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Area educators react to state education innovation bill

Dr. Larry Nybladh is the new Superintendent of schools in Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
Scott Privratsky2 / 3
Kirsten Baesler3 / 3

For North Dakota educators, 2015 marked the end of the No Child Left Behind Act and replaced it with the Every Student Succeeds Act, giving states more flexibility to set their own achievement standards for public schools.

North Dakota is now taking that flexibility further with a new bill in the state Legislature that would allow school districts to submit plans to the Department of Public Instruction for education innovation programs that reflect their schools' individual needs. The bill reflects a sentiment among area educators that control at the district level is important because it gives those closest to the students the ability to decide what's best for them.

"The bill might allow for some alternative assessment strategies to be developed by school districts at the local level, and amen, sister," said Jeff Stotts, an instructional strategist at Devils Lake High School, referring to Senate Bill 2186.

"That's, I think, where school needs to go because it's going to empower teachers, more so than the de-powering elements of the No Child Left Behind Act."

He said No Child Left Behind did not sit well with educators because the act's universal achievement standards that took control away from teachers created a perception that they don't know what's best for their students.

SB 2186 passed in the Senate 44-0. The bill was heard before the House Education Committee Wednesday, which recommended passing the bill 14-0. The bill would allow State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler to waive state statutes or rules determined necessary to accommodate a school's implementation of its plan, such as requirements for how much time they are required to spend teaching core subjects in a classroom setting.

"I see the trend in education moving away from fewer state-level and federal-level requirements, and more of a trend toward letting our local school districts determine what it is that their community needs or that school needs," Baesler told the Herald in February.

Keeping accountability

Educators say the flexibility allowed by the Every Student Succeeds Act and SB 2186 does not mean accountability is not still important for each school.

"I don't think any teacher who's worth their salt in the classroom is going to shy away from accountability in terms of the product they deliver to their students," Stotts said.

Scott Privratsky, superintendent of Devils Lake Public Schools, said hands-on, project-based learning such as what students receive in the Lake Area Career and Technical Center is important to Devils Lake schools. It's important, he said, to help the public understand that students are still graded effectively even though project-based learning involves a less traditional classroom setting.

"Everyone's definition of innovative is quite different," he said.

Larry Nybladh, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools who also sits on the committee that has drafted North Dakota's plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, also spoke about the importance of career and technical education to the district. He said that since the district's curriculum expectations are built into the career and technical education programs, they should be free to develop innovative strategies. Nybladh called the Every Student Succeeds Act a "welcome change" and a "return to states' rights" to take ownership of their educational needs.

Stotts said he believes the educational policies allowing states and districts to have more control over educational policy make it a good time to go into teaching.

'It's going to allow people to be the artist in the classroom," he said, "And to be the professional in the classroom without worrying about Big Brother watching over the back all the time."