I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.

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I got no support from my fellow Democrats last week when I urged them to vote for House Bill 1223 and end the state's involvement in Common Core. My fellow Democrats now have a chance to rectify that error by supporting Rep. Dan Kaiser's effort to resurrect that bill and bring it to the House floor for debate. House Democrats—all 12 of you!—here are my top ten ten reasons for you to back HB 1223:

  1. HB 1223 fights the teacher shortage: get teachers out from under the paperwork involved with state standards, and you make teaching more appealing.
  2. HB 1223 isn't a pay raise, but it will take one item out of the list of burdens that make teachers say, "They don't pay me enough to do this stuff."
  3. Republicans aren't going to offer any other legislation for substantive improvements in K-12 education. Bring HB 1223 to the floor, and turn it into a filibuster on the administration's general failure to live up to its obligations to our kids and our teachers.
  4. The Daugaard Administration opposes HB 1223. Oppose the Governor. Make him spend more political capital to oppose the conservatives who support this bill.
  5. Bringing this bill to the House floor and keeping your seats forces Republican leaders to speak in favor of Common Core. The more often our Howie/Nelson-flavored conservative neighbors hear GOP leaders saying, "Common Core is good," the more those real conservatives will organize and recruit primary candidates, which will be nothing but fun for us.
  6. The arch-conservatives who back HB 1223 generally hold the greatest fear and loathing of Democrats. HB 1223 is a low-impact way to show them that Democrats aren't pointy-horned devils.
  7. Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Watertown) is peddling the line that you can't reject a bad policy without offering a workable replacement. That's the same argument Republicans used to push Governor Daugaard's merit pay plan three years ago. We should reject bad logic like that whenever we get the chance.
  8. But if Rep. Deutsch and Secretary Schopp insist that we have to have a replacement plan, give 'em what they want: propose an amendment to repeal all state-mandated curriculum standards and standardized tests. Essentially you'd be calling Republicans' bluffs on local control and suggestions of getting rid of the Department of Education.
  9. Take away curriculum standards, and Republicans won't be able to write creationism or other nonsense into those standards.
  10. Take away curriculum standards, and you reduce the Department of Education's leverage over local schools. And as long as Republicans control the Department of Education, isn't that reduction of leverage a good thing?

Go ahead, Dems! Back the smokeout, and use HB 1223 to rattle some cages.

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Surprise! Just when you thought the Legislature was done debating Common Core, Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) pulls a smoke-out!

On Wednesday, House Education killed House Bill 1223, which seeks to end South Dakota's involvement with Common Core and related multistate curriculum standards. On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Kaiser invoked Joint Rule 7-7 to demand delivery of HB 1223 to the House.

Rep. Kaiser contended the bill did not receive a fair hearing. He said House Education "was subjected to at least three presentations from all folks who are... pro-Common Core" while Common Core opponents were not allowed the same opportunity.

House Education Chair Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) replied that the committee dedicated an entire, two-hour hearing on HB 1223 and gave proponents and opponents equal time. Rep. Sly noted that neither the proponents nor opponents used their full forty minutes in that hearing. She said the presentations cited by Rep. Kaiser would have been the same whether HB 1223 had come forward or not.

Rep. Kaiser got 24 House members to stand for his smokeout; that's the one third necessary under Joint Rule 7-7 to order delivery from committee. House Ed thus had to quick circle up in the lobby and conduct an impromptu vote to so deliver the bill.

The anti-Common Core folks lost one of their committee votes: Rep. Mathew Wollmann (R-8/Madison) voted to keep HB 1223 alive in Wednesday's hearing, but yesterday voted with the committee majority to send the bill downstairs with a "Do Not Pass" recommendation.

We went through this same process last year, when House Ed rejected an anti-Common Core test-exemption bill 8–7, only to see it smoked out for one more brief and fruitless wrangle on the House floor. One source tells me the House will take up this smokeout next week Tuesday; we'll see if this smoke generates any better flames this time around.

Update 2015.02.21 06:26 CST: added video of Rep. Kaiser's smokeout speech.

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I am now batting .000 as a bill proponent. I came to Pierre this morning to testify in favor House Bill 1223, which would have ended South Dakota's involvement with the Common Core standards and with any "multistate educational standards related to, similar to, or associated with" Common Core. Rep. Chip Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) brought the billon behalf of Common Core opponents, and amidst of all of the conservative activists surrounding me, Rep. Campbell chose me to give HB 1223 the liberal blog kiss of death first.

Wollmann, Kaiser, May, Klumb—believe it or not, these four Republicans all voted my way on HB 1223.

Wollmann, Kaiser, May, Klumb—believe it or not, these four Republicans all voted my way on HB 1223.

Leaving my ideology at my chair, I simply told the committee what I've said before about Common Core: state-mandated standards don't make teachers better. They take up time and effort that could be devoted to working directly with students. By eliminating Common Core, legislators could help teachers without spending a penny.

Other proponents of HB 1223 spoke more ideologically, and dare I say more emotionally. Dale Bartscher of the Family Heritage Alliance said HB 1223 reinforces state and family sovereignty. He also said his group was open to an amendment to replace Common Core with other external standards (psst! Dale! Were you listening to me? The point is that any external standards become paperwork exercises in plugging existing good practices into the latest faddish rubric and nomenclature.)

Cindy Peterson of Chamberlain said, "Human children... are not and can never be standard," Peterson said. "Any attempt to standardize learning... is doomed to failure, at the expense of the child." She then read a letter from Lane Larson, a teacher from Pukwana, who wrote that she had been afraid to speak for fear of losing her job. Larson quit teaching because she saw Common Core was not developmentally appropriate for young children.

Mark Chase of the Family Policy Council took the mic to say that a man from Mongolia had told him that Common Core was "what we had under Soviet Communist reign." Common Core, said Chase, is designed to "break your kids down and make them compliant with the State."

Common Core opponent Mary Scheel-Buysse said she has heard teachers complain that Common Core is "working kids like dogs." She said teachers had told her that administrators had forbidden them to do spelling lists with third graders and multiplication drills with fourth graders.

Linda Schauer of South Dakota's Concerned Women for America office quoted George Will to make Common Core sound like the Affordable Care Act: "If you like your curriculum, you can keep it."

For those of you scoring at home, consider that this liberal blog author stood shoulder to shoulder with the Family Heritage Alliance, the Family Policy Council, and the Concerned Women for America. (The word syzygy jumps to mind.)

The education establishment of South Dakota then proceeded to crush us with gusto. If they spoke with notable vehemence, it may come from having dealt with arguments about Common Core one too many times for their taste. Or, as some of my lunch companions observed, maybe it was just arrogance.

Whatever it was, it came hard. Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said a blind survey found over 80% of South Dakota math and language arts teachers say Common Core is appropriate and will increase student achievement. She said if any administrators are banning spelling and multiplication, they aren't following Common Core.

Secretary Schopp also ran this lovely circular argument: since Common Core is in effect, stopping it would cause all sorts of upheaval. State law requires that we have statewide standards, so we'd have to throw ourselves into a fast cycle of developing new standards and tests and retraining teachers. The universities would have to retool all of their teacher education programs. All that change would be bad for teachers and students, so we can't change.

In other words, we can't change the machine because we can't change the machine. And since HB 1223 doesn't offer a new machine, it's bad. Never mind that I'm not convinced we even need a machine.

The Associated School Boards, the Board of Regents, the Superintendents Association, the Education Association, the Large School Group, and the United Schools Association all backed the Secretary. Common Core opponents are acting from unfounded political fears (hmm... where was my political argument?). They are "astounded" at statements likening Common Core and the Soviets (as am I, Mark!). Lobbyist Dianna Miller said most of this opposition comes from the Internet, and "you can post anything on the Internet" (true, and thank goodness for that liberty!). SASD's Rob Monson said that just last weekend he checked his fourth grade son's spelling list, and no Common Core cops busted him (that, Rob, was an awesome rhetorical point).

Before the hearing, even the proponents suspected HB 1223 was headed for quick death. But with no other bills on the House Education agenda, HB 1223 got just over two hours. The indefatigable committee members loaded both sides with questions. Even when they closed questions, they didn't go immediately to death for the bill. Rep. Roger Hunt (R-25/Brandon) offered an amendment to remove the vague "similar to" from Section 2, saying that wording would prevent the state from adopting any standards (which, again, Rep. Hunt, might not be so bad!). That amendment passed, and Rep. Hunt moved "do pass." Rep. Joshua Klumb (R-20/Mount Vernon) said he likes standards, but he's still afraid "the government is coming" and urged folks who don't like Common Core to "seek alternative education" (code, shades of Graves, for "send your kids to private school and homeschool and kill public education!"). Finally fed up with the foolishness, Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead) moved to table HB 1223, which parliamentarily is what you do when you want to shut down the debate and be done.

And we were done... but just by an 8–7 vote. My head counters said it looked more like 11–4 vote before the hearing.

The three Democrats on House Ed all voted to kill HB 1223. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), who was just here yesterday saying this blog as "no creditability," voted the way I told them to. Apply your Common Core critical thinking skills to that flip.

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Marketplace last night broadcast an interesting piece on the cost of building the Common Core standardized tests, the first round of which our kids will soon be taking:

That kind of test is more expensive, says Scott Marion, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. Each question has to be written, then reviewed for bias and age-appropriateness, and field tested. Then it may be revised or even thrown out. When you add up nine grade levels, all with different tests in math and English, we’re talking thousands and thousands of questions. Marion estimates a single multiple- choice question costs roughly $1,000 to develop.

“When you get into more open-ended questions, you get into three, four, five thousand dollars per question,” he says [Amy Scott, "With Common Core Testing, You Get What You Pay For," Marketplace, 2015.02.09].

When I taught French at Spearfish High School, I wrote my own final exams. The French 1 exam had 120 vocab questions, around ten verb conjugations, ten translation questions, and fifteen oral interview questions. None were multiple choice questions, but none were complicated essay questions. Using Common Core math, let's put my question-development cost at $3,000. One French final exam with 145 questions would cost $465,000 to develop. Consider that I prepared similar exams for French 2 and French 3 and created separate semester and final exams. That's $2.79 million in test-creation value, and that's without adding the cost of regular vocab quizzes, oral interviews, and other assessments throughout the year. And shall we discuss the time I spent grading those tests?

South Dakota, you got $2.79 million in value for a mere $35,500 a year. Yet I keep coming back for more. You're a lucky state, South Dakota.

p.s.: Just as South Dakota is about to get the first payoff on its investment in those fancy-pants Common Core tests, Rep. Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) and some of our archest conservatives propose House Bill 1223 to end South Dakota's involvement with Common Core and outlaw our use of any similar multistate standards.

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Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) has found a nice safe conservative bunker from which to fire his first post-election paranoia grenades. Senator Jensen says the state Board of Education is breaking a new state law that he co-sponsored in the 2014 Legislative session to deliver us from the evil of K-12 curriculum standards created in other states.

The law in question is SDCL 13-3-48.1, created by this year's Senate Bill 64, which reads in relevant part,

Prior to July 1, 2016, the Board of Education may not, pursuant to § 13-3-48, adopt any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states. However, this section does not apply to content standards whose adoption by the Board of Education was completed and finalized prior to July 1, 2014. However, nothing in this section prohibits the board from adopting standards drafted by South Dakota educators and professionals which reference uniform content standards, provided that the board has conducted at least four public hearings in regard to those standards [SDCL 13-3-48.1, enacted 2014.07.01].

The action in question is the creation of new science and social studies standards. Senator Jensen, similarly archly conservative Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle), and some Common Core opponents went to the Board of Education meeting Monday to say those new standards are linked to Common Core. According to the intrepid Bob Mercer, the standard opponents used words like “communist,” “evolution,” “leftist,” “climate change” and “environmentalism” in their expressions of opposition.

Never mind that the South Dakota teachers who worked on the social studies standards read SDCL 13-3-48.1, read a lot of documents, and drafted their own darn standards:

Much of the proposal is based on the state’s existing standards, but the revision committee injected old priorities with their own experience and new research, [DOE specialist Sam] Shaw said. The group also consulted the C3 Framework, a collaborative effort between states and the National Council for Social Studies to improve the rigor of social studies classes and align with the Common Core State Standards.

Lawmakers passed a two-year ban last year on the adoption of “any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states.”

Aware of the stipulation, the 2014 Social Studies Content Standards Revision Committee did not adopt the C3 Framework, instead using its philosophies to inform the standards-writing process, Shaw said.

“Anything we used was primarily for reference,” Shaw said. “Each and every individual standard was approved by the teachers” [Patrick Anderson, "Social Studies Standards Urge More Analysis," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.17].

And ditto the science standards:

The proposed science standards are unique to South Dakota and give flexibility to teachers at the local level, Shaw said.

Shaw and his fellow committee members used the Next Generation Science Standards as a framework for creating standards, but the components were made to fit South Dakota's education needs, Shaw said [Patrick Anderson, "State Science Standard Proposals Draw Concern," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.15].

Evidently when the Legislature forces teachers to engage in the charade of codifying all of their art into lengthy bullet-point standards documents, Senator Jensen and other conservative allies also expect teachers to ignore the vast body of knowledge, research, and paperwork already generated by their colleagues in other states and reinvent the standards wheel. (Senator Jensen is creating another moment in which South Dakota teachers will say to the Legislature, "You don't pay us enough to put up with this B.S.")

Senator Jensen said he's going to sic the Attorney General on the Board of Education for this violation, because oh my, an economic-development official scamming the state out of over $100 million on an illegal contract doesn't warrant lifting a finger, but teachers reading plans from other states need to be investigated right now!

Such is the nuttiness Senator Jensen and his fellow Republicans have in store for the 2015 Legislative session.

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Pat Powers must have found the South Dakota Republican Convention really boring. After touting his supposedly riveting on-site coverage, Powers couldn't find much more interesting to post live from Rapid City than seemingly random dumps of unlabeled, uninformative photos (proving that Pat's blog doesn't seek to inform but rather stroke egos and curry favor among party insiders) and blather about beverages (though I did find interesting Pat's evidence that the SDGOP convention runs on Food for Votes). Ultimately, things were so slow, Powers decided to bug out early and leave it to the real journalists to report the real news from the convention...

...like the SDGOP's embarrassing resolution calling for the impeachment of the President of the United States. Anti-abortion crusader Allen Unruh proposed the divisive resolution, which passed 191 to 176.

This nonsense is too much even for Rep. Kristi Noem to take:

Noem, who addressed the Republican convention Saturday morning, hours before the resolutions was voted on, doesn't believe impeachment is the "best way" to deal with Obama.

"The congresswoman currently believes the best way for Congress to hold the president accountable is to continue aggressive committee oversight and investigations into the administration's actions like the ongoing VA scandal, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Benghazi, and the recent Taliban prisoner exchange," said Brittany Comins, Noem's spokesperson [David Montgomery, "S.D. Republican Party Calls for Obama Impeachment," Political Smokeout, 2014.06.21].

Oddly, the Republican convention chose not to ride another big conservative hobbyhorse, Common Core paranoia. Offered an opportunity to debate the oft-bashed curriculum standards, the convention instead approved a resolution that doesn't mention Common Core but requires that any multi-state standards and tests be approved by the Legislature... because of course, Republicans like to involve big government in education, as long as it's a government that they control.

(Meanwhile, the only resolution Powers covers live from Rapid City is the resolution recognizing crony capitalist Craig Lawrence for his service as SDGOP chair. Again, stroke, curry.)

Oh yeah, and in the only contested nomination race, South Dakota Republicans picked Senator Shantel Krebs over Deputy Secretary of State Patricia Miller to run for Secretary of State, because even Republicans agree that a lady who sold shoes can run elections better than a lady who works for the current corrupt and incompetent Jason Gant.

p.s.: Bob Mercer thinks Krebs is such a strong pick that South Dakota Democrats won't bother to run someone against her. Dems, please prove Mercer wrong

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Last week my friend and Democratic District 33 Senate candidate Robin Page voiced her displeasure at the removal of cursive handwriting from the Rapid City School District curriculum. Blame that on Common Core: the new mostly nationwide education standards tell teachers to work on handwriting with kindergartners and first-graders, then focus on keyboarding.

And as much as I love computers, handing kids keyboards instead of pencils and pens may mean they they learn less:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier” [Maria Konnikova, "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades," New York Times, 2014.06.02].

An example of the benefits of handwriting appears in note-taking:

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding [Konnikova, 2014.06.02].

Permit me to contribute my anecdotal experience to the empirical data: I've seen the same effect in my own note-taking. I can type faster than I can write longhand. But whether I'm in class or interviewing someone for the blog, I feel as if I process and recall information better when I write it by hand. (I haven't noticed a difference yet between writing with pen on paper and writing with stylus on electronic tablet.)

Common Core opponents, you can keep arguing about the arcanities of government databases and Soviet-style homogenization. But if you really want to fight Common Core standards, I humbly suggest that a nuts-and-bolts research-based argument that dropping handwriting weakens kids' ability to learn will get ten times the traction for your cause.

Related: Diane Ravitch contends that Bill Gates should face Congressional hearings for short-circuiting federalism and buying the education system to promote Common Core.

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