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Omdahl: Core aims to answer STEM failures

By Staff | Dec 19, 2014

Common Core is the business community’s answer to the failure of the education system to provide graduates in science, technology, math and engineering, courses of study commonly referred to as STEM.

In recent entrance exams, only one-fourth of the students were ready for college in the major STEM fields. While 31 percent of the students in China were graduating with majors in STEM fields, only four percent were doing so in the United States.

The United States ranked 27th among the developed nations in the proportion of students in STEM areas. Common Core is suggesting that 27th is not good enough.

Faced with this workforce shortage in critical areas, the business community recruited the National Governors Association and the Council of State School Officers to launch Common Core as a nationwide program to accelerate student interest and achievement in STEM fields.

But the plan may be going awry.

A Fargo legislator is sponsoring legislation to take North Dakota out of the program because he has concluded that it is liberal because it could lead to a “takeover” of education by the federal government.

The federal government wasn’t even a major player in developing the program. The states are deciding how much involvement they want for the federal government.

This paranoid approach to the issue disregards the fact that the future of the country rests on the ability of our students and businesses to compete in the world markets. Skewing the issue with some irrelevant arguments does not serve future generations well.

The legislator makes the claim that Common Core would dumb down North Dakota standards. There is nothing in Common Core requiring states to sink to some lower level. This is a program that proposes to establish minimum – not maximum – standards.

The costs of withdrawing from Common Core and developing our own achievement measurements have been estimated at $100 million. If Common Core fails, the cost to American business and students would be significantly more.

Because of the bad experience with No Child Left Behind, some disenchanted folks are ready to buy into an anti-Common Core agenda.

Many folks were horrified to see scores of North Dakota schools listed as failing to meet NCLB standards. Half of the public schools in the country flunked. As it turned out, the objectives were more than the education system could handle.

Some teacher unions have joined the opposition to Common Core. They fear the implementation of teacher evaluations based on student success. The teachers union in New York endorsed Common Core and then repudiated it when teacher evaluations were brought into the discussion.

Teachers have an argument. Since parents are more important than teachers in the educational development of children, maybe evaluation of parents should be added to evaluation of teachers.

Because of concerns over federal involvement, a couple of states have withdrawn their early endorsement. Several other states – Arizona, Florida and Indiana – have simply changed the title of the program without changing the content.

To defuse the ideological arguments, North Dakota could join these states and rebrand Common Core as the North Dakota STEM Achievement Program, or whatever. The name is not important as long as we don’t take our eyes off of the primary objective – more qualified graduates in engineering, technology, math and science.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and a host of North Dakota education organizations have pledged their support for Common Core. Whether or not they can keep Common Core on track will be determined in the upcoming legislative session.

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