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Debating common core with a passion

There’s undoubtedly a great deal of controversy and debate surrounding new education standards called common core.

5/06/14 (Tue)

What would Abe do?... Christa Wiederholt, Grand Forks, left, and Mindy Becksen, Bismarck, represent a group called “Stop Common Core in North Dakota at the state Republican Party convention in Minot, Arpil 5. The theme for the weekend was “Even Lincoln was against common core,” as a President Abraham Lincoln impersonator stands in the foreground.

By Marvin Baker

There’s undoubtedly a great deal of controversy and debate surrounding new education standards called common core.

That dispute is becoming more evident and more heated as implementation of common core gets closer in North Dakota.

Duane Mueller is the superintendent of schools in Kenmare. He has a number of questions and concerns regarding common core and believes once it’s rolled out, adjustments can be made for the good of the students.

Mueller said he has heard how the opposition is labeling it as indoctrination by the government and your tax dollars are paying for government control.

His bigger concern is with the students in the Kenmare Public School system. Mueller said one size doesn’t fit all and that is kind of where common core is going, in his opinion.

“What I don’t agree with is that every kid is going at the same pace,” Mueller said. “There is definitely difference in abilities in kids from elsewhere so common core doesn’t fit everybody.”

Mindy Becksen is a mother of three children in the Bismarck Public School District. She is one of six people who started a group called “Stop Common Core in North Dakota.”

Becksen, and others attended the North Dakota Republican convention in April in an effort to educate legislators on what common core really is.

“We need to get bills in the Legislature,” Becksen said. “I’m not a crazy mom, but come hell or high water, I’ll fight common core until I can’t anymore.”

The controvery of common core runs long and deep. At issue is federal money spent in which the public has little knowledge of why, teachers who are being geared toward common core, standards in English, math and some science that were studied and lobbied for a short period of time and pushed through as law, then copyrighted and finally North Dakota’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kirsten Baesler, who campaigned against common core leading up to her election, but is now in favor of it.

These issues have been brought to the surface by Steve Cates, an online journalist at the Dakota Beacon in Bismarck who considers himself a research scientist.

He said there is a lot of “hanky-panky” going on and that’s part of his reason for opposing it. He believes DPI, and the state and federal governments are trying to hide something.

“I have written a number of articles and my intent is to pass on the truth and if I start waving my arms – nobody will believe me,” Cates said. “This way I can lay out the truth and nobody can deny it.”

Cates goes on to say that in the future, the public school system will go so far as to consider psychometric data collection monitoring grit and tenacity of children.

Cates, who attended a Bismarck Chamber of Commerce meeting about common core, said this isn’t about children or teachers or even public school administrators, this is about money and how certain unnamed entities stand to win big with completely overhauled curriculum in public schools.

In addition, he said there is a group of  27 people called ACHIEVE Inc., that was hired to write the standars of common core.

“All 27 people are tied with organizations that stand to make huge amounts of money,” Cates said. “Twenty-five of the 27 who wrote the English and math standards, had direct financial stake in the common core.”

According to Becksen, common core is already being taught in Shiloh Christian School in Bismarck and many parents aren’t even aware of it.

She said generally people send their kids to private schools to get away from government intervention, but in this case it’s already there.

She said home schooling will change and  radically changed curriculum will become the norm.

“(Gov. John) Hoeven and (former DPI Superintendent Wayne) Sansted signed off on common core,” Becksen said. “They had good intentions, but I doubt Hoeven knew what he was signing up for. This is like a 10-headed dragon. It’s hard to follow it all.”

Mueller said common core will be implemented in North Dakota in the fall of 2014, but he expects results of that implementation won’t be seen for five or 10 years.

He is trying to keep an open mind and some of his staff are already using common core standards.

“Curriculum is going to change,” Mueller said. “The purpose of this is college readiness and career readiness. Things in junior high will be shifted into the elementary grades.”

As an example, Mueller said to consider sixth grade students. They will be taught eighth grade curriculum under common core.

He said the epic novel “Grapes of Wrath,” that John Steinbeck wrote about the Great Depression, will be taught in junior high.

“They’re pushing standards down and that’s creating lots of questions,” Mueller said. “That’s some of the frustration.”

In Mueller’s experience, some kids are going to rise to the challenge and tackle common core with little or no difficulty.

But it’s those who struggle currently, that he’s worried about.

“Kids with learning disabilities will be challenged in math, science and English,” Mueller said. “What are we going to do for those kids so they don’t fall through the cracks?”

As a district, Mueller said the high school staff has looked at common core and the current standards, sat down and hammered out resources that will be needed when common core is implemented.

“We have to move forward and do what we can and roll it out,” Mueller said. “I’m sure money will be spent.”

Becksen said she was pleased during the convention that the North Dakota Republican Party signed a resolution opposing common core. She called it a good start with the ultimate goal to get bills before the Legislature to repeal common core.

Becksen said the “Stop Common Core in North Dakota” Facebook page has 1,085 likes now and she wants that strength in numbers to grow.

“We will make this an issue,” Becksen said. “I guarantee it...” Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!