Other Voices: Education waivers and Keystone XL oil pipeline

Farm Forum

When a waiver isn’t a waiver

No Child Left Behind took Americans to school and taught us our schools, teachers and students are failing. The proof, we are told, can be found in the fact of standardized tests. This is despite that North Dakotans take pride in their schools, believing they do a good job.

When the Obama administration gave states the opportunity to get a waiver from the K-12 education mandate, the Tribune editorial board and many North Dakotans wanted the state to opt out of No Child Left Behind.

The result is one of those life lessons: ‘‘Watch out for what you wish for.’’ The waiver wasn’t what many people thought or assumed it would be.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler did the right thing this week when she withdrew North Dakota’s application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind. Her action was supported by an unlikely combination made up of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, North Dakota School Boards Association and the North Dakota Education Association.

‘‘The further we progressed through the waiver process, the more we felt we were being asked to adopt another national one-size-fits-all model of education,’’ Baesler said. The waiver process for North Dakota represented 18 months of study and give-and-take with the U.S. Department of Education. It was not knee-jerk by any definition.

The state will continue to operate under the existing law and, Baesler said, her department will work with the congressional delegation to get that law renewed with changes that make it more useful and effective.

North Dakota’s schools can and should improve. To take issue with No Child Left Behind is not to disagree with its intent, which was to improve education for all students. It was an initiative of then-President George W. Bush, and Congress has continued to extend the life of the initiative without making practical reforms.

A key disagreement with the DOE was over the number of nonproficient students to be reduced over time. North Dakota officials agreed they could reduce those numbers by 25 percent over six years, while the feds wanted a 50 percent reduction. It comes down to setting ‘‘sound, reasonable and achievable’’ goals based on local knowledge, Baesler said.

North Dakotans are proud of their schools, but the state’s citizens are not blind to the needs for improved education. We would, however, prefer to do it on our own terms.

— Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune

State Department report bolsters Keystone oil pipeline

The long-awaited U.S. State Department report on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline confirms what project supporters have been saying for months: A state-of-the-art underground pipeline to carry Alberta tar sands crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast is, environmentally, far safer than all other options available to transport the oil. Moreover, if the pipeline were not built, Canada would find other ways to get oil to market. In other words, the pipeline is the best way to move the oil but is not the only way.

The exhaustive scientific review of the potential environmental effects of Keystone was science-based and as dispassionate as possible. Its conclusions expose pipeline opponents’ real agenda, which is to stop the use of traditional fossil fuels, no matter the efficacy and efficiency of their use — and no matter, apparently, if less safe means of using oil result in environmental damage. And such damage would play right into their narrative.

They are, in effect, climate change fear mongers who preach religious-like anti-fossil fuels fervor, rather than acknowledge sound science.

Given the new North American energy landscape, the State Department report is pragmatic and sensible. It gives President Barack Obama the information he needs to approve the pipeline, which he should do as soon as possible. Logically, he can’t stall. The report he wanted is done. It says the pipeline is the best option for the environment, to say nothing of jobs and economic activity that will be generated along the construction route. He can either give the OK or listen to environmental extremists, who, this time, are just plain wrong.

— Fargo (N.D.) Forum