February 28, 2020

Students at Northern Cass School practice using iPads. Courtesy of Northern Cass.

This article was originally published September 13, 2019.

The Northern Cass School District in North Dakota is on a mission to transform the way its students are educated. By next school year, grade levels are expected to be a thing of the past and students will chart their own path to graduation, at their own pace. Northern Cass, which serves just over 650 children from pre-K through 12th grade, is in the process of adopting a personalized learning initiative that encourages a move away from standardized tests and focuses on project work and students mastering core competencies.

The district has the support of North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum who, in 2017, signed a bill into law to spur innovative approaches to education across the entire state. Burgum also created an Innovative Education Task Force to help schools better prepare students for what he considers to be a “21st century economy impacted by rapid technological change.”

On this week’s show, we explore efforts to remake public education across North Dakota - and beyond - with Governor Burgum, Cory Steiner, the superintendent of the Northern Cass School District, and Ted Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist and author of, “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America.” Two parents with students at Northern Cass, Kristin Behm and Angie Froehlich, also share their experiences of the changes underway at the school.

Special thanks to the folks at Prairie Public for their help with this story.

Three Takeaways:

  • Governor Burgum supports personalized learning initiatives and eliminating grade levels in North Dakota’s public schools. The innovation bill he signed into law in 2017 encourages school districts in his state to explore and implement alternative approaches to education. 
  • Steiner says grade levels will be eliminated from Northern Cass next school year, but students will still be grouped with peers of the same age for some activities, including physical education. Students will no longer receive percentage marks on tests, but their parents or guardians will be able to track their academic performance through an online learning management system.
  • In a world increasingly dominated by automation and artificial intelligence, education philanthropist Ted Dintersmith believes that traditional education models are inadequate when it comes to preparing students. Indeed, he worries that our current approach to schooling could compromise the future of our country, and even potentially lead to the further marginalization of large swaths of Americans.

More Reading: 

elementary school, Education, grade levels, North Dakota, Doug Burgum, Ted Dintersmith

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