In response to my post yesterday on the state's plan to water down K-12 education by striking the speech requirement from South Dakota's high school graduation rules, an eager reader points me toward a survey distributed by the Department of Education last month for the purpose of, according to a Department of Education e-mail, "gathering opinions from administrators and teachers of English Language Arts to determine if a proposal should be taken before the South Dakota Board of Education."

The survey language makes clear that the Department wants to do more than eliminate the speech requirement; they want to collapse all of our specific English requirements into one general requirement:

[South Dakota Department of Education, online survey, announced 2013.03.19, accessed 2013.04.27]

I shouldn't tease the Glenn Beck bears, but do you notice the line about American literature? On paper, the Department of Education's proposal removes the explicit requirement that students spend at least one semester reading American literature.

But there is less cause to worry here, fellow patriots, than there is in the speech question. The Common Core English Language Arts Standards make clear that teachers must expose students to at least one American play, along with one play by Shakespeare (what, just one? You've got to do Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet!). Grade 6-12 students must also "demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics" [p. 38]. The Test Exemplars and Performance Tasks also include plenty of American lit, including that fine Bolshevisky tract The Grapes of Wrath.

Common Core standards define a specific minimum for American literature but not speech communication for one sad reason, pointed out by educator Steve O'Brien:

Speech, even if incorporated into other English classes, will be largely set aside as the pressure to get to the "tested" material will dominate the teacher's focus. As speech (and don't get me wrong, I highly value speech and debate) is not tested, it is not as important in the accountability (test) model of education [Steve O'Brien, comment, Madville Times, 2013.04.26].

We can put literature on bubble tests. We can even fit some writing into the standardized tests. But we can't efficiently evaluate student speaking skills in a standardized test setting. We can only evaluate how well a student speaks with dedicated teachers in each classroom, coaching and listening to each child.

And since South Dakota doesn't trust teachers, and since Pearson and the other test companies couldn't make money if we did trust our teachers, those tests will dictate what we teach. Testable lit stays; speech goes.