Dear Governor Dalrymple And Members Of The North Dakota Legislature…

Dear Governor Dalrymple and Members of the North Dakota Legislature,

I believe in the State of North Dakota’s power to be a leader in the nation.  This leadership has been evidenced increasingly nationally as other states look to North Dakota’s strong economy, well-run government, and high quality of living as models worthy of emulation.  North Dakota has been able to find a balance between stability and innovation that has become the hallmark of the state’s success.  I am so proud to be a citizen of this great state.

Today I write to you to challenge you to extend that balance between stability and innovation to the arena of K-12 education.  Today I ask that you write a new script for North Dakota students’ future…a script that is built on ability, not ranking…on the dynamism and self-perpetuation that mastery provides.  The goal is to create students with “21st Century Skills” that can be easily translated from the classroom to the workplace.  Skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – skills that are the building blocks of success across all aspects of life; skills that allow for the development of confident and capable thinkers, creators and problem solvers.  This is the promise that must be realized to be in-step with the potential that exists in North Dakota.

To accomplish this goal we need to view education differently.  We need to look at learning as a continuum instead of discrete starts and stops and contained areas of knowledge.   We need to utilize standards focused on helping students achieve mastery.  We need to recognize the limitations in the current standardized, one-dimensional, outdated grading structure.  We need to value the substance of learning over the mere ability to evidence knowledge at a static point in time.  We need to educate in a way where the value added is integrated and built-upon, not discarded after the test.

To accomplish this goal we need to make some changes to our existing system.  Changes that will take some shifts in the way we do things; changes that will take some adjustment.  Yet, these changes are minor relative to the results they will produce – changes that will create a much stronger student and give North Dakota students a competitive advantage they will carry with them throughout their lives.

The first step in creating an educational legacy that will reshape national education at the K-12 level is to see such a model in action.  Fortunately, you can see that right here in the state – in the West Fargo School District at the state’s only magnet school – STEM.  The faculty and administration at STEM have made a commitment to students and a promise to parents that they will seek more than the limited expectation of meeting simple grading criteria – they will strive for creating mastery in each and every student.  The STEM team has adopted a proven model that comes out of Alverno College in Wisconsin.  The implementation of such a model requires a faculty cohort (like the STEM faculty cohort) that believes in the power of ability and recognizes what it takes to foster that ability.

I hope each and every one of you will make the effort to visit STEM in the near future to learn more about the way North Dakota can lead K-12 into the future.  This is more than an opportunity – this is our state’s destiny.  This is where the winning balance we have established between stability and innovation meets education.  This is how our state builds a better tomorrow and leads the nation in creating 21st Century thinkers.

The world grows more complex by the day.  The problems we face, the jobs and services in demand, the way we interact with technology – all these things are changing who we are as a society;  so too must our educational system change.  We must embrace the creation of thinkers in our schools.  I ask that you be part of this important shift in North Dakota students’ education – I ask that you too commit to our students like the teachers and administration at STEM have.


Carol Cwiak


Day nine hundred and fifty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

3 Responses

  1. Barbara

    I can’t think of anyplace better than North Dakota when it comes to such a revolutionary overhaul of education—not because the state is behind the rest of the country, but because North Dakota is filled with people who are still REAL and forward-looking while retaining time tested solid values. At this point in time, education is definitely a priority issue. Great letter!

    1. Barbara

      Rewind! Edit! Instead of “not BECAUSE North Dakota is behind….”, it should read “not THAT North Dakota is behind….” (I feel a whole new sympathy for those foot-in-the-mouth political candidates!) :/

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