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North Dakota K-12 head backs innovative, personalized education

As education changes, it may be time to gear students and teachers toward personalized education. That's what Kirsten Baesler emphasized Tuesday during her visit with the Herald editorial board as she highlighted state legislation she said would ...

Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction, speaks on Tuesday, Feb. 28, to the Grand Forks Herald editorial board. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction, speaks on Tuesday, Feb. 28, to the Grand Forks Herald editorial board. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
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As education changes, it may be time to gear students and teachers toward personalized education.

That's what Kirsten Baesler emphasized Tuesday during her visit with the Herald editorial board as she highlighted state legislation she said would do that while giving North Dakota school districts local control.

"Our students are changing so quickly," the North Dakota superintendent of public instruction said. "I think our public K-12 system will need to be more accommodating to personalized learning. I think it is going to be very important for our students to be able to learn in their passion areas."

Baesler described personalized education as adjusting lessons in ways to help students understand subjects based on their interests. For example, if a student likes to ride motorcycles, they may put a math problem in terms of motocross problem-solving, such as if the base and height of a dirt ramp are certain lengths, how much does a bike have to travel before it goes into the air.

In other words, the pythagorean theorem.

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Teachers have been supportive of that approach, Baesler said, adding they want to find ways to help children learn.

Baesler said Senate Bill 2186, an innovation learning bill, as she described it, that would allow districts to decide if they can meet standards with less "seat time."

For example, schools may reach out to community organizations outside the classroom or have teachers from different subject areas collaborate on projects so students can earn credit in both subjects.

The bill, which passed the state Senate 44-0, is on its way to the House of Representatives. If approved, the individual plans would need local support.

It could be hard to gain parental support across the state for a plan, Baesler said, but a plan developed by individual school districts with the backing of local leaders may be easier to accept.

"I think that's why we need to let local districts lead," she said, adding a community can decide how it wants to teach its students as long as they are meeting standards. "It really doesn't matter what classroom they are in. It's about what they are learning and being able to do."

Baesler said she felt North Dakotans would be more accepting to a plan that isn't handed down by the federal government but would trust a plan from local education leaders.

"The top-down approach didn't work," she said. "You had a lot of pushback."

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Schools would still be held accountable and would need final approval through the Department of Public Instruction-the waiver would give schools three years to develop their plans. It's possible parents who see a plan in another district may want to develop the plan if it is working.

Baesler's department and the North Dakota University System also are collaborating to implement plans to better educate students to meet their needs, she said. Teachers appear to be behind personalized learning. She also plans to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in late March to discuss how federal regulations and plans will play a role in North Dakota education.

"She has claimed and declared that more control needs to be returned to the states," Baesler said. "I will be holding her accountable for that."

She said at the end of the day, she is there to look out for the best interests of students.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONKIRSTEN BAESLER
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