There’s moments in politics that are memorable. And last Friday, the debate on House Bill 1428 in the Senate was something I will not soon forget. HB 1428 came out of the Senate Education Committee and to the floor with a 4-2 Do Not Pass recommendation.
In case you’re not familiar with it, if passed, HB 1428 would allow homeschool parents without bachelor’s degrees to opt their children out of state assessments. Current law requires homeschool parents to have a bachelor’s degree or to pass the national teacher examination in order to opt their children out of the testing.
I think it’s safe to say that many supporters of the bill – including myself – fully expected it to meet it’s doom on the Senate floor where good ideas and matters of principle are sometimes openly ridiculed and even scoffed at.
Senator Donald Schaible (R – District 31), who is the Senate Education Committee Chairman, carried the bill to the floor and did his best to make the case for a red vote, while himself admitting homeschool parents in the state do a "fantastic job". I’m sure he thought everything was going well… that is until Senators Jordan Kannianen (R – District 4) and Oley Larsen (R – District 3) stood in support of the bill.
Senator Kannianen’s rationale in asking for a green vote was superb. He pointed out:
1. Standardized Testing was Intended for a Standardized Education
2. Standardized Testing is Used as a Macro Tool and was Never Intended as a Tool to Measure Individual Performance
3. The Idea that Parents Would Have "Too Much Power" Implies Parents Have Lost Power
4. Homeschool Parents are Required to Keep Records of Home Education
5. Some Teachers and Administrators Admit They "Don’t Put Much Stock" in Standardized Tests, So Why Oppose Opting Out Then?
Things got worse for opponents of HB 1428 as Senator Oley Larsen rose in support of the bill. Senator Larsen, himself a former educator of 18 years, pointed out that parents of public school kids can opt out their children regardless of their level of education. So, why shouldn’t homeschool parents be afforded the same respect?
But Larsen pulled no punches when he referred to state assessments as "worthless tests" and a "waste of time". Larsen explained that he proctored these assessments as an educator and personally witnessed students "falling asleep, filling out answers, and doing whatever they wanted". He even told of an entire class in another district that intentionally threw a test, resulting in the school being put on a "report" and the teachers having a half day in-service to learn how to "teach better". Meanwhile students were ecstatic that they had time off and had "worked the system".
Senator David Rust (R – District 2), apparently a former school administrator himself, rose in an attempt to salvage Senator Schaible’s failing arguments. But in his effort to do so, Rust seemed to only make things better for the bill he was speaking against. He admitted himself that he has "reservations" about the tests – which confirmed what Senator Kannianen had just said prior in his remarks – but Rust advocated for their usage anyhow, because they are all the legislature uses to gauge student and school performance.
In response to Senator Rust, Senator Larsen stood again and said, "Mr. Speaker, this test is a bad idea." He then rebutted Senator Rust’s comments as a "that’s all we got" argument and said, "You know, we’ve had bad ideas before. We used to put lead paint on buildings and thought that was a good idea."
Then Larsen put the exclamation mark on the debate as he addressed the issue of public school students being taught by people with degrees. Reminding his colleagues of his years in education, he shared that he taught for years with only an Associates Degree in his field of choice. He said:
"I went for years teaching my students with no teaching degree. In my line of work– in my line of teaching, I am the best… I have forgotten more than most people know… and I [had] no degree. Now when I finally got smart – and I’m a little slow on some things – I found out that if you just jump through the hoops and you get a degree, and then you get a Master’s Degree, you get paid more! You move over on that scale. It did not make me a better teacher… I don’t put any value on that piece of paper."
And with that, the debate ended. The vote was taken, and as I watched the board light up in green votes my mouth dropped wide open in what I had just witnessed. The final tally was 30-17. Senators Kannianen and Larsen were brilliant. They took a bill doomed to failure and turned it into an overwhelming success.
But something besides passage of HB 1428 occurred as a result of that floor debate. These two Senators literally exposed state assessments for the "waste" that they are.
If you haven’t already, take the time to watch the floor debate. I think it’s worth it.
In addition to the Senate floor debate, I would remind you that the bill originated in the House. It’s primary sponsor Rep. Christopher Olsen (R – District 13), together with co-sponsor Rep. Daniel Johnston (R – District 24), had a great floor debate performance there as well. I highly recommend watching that too.
Here’s the link to watch both floor debates:
As of this writing, the bill goes to Governor Burgum for his signature. A legislative alert has gone out that an out-of-state group is lobbying him to veto the bill. Please, take the time to message Governor Burgum and encourage him to sign HB 1428 into law.
Here’s the link to contact the governor: