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Omdahl: Politicians Over-promise and Under-deliver

By Staff | Apr 8, 2016

By Lloyd Omdahl


In a recent editorial statement, Rae Ann Kelsch of Mandan reminded political candidates and voters that campaign promises by candidates that they would single-handedly abolish Common Core procedures and standards are misleading.

“The bottom line is that no governor or president can tell local schools what standards or curriculum they must or must not use,” she wrote.

Kelsch is well qualified to make this observation, having served as chair of the North Dakota House Education Committee for 17 years.

She is reminding the politicians that everyone elected to office in the United States must function within a context of shared power.

Candidates are doing a disservice to the voters when they make claims that give a distorted view of the real workings of state and national policymaking. Apparently, some of them need a civics test.

All of the promises notwithstanding, we have three branches of government at the state as well as the national level and elected executives are limited to the administration of policy as determined by the Congress or the Legislature.

When candidates talk about unilaterally creating and implementing policy they are laying the groundwork for paranoia and skepticism, the fodder of disenchantment with the democratic processes.

Public education has been a battleground over the past 20 years as state and national policymakers have struggled to reconcile state and local control with the needs of a national and world economy.

The persistent opposition to Common Core and minimal standards manifested itself at the recent Republican convention, when a virtually unknown candidate for superintendent of public instruction garnered 46 percent of the vote against incumbent Kirsten Baesler.

Joseph Chiang, a math teacher at Four Winds High School, tried to draw a distinction between himself and Superintendent Baesler but he ended up with the same conclusion we need to do better.

Disregarding Kelsch’s advice, Chiang proceeded to assume authority that would require more top-down direction for North Dakota schools even though present laws preclude him from taking the arbitrary action he proposes.

As Kelsch pointed out: “Local education standards and local control are alive and well in North Dakota.”

Existing law notwithstanding, Chiang would require teachers to create tests for every grade level, with state mandated tests for grades 3, 8 and 11. To achieve this end, top-down control would be necessary.

Chiang proposes to use home-school educators to help the academically-handicapped. This may sound good to home-schoolers but it would require changes in state and federal law, a new kind of funding, and result in spotty delivery of services.

He also suggests cutting off federal funding to avoid the rules and regulations that come along with the money. While federal mandates can be bothersome, it was a federal mandate that required schools to provide equal sports opportunities for girls and boys.

Chiang is not alone in promising dramatic action. Most of the other candidates for public office engage in the same overpromise and under delivery.

Incumbent officeholders know that they must operate within a network of other movers and shakers in the 3-branch system of government. Nevertheless, they also claim the power to single-handedly make significant changes even though they know that every inch of progress requires the cooperation of many interests.

While we are indicting the candidates, the voters must share the blame for this unrealistic campaigning. Their expectations are beyond the realm of possibility but they flock to the candidate with the biggest promises because they don’t accept or understand the limitations of constitutional government.

So the candidates keep overpromising and we keep believing.

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