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School leaders tout benefits of Common Core education standards

WEST FARGO, N.D. – As schools begin implementing new national K-12 learning standards for English and math, opponents continue to criticize the move, calling it an attempt to usurp local control.

School leaders say Common Core, a 2010 initiative establishing consistent grade-by-grade learning standards for students, better prepares them for college and employment success.

Student testing or assessments using those standards begins in 2015.

Opponents say the initiative isn’t necessary. Common Core, they argue, is simply a step by the federal government to take over local control of state education programs.

Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of public education, said North Dakota launched the initiative in response to lower testing scores, higher remediation rates and concerns raised by higher education and business leaders.

“We heard from higher education and industry that our kids were not leaving high school prepared,” she said.

There’s no evidence that Common Core standards will better prepare North Dakota students for college or work, said state Rep. Brenda Heller, R-Hazen.

“We have given up control of our education in North Dakota to the federal government,” Heller said.

Since its adoption, 44 states, including Minnesota and North Dakota, have joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

West Fargo schools will be fully aligned next year, say Bev Slette, assistant superintendent for elementary education, and Allen Burgas, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

“We’ve always had standards. These standards are not that different,” Slette said.

“The curriculum is left to local control,” involving teacher input and the district has complete flexibility over what books to use, he said.

Students can expect greater depth in curriculum content and knowledge, more challenges and higher expectations, Burgas said.

The Fargo School District is also implementing Common Core standards, said Bob Grosz, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

The district works with teachers to review curriculum, and select the right books and strategies needed to help students become successful, Grosz said.

“It sets the standard for what we want students to do at each grade level,” he said. “We, as a district, develop the teaching methodology to use to make students successful.”

An opposition group, “Stop Common Core in North Dakota,” is sponsoring a limited-seating meeting at 7 tonight at the Kelly Inn in Fargo.

Guest speaker will be outspoken Common Core opponent Duke Pesta, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh assistant professor who has made more than 150 appearances in 27 states to address what he calls dangers and threats to American liberty and education.

Every state needs standards, agrees Heller.

If the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction thinks current standards aren’t sufficient, “let’s sit down and write our own,” she said. “As far as I know, our standards are pretty high.”

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