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THEIR OPINION: Ed panel touts some useful ideas

BISMARCK -- A blue-ribbon commission established by Gov. John Hoeven in 2006 could have been a showboat, accomplishing nothing. Not least among the accomplishments of the Commission on Education Improvement was giving several school districts the...

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BISMARCK -- A blue-ribbon commission established by Gov. John Hoeven in 2006 could have been a showboat, accomplishing nothing.

Not least among the accomplishments of the Commission on Education Improvement was giving several school districts the confidence that the North Dakota government is serious enough about supporting K-12 public school education that they didn't pursue their lawsuits against the state.

The districts' complaint was that state aid to public education favored some districts over others.

The commission's members, led by Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, did an amazing amount of work leading up to the 2007 legislative session. Their recommendations for substantially establishing parity in state funding of school districts were heartily welcomed and passed by lawmakers.

Hardly taking time for breath after achieving that, the commission began work on the complex matter of moving the public education system of individual schools and districts toward a standard of adequacy, meaning that students, no matter where they live, should get good basic schooling.

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The commission seems constantly to be examining ideas, consulting experts and mulling proposals. Educators heard in a series of meetings that great improvement could occur if there were tutors and counselors available to every student, especially those who are at risk of falling behind and failing.

It's a bold idea -- 400 tutors and 350 counselors statewide.

And teachers, the front-line soldiers, could always benefit from more training and mutual support.

An idea whose time has come in a few states is pre-kindergarten education funded by the state.

It's hard to know what to think about 4-year-olds being in a classroom, but their achievement levels in the course of elementary school (the present level of the oldest ones who've participated) show excellent results. What is the difference between pre-K education and day care?

It depends on whether the day care is mainly recreational and glorified babysitting or has an intentional component of early learning.

Pre-K is not cheap. It can run $7,000 per student.

Having the state be involved in some way would tend to encourage uniformity in districts' and schools' programs. The commission seems to be open to all kinds of ideas.

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Its intent is to have a detailed set of recommendations to present to the Legislature in 2009.

Having at least one tutor in every school is a worthy goal.

So is having teachers who are content and feel appreciated.

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