Governor Dennis Daugaard is proposing a juvenile corrections reform package that will impose net new costs on the state of about $2.9 million. The proposal doesn't seem like a bad idea.

But may I suggest a policy alternative... or better yet, if we don't want to play false dilemma, a policy complement? Let's do as Chicago did and give low-income kids summer jobs:

A couple of years ago, the city of Chicago started a summer jobs program for teenagers attending high schools in some of the city's high-crime, low-income neighborhoods. The program was meant, of course, to connect students to work. But officials also hoped that it might curb the kinds of problems — like higher crime — that arise when there's no work to be found.

Research on the program conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and just published in the journal Science suggests that these summer jobs have actually had such an effect: Students who were randomly assigned to participate in the program had 43 percent fewer violent-crime arrests over 16 months, compared to students in a control group.

That number is striking for a couple of reasons: It implies that a relatively short (and inexpensive) intervention like an eight-week summer jobs program can have a lasting effect on teenage behavior. And it lends empirical support to a popular refrain by advocates: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job" [Emily Badger, "Chicago Gave Hundreds of High-Risk Kids a Summer Job. Violent Crime Arrest Plummeted," Washington post: Wonkblog, 2014.12.08].

Hmmm... 25 hours a week for 8 weeks at minimum wage... $2.9 million would pay 1,700 kids for their work. That's nearly three times the number of juveniles currently in JDC's custody.

The evidence says that if you put kids to work, they commit fewer crimes. Legislators, are you willing to put some money where the research is? Are you willing to include a jobs program in the Governor's juvenile justice reform initiative?

Tangential Reading: In other policy amendments, perhaps the Governor could put young people to work building bicycles. A new study finds the cycling industry is creating more jobs in Europe than Ford, GM, and Chrysler are creating in America.

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In support of Referred Law 16, Governor Daugaard has been able to recruit one teacher with ties to the education-privatization movement (Milken has pushed privatization of education in Israel, too) and one administrator who resorts to vague anti-teacher generalizations.

In response, I offer 88 Chicago-area university professors who explain how a core policy of Referred Law 16, test-based teacher evaluations, will hurt students. These professors directed their critique at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan for the Chicago Public Schools—you know, the same plan that drove Chicago teachers to strike for a week this fall—but their critique applies well to Governor Daugaard's plan to base 50% of every South Dakota teacher's professional rating on student scores on standardized tests.

Concern #3: Students will be adversely affected by the implementation of this new teacher-evaluation system. When a teacher's livelihood is directly impacted by his or her students' scores on an end-of-year examination, test scores take front and center. The nurturing relationship between teacher and student changes for the worse, including in the following ways:

  1. With a focus on end-of-year testing, there inevitably will be a narrowing of the curriculum as teachers focus more on test preparation and skill-and-drill teaching. Enrichment activities in the arts, music, civics, and other non-tested areas will diminish.
  2. Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues. Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.
  3. The dynamic between students and teacher will change. Instead of "teacher and student versus the exam," it will be "teacher versus students' performance on the exam."
  4. Collaboration among teachers will be replaced by competition. With a "value-added" system, a 5th grade teacher has little incentive to make sure that his or her incoming students score well on the 4th grade exams, because incoming students with high scores would make his or her job more challenging.
  5. When competition replaces collaboration, every student loses [Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), "Misconceptions and Realities about Teacher and Principal Evaluation: An Open Letter of Concern to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago School Board," CreateChicago, March 26, 2012].

Do consult the 88 professors' bibliography. They provide four academic sources to back up just the above-quoted statements... which is four more sources than Keegan, Graves, Daugaard, or anyone else has provided to show Referred Law 16 will do any good for our schools.

Bonus Test-Jamming! FairTest.org notes that the Common Core Standards (Sibby hates 'em, and I'm inclined to let him) mean a lot more money will be spent on a lot more tests for a lot more kids. If you'd like to protect your kids from those tests, step #1 is to vote against Referred Law 16. Step #2 is to check out what FairTest.org calls a growing national rebellion against high-stakes testing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to prepare a vocab quiz for my French 3 kids.

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When I circulated petitions to refer HB 1234, Governor Daugaard's really bad education policy, to a public vote, the minority of people who said they support HB 1234 (now Referred Law 16, on your ballot!) made a few common arguments. Among them were the contentions that the teacher union is too powerful and that we need alternatives to public schools.

The debate on Referred Law 16 should focus on the realities of South Dakota, where local teacher unions have little power and where private school alternatives lack the market and money to be viable competitors.

However, for those who insist on applying national-level rhetoric to South Dakota politics, permit me to reach across the border to Chicago to puncture that thinking. In Chicago, where public school teachers recently went on strike against unfair management proposals, non-union charter schools are not beating uninonized public schools:

...the foes of the teachers' union declare that we should pay close attention to the all-important standardized test scores. So let's take a look.

There are 541 elementary schools in Chicago. Based on the composite ISAT scores for 2011—the last full set available—none of the top ten are charters. None of the top 20, 30, or 40 either.

In fact, you've got to go to 41 to find a charter. Take a bow, CICS Irving Park!

Most of the 49 charters on the list are clustered near the great middle, alongside most of their unionized neighborhood schools.

The top scorers are public schools with unionized teachers who are members of the Chicago Teachers Union. That's the one whose president, Karen Lewis, somehow brainwashed her easily duped members into thinking they wouldn't rather work at a charter school.

I had to look hard to find an UNO school on the list [Ben Joravsky, "Today's Lesson: Charters Do Not Outperform Unionized Schools," Chicago Reader, October 3, 2012].

Don't let the hype over Romney's style-over-substance victory in Wednesday's debate fool you: when you're making real policy, you still have to look at data. And there is no data that supports the notion that unions make public schools worse or any of the claims made by supporters of Referred Law 16.

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In a Facebook post, Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) got me thinking about the possible impact of the Chicago teachers' strike on the campaign to overturn Governor Dennis Daugaard's terrible, horrible, no-good education reform law (Referred Law 16 on our November ballot). Chicago and South Dakota are worlds apart in labor policy, but Chicago teachers are striking over less than the harm Referred Law 16 would do to our schools.

The two major sticking points that have driven Chicago teachers to the picket line are a teacher recall policy and test-based teacher evaluations. The recall policy was part of a deal the Chicago Teachers Union thought they had with Chicago Public Schools: the union agreed to accept longer working days, and CPS agreed to rehire 500 teachers who'd been laid off. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now backing away from CPS's side of that deal. Nothing in Governor Daugaard's education plan aligns with this recall plan.

Where Governor Daugaard's plan does find some parallel in what's got Chicago teachers hot is a new teacher evaluation system promoted by Chicago's own President Barack Obama. The rating system will count student test scores as 30% of every teacher's evaluation.

At a downtown rally Monday, Rick Sawicki, a seventh- grade teacher at Evergreen Middle School, said it's unfair to tie a teacher's evaluation to student performance. He compared it to a coach not being able to pick the members of his team but still being evaluated on how they do on the field.

"There are a lot of factors that go into a child's education that is not reflected in test scores," he said. "Children are more to me than their test scores" [Bill Ruthhart and Diane Rado, "Job Security at Heart of Two Stumbling Blocks," Chicago Tribune, September 11, 2012].

Basing 30% of their evaluation on bubble tests is bad enough to drive Chicago teachers to the streets. Governor Daugaard would impose a statewide teacher evaluation system that bases 50% of teachers' ratings on bubble tests. I wouldn't blame any teacher for striking over such bad policy.

But anyone laboring under the illusion that South Dakota's teacher union exercises anything like the power of the Chicago Teachers Union needs a reality check. South Dakota law prohibits teachers from striking. South Dakota's teacher union has nothing like the power of unions elsewhere. For example, here in Spearfish, my school board just finalized our contract for this year. The local union argued for more benefits but could not reach an agreement with the board. The board thus wrote the contract itself and imposed it unilaterally. There will be no strike; we'll just keep teaching and send some polite folks to say "Please? Pretty please?" next spring. Those who find the working conditions imposed from above unacceptable will simply seek other employment.

The same will happen if voters allow Governor Daugaard's Referred Law 16 to stand. South Dakota teachers cannot and will not strike. They'll just stop working in South Dakota schools for good and take their talents to other economic sectors or, worse, to other states.

The Chicago teachers' strike highlights just one toxic tendril, the reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, of Governor Daugaard's counterproductive Referred Law 16. Whatever the outcome in Chicago, South Dakota has plenty of its own reasons to reject Governor Daugaard's bad ideas for our schools.

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I have studied and written about participatory budgeting, a process that involves citizens in making decisions about how their local government spends their tax dollars. Now the Harvard Political Review finds an experiment in participatory budgeting in Chicago is working:

The entire process (including implementation) is documented on a blog. [Alderman Joe] Moore recognizes that transparency is key, stating that if the process were not transparent, decisions would lose legitimacy. What's really fascinating is what was seen occurring both in and as a result of PB. People talked to each other. Social organizations that had never before worked together collaborated. Within deliberations, there was a consensus on the need for negotiation and equity. After PB in Chicago, two new social organizations were formed. Residents who had never really shown much interest in government suddenly became engaged in its workings and discovered that cooperation with public officials was possible [emphasis mine; Lena Bae, "Participatory Democracy in Chicago: Participatory Budgeting is Working, Important, and Going to Stay," Harvard Political Review, 2011.04.15].

Transparency via blog. Engagement of citizens in real deliberations and policymaking. Wow.

That sounds like exactly the kind of open participatory process Madison's school district could use as it crafts its Olson-Daugaard budget for the coming school year. People may say our awful voter turnout rates indicate people don't want to participate in local government, but the experience of the 49th Ward in Chicago shows that a process for real participatory decision-making that makes citizens the direct collaborative captains of their dollars can get more people involved in local politics.

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