Mount Blogmore's Kevin Woster provokes some healthy discussion of HB 1234, Governor Daugaard's education reform law, by citing former Rapid City mayor Jim Shaw's column on the topic. Shaw seems to think that HB 1234 is a good idea, but he makes a pretty poor case for it. Shaw mostly apes the ad hominem, ad unionem line of attack to which supporters of this flawed, counterproductive policy must resort.

Hilariously, Shaw makes his case for education reform by contending that there is no problem requiring reform:

We have a great education system in South Dakota. Our state, and Rapid City and surrounding communities in particular, is blessed to have dedicated, committed teachers who continually strive for the best from their students, and results prove it. There are good test scores, yes, but more importantly, accomplished graduates are going on to achieve success in their chosen fields.

I have recently had the opportunity to observe innovative teaching methods being implemented under the leadership of forward-thinking principals and teachers. The individualized attention paid to each student by his or her teachers is remarkable and comes because the educators care — care enough that they voluntarily stay after school hours to meet and strategize about how to help each other and every student under their tutelage [Jim Shaw, "Educators Lobby for Status Quo," Rapid City Journal, 2012.03.27].

Shaw then criticizes teachers (he says "teacher's union," but that's teachers, right?) for wanting to maintain the status quo. Shaw sounds a lot like HB 1234 proponent Rep. Steve Hickey, playing word games with "change" and "status quo" while forgetting that the question we seek to put to a public vote is not whether the South Dakota Education Association is scum but whether HB 1234 is bad education policy.

Shaw's column says not one word about the nuts and bolts of HB 1234. He provides not one shred of evidence or analysis showing that merit pay, math/science bonuses, ending continuing contract, or state teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores will improve student achievement by one iota. His entire essay boils down to, "Oh, those darn unions."

Shaw appeals vaguely to a majority of his imagination, claiming unquantifyingly that "many South Dakotans are nonplussed" at SDEA's effort to refer HB 1234 to a public vote. The real cause for nonplussal is hearing Shaw and other conservatives call for trading a status quo that he admits is working "great" for policy that will make education worse.