Thomas Petros and Donald Poochigian, Grand Forks, column: Radically restructure N.D. education? Why?
By Thomas Petros and Donald Poochigian GRAND FORKS -- House Concurrent Resolution 3046 calls for the creation of a Department of Education which would administer all public education, eliminating both the State Board of Higher Education and popul...
By Thomas Petros and Donald Poochigian
GRAND FORKS -- House Concurrent Resolution 3046 calls for the creation of a Department of Education which would administer all public education, eliminating both the State Board of Higher Education and popular election of the superintendent of public instruction.
What's unclear is the rationale for the proposed change.
News reports suggest the proposal is a response to legislators' complaints about the amount of money spent on higher education. But because the Legislature is responsible for higher education funding, unhappiness over funding constitutes a condemnation of the legislators' own money management.
What appears missing in the discussion is a detailed and publically available plan outlining exactly what the problems with the current education system are, as well as how this new department of education and its administrative structure will be an improvement.
The proposal's chief proponent, House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, was quoted as saying, "North Dakotans should be able to decide if their taxpayer money for education is being spent well or if a change is needed."
But Carlson didn't clarify how North Dakotans are to decide if this proposal is a good idea without a thorough explanation of its rationale.
The current State Board of Higher Education is constitutionally separate from the Legislature in order to remove the higher education system from political meddling.
This suggests a desire by advocates of HCR3046 to politicize educational administration in North Dakota.
The resolution's proposed elimination of the elected office of state superintendent reinforces this impression.
So does its substituting the governor's appointment of the proposed education department's director and members of an 11-person advisory council.
Most especially, neither Carlson nor anyone else has explained how this 11-person council is to provide more efficient oversight of the North Dakota higher education system than the current State Board of Higher Education.
Additionally, if Carlson and other supporters of HCR3046 are concerned with the public's assessment of education in the state, why do they wish to eliminate public control of K-12 education by replacing the publically elected state superintendent with a political appointee and council?
Perplexing as well is the failure to acknowledge the national acclaim received by the North Dakota University System for its efficient stewardship of the funding that the system gets from the state.
The system's continued production of quality graduates is further evidence of its efficient use of state funding. Both national testing and Herald readers' own and family members' experiences also attest to this.
Notably, Carlson and other supporters of HCR3046 have not provided any evidence of widespread unhappiness with the North Dakota educational system.
Instead, dissatisfaction seems limited to politicians. Indeed, by proposing the elimination of the popular vote for state superintendent, HCR3046 supporters seem intent on reducing public control of education.
If HCR3046 supporters are motivated by something other than reintroducing political meddling into North Dakota education, then they should provide a more convincing argument.
After all, any good organizational change must have a well-thought-through business plan. But so far, Carlson and other supporters of HCR3046 have not provided such a plan.
Given their claimed commitment to North Dakota's educational system being an "engine of economic development" and their praise for "the business model," this failure is disturbing.
Petros is a professor of psychology and Poochigian is a professor of philosophy at UND.