Joel Rosenthal wakes us up with some vague griping and moaning about the need for education reform. Rosenthal acknowledges South Dakotans' rejection last November of Initiated Measure 15 and Referred Law 16 as signals that we think our K-12 system is fine the way it is. Rosenthal then contends we are wrong. He doesn't call us tired and stupid the way Governor Daugaard did. He just says that we're all too obsessed with sports (true!) and not focused enough on academic excellence:

However there is little effort by School Boards or the State Legislature to push for academic excellence. Parents and Local School boards are more interested in Extra Curriculars than Academics.

Jim Hanson who served as Secretary of Education for Governor Janklow in the 1980s often said, “the most important question in South Dakota education is the relative importance of (and then he motioned the forward pass or the dribble). Recently Representative Jim Bolin expressed to me what Citizens most want from their Schools is to hang the banner in the Gym. Representative Bolin is not just a thoughtful conservative Legislator but a Great Teacher. Both my children had him for multiple classes and he understands excellent education [Joel Rosenthal, "School Daze," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.01.06].

This anecdotal observation is perhaps a better place to start the conversation about what we should change in K-12 education than his only shred of empirical evidence, an observation that too many kids have to take remedial classes at university:

Consistently there are reports of the high numbers of students in our Universities that require remedial education. This means they are not ready for College level work. Those requiring remedial courses exceed 25 percent. That is 1 in 4. While parents believe their children are receiving a good education our Schools are practicing Educational Malpractice! [Rosenthal, 2013.01.06]

LK is one of the educators Rosenthal accuses of malpractice. LK responds that the real malpractice may lie at the feet of the Board of Regents:

One reason that South Dakota's colleges and universities have so many students taking remedial classes is that they take more students than they did a couple of decades ago. The need for tuition dollars seems to have trumped entrance standards [LK, comment to Rosenthal, 2013.01.06].

One in four students taking remedial classes at university may signal that one in four students should have considered options other than costly university educations that may not add much value to their skill sets or career inclinations.

Rosenthal doesn't make clear what practical form his "reform" would take. He just harrumphs "Accountability!" as did the backers of the Governor's failed education reform package last year. If Rosenthal wants to take us down the road of more test-based assessment for students and teachers, which was the core of the Governor's bad policy last year, Rosenthal needs to re-read everything I wrote on HB 1234 last year. Folks didn't reject the Governor's education package because they are obsessed with sports. They rejected HB 1234 because it wouldn't work.

As Rosenthal and legislators fumble toward education reform, they should also read these two articles that question the value of high-stakes testing in measuring how well students and teachers are performing:

  1. A new study from Northwestern University finds that teachers' effects on test scores and non-cognitive skills are "largely orthogonal"—in other words, teachers' abilities to boost test scores have hardly any correlation with their ability to boost things like kids' self-control and perseverance. And there's widespread evidence, says teacher Larry Ferlazzo, that those non-cognitive skills have at least as much impact on students' long-term success as the cognitive skills measured by the bubble tests.
  2. Folks fretting over international test-score comparisons should read what the winners on the international tests say. East Asian countries outscore us on math and science tests, but they find their students lack enthusiasm and self-confidence in those subjects.

I don't know what reforms Rosenthal and his Republican friends in Pierre may advocate this year. But if you want cheerless drones on both sides of the desk, go ahead, float more test-based reform packages. But if you want go-getters with perseverance and enthusiasm, maybe just keep your hands off K-12 education and let us teachers do our thing... a thing that can't be measured by Common Core standardized tests.