan, India and Brazil becoming leading players in the global economy. He responded by proposing more energetic national leadership in education through what became known as the "No Child Left Behind" act.

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Just about everyone in North Dakota complained about the legislation -- state educators, legislators, local school boards, teachers, administrators and parents. As a result of a nationwide chorus of unrelenting criticism, support for the initiative has gradually eroded.

Now the Obama administration has opened the way for "waivers" which means states and schools will be doing less than originally planned, very probably less than is needed. Even though we are now watering down the Bush response to globalization, the problem is more serious today than it was the day NCLB was signed.

In their recent book on the subject, "That Used To Be Us," Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum underlined the crisis:

"Because of the merger of globalization and the IT revolution," they wrote, "raising math, science, reading, and creativity levels in American schools is the key determinant of economic growth and economic growth is the key to national power and influence as well as individual well-being."

They predict that many of the jobs lost in the current recession are gone for good. In the recession, corporate America learned that it can make more money with fewer employees. Consequently, there is no reason to rehire all of the employees engaged in 2008.

This means unemployment will continue to be high until students can be redirected to the new economic opportunities requiring new skills. And if they don't acquire those skills, they will be relegated to menial jobs or chronic unemployment.

Congress is now considering renewal of NCLB, with less focus on national goals and greater emphasis on state and local control. As occurred in the days of the Confederation, we will have 50 states going 50 ways in response to globalization.

There isn't any reason that North Dakota should accept a national "one-size-fits-all' solution. North Dakota has the resources to develop its own "no child left behind" goals and those goals could exceed any watered-down national standards designed to satisfy every critic.

With our own "no child left behind" initiative, we could attract the best teachers, minimize student debt, reduce class sizes, tutor the slower learners, deal with the dropout problem, and fully exploit electronic and digital technology.

When we talk about saving billions of dollars in oil revenue for future generations, we are forgetting that the present generation of students is as entitled to this largesse as future generations. Today's youth needs the skills to become as competitive and employable as the youth in 2020. And they need those skills now.

We justify our root cellar mentality by worrying that the oil revenue will play out and we will be back to crackers and water. That's ridiculous. We've got so much money stashed away for rainy days that Noah would chuckle. And billions more will be pouring into the state treasury for decades to come. Now is the ideal time to invest in an education system that will guarantee the state's future beyond the oil boom.

There is no longer any need for us to be satisfied with an education system that ranks 10th or 20th or 30th in the country. We can have the best and guarantee that our young people will not be the victims of globalization and unemployment in tomorrow's economy.

(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)

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