Legislators and conservatives say that South Dakotans are voicing overwhelming opposition to Governor Dennis Daugaard's education reforms. Legislators like Rep. Nick Moser (R-18/Yankton) who voted for HB 1234 are saying they actually oppose much of the billNobody in Pierre is presenting solid evidence to show that the Governor's chosen reforms—competitive merit pay for 1 in 5 teachers, bonuses for rookie math and science teachers, ending the due process protections of continuing contract—have any firm connection to student achievement. Educators are proposing counterplans backed by research, yet the Governor keeps repeating the tired trope that student achievement hasn't increased proportionately with funding.

Why would our Legislature and our Governor ignore the facts on education reform? Try ideology. Try ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The corporate front group supports merit pay for teachers. When it ranks states for teacher quality, it places merit pay higher than actual student performance:

After all, another part of ALEC's report reads, "...the greatest factor regarding a student's academic success within school walls is teacher effectiveness." One would think we must be doing something right when it comes to teacher quality.

Instead, ALEC placed into its report a nonsensical grade assigned to New Jersey by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ): a D+ for Teacher Quality and Policies.

Florida, which scored 12th on the NAEP, earned a C. South Carolina, which scored 50th on the NAEP, earned a C-.

Vermont, ranked second on the NAEP, received an F from ALEC on Teacher Quality and Policies. First-ranked Massachusetts got a D+. In fact, no state that ranks in the top 10 in student performance scored higher than a D.

High performing New Jersey, Vermont, and Massachusetts received poor grades from ALEC for the same reason that Ms. Jones scored "needs improvement" on her evaluation: they were measured on criteria that has no basis in research [New Jersey Education Association, "Research with an Agenda," NJEA Reporter, 2012.02.01].

Numerous South Dakota legislators participate in ALEC's efforts to co-opt state laws to favor the corporate agenda. In a session update to his constituents, Rep. Frank Kloucek (D-19/Scotland) says ALEC "has convinced at least 14 state governors and legislatures to introduce this proven failure model legislation."

While ALEC preaches accountability for schools, it meets in secret, much like our Legislature's Gang of Six. While ALEC says it wants good teachers, it doesn't want them involved in discussions of effective policy, much like the poo-pooing of teacher expertise we hear from legislators. ALEC wants to weaken teachers' voices by weakening the teacher unions. In South Dakota, where the teachers' union, like every union, is already weak, one of the few legal protections teachers have left is the due process of continuing contract. Rep. Nick Moser thinks continuing contract is not "germane" to the rest of HB 1234, and from an academic achievement perspective, he's absolutely right. But ending continuing contract is perfectly germane to ALEC's anti-teacher, anti-labor agenda.

For those of you wondering why, oh why HB 1234 means so much to legislators that they'll vote for it even though they share many of the policy doubts of their constituents, ALEC may be the most logical answer. Our legislators are choosing big-money ideological blinders over research and South Dakota values.

Update 06:31 MST: Also fouling up the ed-works: Bill Gates:

Now, he has thrown his support behind the idea that America has too many bad teachers, and he is pouring billions into the hunt for bad teachers. As the Times article shows, he has bought the support of a wide range of organizations, from conservative to liberal. He has even thrown a few million to the teachers' unions to gain their assent. Unmentioned is that Gates has gotten the federal government to join him in his current belief that what matters most is creating teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores.

Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers. Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income. Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality [Diane Ravitch, "Bill Gates: Selling Bad Advice to the Public Schools," The Daily Beast, 2011.05.23].

Oh yeah, and all those new standardized teacher evaluations on which Governor Daugaard wants to base his whole education reform scheme? Really complicated. Really time-consuming. And far from perfect.