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Berginski: Common Core Lawsuit a Distraction

By Staff | Jun 26, 2015

Opponents of Common Core education standards are making noise again. They tried to have their way in the state Legislature, and now they’ve filed a distracting lawsuit that reeks of out-of-state involvement.

This past legislative session, opponents tried to eliminate the standards and take North Dakota out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with HB 1461. Had the bill passed the state would’ve lost over $1 million in the short term ($350,000 to get out of SBAC and $750,000 to set up a standards committee) and millions more in federal funding (particularly in Title I and Title VI funds), and could’ve also been party to investigations of civil rights violations. Apparently, the Legislature heard the opposition’s siren song and decided NOT to sail the ship that way. Good on them.

On Monday, according to WDAZ and the Grand Forks Herald, the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center and St. Louis law firm Clark & Sauer joined Rep. Robert Skarphol (R-Tioga), “The Dakota Beacon” publisher Steve Cates, Williston residents Charles & Catherine Cartier and Bismarck attorney Arnold Fleck in filing a lawsuit against several N.D. officials, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Gov. Jack Dalrymple. The lawsuit alleges the state’s involvement in the standards and SBAC violates federal and Constitutional law. Those sound like serious charges.

One chief item in the complaint, as stated in a press release by the Thomas More Law Center, is that the SBAC is an agreement between states that Congress didn’t authorize (Article I, Section 10). The Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth of Virginia v. State of Tennessee that the type of “compacts” (which is what opponents are calling SBAC) requiring Congressional approval are the type that would increase a state’s political power, or make it seem like the states are trying to supersede the federal government. The SBAC works collectively to develop academic assessment systems, for the success of children grades 3-8 and high school juniors, related to Common Core standards in language arts and math. Huh, I guess knowledge really does equal power, doesn’t it?

Another item in the complaint is that the Common Core standards are basically the federal government, particularly the Department of Education, trying to control educational policy, including curriculum and assessment programs. The National Governors Association was involved in the creation of the standards, but so were state experts and teachers. The standards are basically guidelines for what students should be learning and when, they don’t actually tell teachers how to teach it. Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Alaska, Indiana and Puerto Rico are the only states (Wait, what? Puerto Rico’s not a state but a protectorate? Oh, now you tell me.) who haven’t adopted the standards. Hmm, that sounds less like a government takeover or mandate and more like a voluntary program.

The noise over Common Core and SBAC distracts from the real issue, how we, as a society should be educating our young people. The way we educate should change along with the language, math, science and technologies it teaches. It should help to better prepare children for middle and high school, careers and/or college. In order to do that, standards, in some way, shape or form, have to be in place. They’re not going to be perfect, not everyone is going to like them, but they’re a necessary evil.

Out-of-state entities trying to get involved in N.D. politics played a factor in the deaths of Measures 5 (conservation) and 7 (pharmacy) in the last election. That they keep trying to be involved is no surprise, but is also a bit of an annoyance.

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