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Kirsten Baesler

K-12 EDUCATION: Partners for the future

(subhed): Businesses encourage innovation in North Dakota education

By Kirsten Baesler

BISMARCK, N.D. – Innovation is necessary for any business to endure and thrive. In education, we recognize that we must innovate to provide the best instruction for our students, and to prepare them for a future in which many jobs are now barely a gleam in an entrepreneur’s eye.

How are we encouraging innovation in our schools? This spring, our Legislature endorsed a landmark bill, Senate Bill 2186, with bipartisan sponsorship and overwhelming bipartisan approval.

This bill encourages local schools to rethink how they deliver education.

Under the bill, school districts may draft education innovation plans, in consultation with their local parents, teachers, administrators and school board. The superintendent of public instruction will review any innovation plan and be able to clear away obstacles to success.

SB 2186 requires periodic reports to the Legislature to ensure accountability.

Our Legislature also approved a bill to encourage more high school students to acquire a working knowledge of computer science and writing computer language. Until this year, North Dakota required a high school student to have at least three units of math to graduate. SB 2185, which took effect in August, now allows a student to substitute a unit of computer science for one of the three units of mathematics.

Students knowledgeable about computer science have a promising job outlook, according to, a nonprofit group that promotes computer science instruction in schools. The organization says North Dakota has more than 600 open computing jobs, and an average $70,000 salary for a computing occupation.

Ninety-three percent of parents want their child’s school to teach computer science, but only 40 percent of schools do, says. Half of Americans rank computer science as one of the two most important subjects to learn in school, after reading and writing, the organization says.

North Dakota’s conversation about education innovation and accountability owes a great deal to Ted Dintersmith, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who produced an education documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed.”

Dintersmith argues persuasively that our American model of public education, with its rows of desks and 50-minute class periods, is unsuited to helping students learn the ability to analyze issues, solve problems, work as teams and be adaptable to different situations. “Most Likely to Succeed” focuses on a school that lets students learn those skills by working on projects together.

The film has been shown in a number of North Dakota cities, with the support of the Department of Public Instruction, North Dakota United and the Greater North Dakota Chamber. Members of all three organizations realize that encouraging innovation in education is the key to the future of our young people and the linchpin of North Dakota’s economic prosperity.

The Chamber is one of several private-sector entities that have stepped up to encourage education innovation in schools.

ExxonMobil has pledged $13 million to support the National Math + Science Initiative, which has made it possible for more North Dakota students to take Advanced Placement coursework and exams in math, science, computer science and English. NMSI, a nonprofit organization, has also provided invaluable training that has helped North Dakota teachers hone their classroom instructional skills.

Hess Corp. provided $25 million for Succeed 2020, an initiative that helped to boost high school graduation rates and increase the number of students who qualified for up to $6,000 in state academic scholarship aid.

In early October, Microsoft announced it was launching its “TechSpark” initiative in North Dakota, which encourages computer science education and better access to broadband internet connections in rural areas.

As North Dakota’s school superintendent, I am committed to seeking more public-private partnerships to work together, seize opportunities and advance the well-being of our students. After all, our young people are 25 percent of our population, and 100 percent of our future.