What philosophy major kicked Dennis Daugaard's dog? Our governor continues his passive-aggressive media campaign against philosophers and the liberal arts with another "major in what you want, but you'll be sorry" diss to the humanities:

High school graduates in South Dakota looking at $25,000 in debt for a college degree should do the math first, Gov. Dennis Daugaard says.

What is more likely to pay off those loans, the governor asks: A good-paying job in a growing sector of the state economy — such as science, engineering and skilled trades — or a degree in philosophy?

“I’m not trying to tell people what to do, what to major in,” Daugaard said. “I just want them to have their eyes open about it. I think it’s a fact that it’s harder to get a job with a bachelor degree in philosophy than it is with a bachelor degree in electrical engineering” [Steve Young, "Science, Math Key—and So Is Writing," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.15].

Heavens no, the Governor isn't trying to tell anyone what to do. He's just saying that, from his dollar-based worldview, people studying philosophy are wasting time.

Daugaard's academics-for-dollars finds some support in the Payscale.com College Salary Report. According to their data (discussed also on the Washington Post Wonkblog), new graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology enjoy the eleventh-best median starting salary in the nation, $65,600. They beat Stanford, Princeton, Duke, and Yale.

But over time, those schools's graduates and several others catch up with and pass our Hardrockers. Mid-career (at least ten years after graduation), 64 schools post median graduate salaries of over $100,000. School of Mines grads rank 104th in mid-career salary, stuck at $94,800. I say stuck with starry-eyed dreams of making half that amount (ring that blog tip jar!), but I also note that the Hardrockers' 44.5% ten-year salary growth is actually below the average of 70.0% growth for the 1002 schools in this survey. The schools with the biggest salary growth are liberal arts schools: Haverford (198%!), Carleton (169%!), William and Lee, Tufts, and Whitman.

Those big gainers come from schools with markedly lower percentages of science, tech, engineering, and math grads. Maybe all those technical skills that Governor Daugaard isn't-but-is saying everyone should major in are great for grabbing jobs right out of the diploma chute, but as technology evolves and specific technical skills become obsolete, those liberal arts majors Tarzan better from vine to vine in the changing job market.

Related: Payscale.com looked at four South Dakota schools: Mines, SDSU, USD, and Augustana:

School Name Early Career Salary Early Rank Mid-Career Salary Mid Rank % High Meaning % STEM Degrees
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology $65,600 11 $94,800 104 57% 92%
South Dakota State University $45,800 345 $76,600 416 51% 20%
University of South Dakota $42,600 583 $68,800 652 60% 8%
Augustana $38,800 849 $74,100 481 55% 14%

SDSU beats USD on both starting and mid-career salary. Jacks rule! (And Yotes, tell your frat brother Chad Haber to stop dragging you down.) Augie doggies start low, but in ten years, they're beating the Yotes, too. Hmmm... maybe we should take our long-term education and career advice from Augie graduate Susan Wismer instead of USD graduate Daugaard.

But interestingly, a higher percentage of USD graduates report a sense of "high job meaning" (i.e., when asked "Does your work make the world a better place?" they say yes) than say the same at the other three schools surveyed. Hmmm... is that coming from all those philosophy majors?


The Associated School Boards of South Dakota have a plan for starting to raise our rock-bottom teacher salaries to competitive levels by charging more sales tax in the summer:

The average salary for a teacher in South Dakota is $40,023, and even that amount is not competitive with neighboring states, according to data presented to lawmakers.

North Dakota teachers earn $48,666 a year on average, compared to $49,545 in Nebraska, $51,662 in Iowa and $57,230 in Minnesota. South Dakota has the lowest teacher salaries in the country, according to older data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

"Where are you going to go as a teacher?" SASD Executive Director Rob Monson said. "We identify it as a critical problem right now."

To catch up with North Dakota, the state would have to spend an extra $80 million a year on teacher salaries. By increasing sales tax by a penny in June, July and August, the state would be able to increase its average pay for teachers to about $44,000 – still short of North Dakota, but a start, [ASBSD exec Wade] Pogany said [Patrick Anderson, "Higher Teacher Pay from Sales Tax? One Lawmaker Says Yes," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.08].

Joe Lowe proposed something like this during the Democratic gubernatorial primary last spring. The proposal is one eighth of the initiated measure that voters rejected in 2012 to add an extra penny to the sales tax and split the proceeds between education and health care.

ASBSD received the usual statements of interest in a conversation from lawmakers at yesterday's Legislative Planning Committee meeting but no firm commitments to turn this plan or any other into action to end the embarrassing exploitation of teachers that has is driving oodles of talent out of South Dakota's K-12 labor pool.

The paucity of respect, guts, and imagination in Pierre leaves us grasping for suboptimal solutions like expanding our regressive taxes instead of following the example of our bank income tax, changing the productivity tax into a real and fairer agricultural income tax, and looking for other sources of revenue that would not heap the burden of supporting schools further on low-income citizens. We've got to do something, but let's seek better, fairer revenue sources for our teachers and our future before we dig ourselves deeper into dependence on sales tax.


Mr. Ehrisman rightly dings his hometown for plopping a school in a neighborhood with no sidewalks and then banning students from walking. The absurdity of a pedestrian ban around George McGovern Middle School rankles on multiple levels:

  1. Cities should not build any public facility that can be accessed only by motor vehicle.
  2. Schools dedicated to teaching kids healthy lifestyles should never make a rule against walking.
  3. Local governments should spend less time bickering about jurisdiction (the city's "flagpole annexation" of 40 acres for the school and just a narrow strip to connect it to the city proper makes unclear who ought to lay footpath along the connecting road) and more time solving problems.
  4. Parents should not put up with the school's interference with their lifestyle choices. If George McGovern Middle School parents want their kids to walk home, then when the school calls to alert them that their children are walking, the parents should respond, "Yup, they sure are. What's it to ya?"

City Engineer Chad Huwe says a four-foot sidewalk in a developed urban area costs $25 per foot. A ten-foot-wide asphalt pedestrian path costs up to $140 per foot. Let's meet in the middle and say we could build some sort of walking path for George McGovern Middle Schoolers for $80 a foot. Let's say we need to build two miles of walking path around the school on Maple Street and Marion Road to the nearest housing developments. That's $844,800. If one bus route costs a school district $37,000 a year, the school district could pay for those two miles of sidewalk with the savings of eliminating four of its bus routes from McGovern over six years.

But if the city and county and school board can't find a way to make the kids safe, then it's up to us. I know it's asking a lot of Sioux Falls motorists who seem to think cars always have the right of way, but motorists, slow the heck down. Pay attention, share the road, and let those kids get to and from school.


A South Dakota Republican Party press release (apparently from Dick Wadhams) claims that the EB-5 visa investment program brought over $600 million into South Dakota and that Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Rick Weiland is a poopyhead for criticizing his Republican opponent Mike Rounds for using EB-5 for economic development.

Let's all get drunk with Dick and Mike and assume that $600 million (a) exists and (b) is good. Let's assume that if a Senator Weiland repealed EB-5, South Dakota would lose $600 million (and the concomitant 5,000 jobs that such money brings in direct and indirect economic impacts, according to the implication of Wadhams's press release—remember, we're all very drunk) over a nine-year span. (Nine years is how long EB-5 ran in South Dakota from the time Mike Rounds plugged his Governor's Office of Economic Development into EB-5 in 2004 to Governor Dennis Daugaard's cancellation of the GOED's contract with private EB-5 manager SDRC Inc. in September 2003.)

Mike Rounds has proposed eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. Since we're already drunk, taking that claim seriously isn't hard, either.

Eliminating the Department of Education would lose South Dakota $192 million a year. In little more than three years, Rounds's death-to-Education policy would negate the economic benefit of nine years of his EB-5 economic development policy.

So elect Mike Rounds instead of Rick Weiland, keep EB-5 but nuke Education, and over nine years, you cost South Dakota over a billion dollars—

(where's my beer—glug glug glug)

—and ten thousand jobs.

Sure, Mike, Dick, let's play drunk economics. You still end up under the table.


Ah, the Tuesday after Labor Day, when the reality of September hits us full force, and when school starts in a humane and moral society.

As I take my little one to her first day of school and then zoom across town to my first day in my new classroom (Bonjour, mes amis!), I read with relish this review of Garret Keizer's new book on the over-quantified state of American education. Keizer returned to the classroom after fourteen years and found some significant changes among the kids and his colleagues. Among the most appalling:

Besides the teacher who delivers pizza, there’s one who proclaims proudly: “We’ve just about eliminated class discussions.” Instead of conversing, his students record their comments using an app and vote in class polls with their phones [Nick Romeo, "A Teacher Returns to the Classroom and Gets Schooled," The Daily Beast, 2014.09.01].

Keizer suspects a vicious profiteering cycle in the technologization of classrooms:

Just as the economy profits from both the causes and cures of some health problems—smoking and chemotherapy, sugary sodas and diabetes medicine—schools sometimes pay companies for technologies that compound the very problems they pay other companies to solve. “We make kids illiterate by shrinking and/or wiring their libraries; then we build wired support centers to teach the illiterates how to read” [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

He recognizes my fundamental beef with Common Core and other reforms that take me away from students for the sake of codifying and quantifying our art:

The constant streams of evaluative data that teachers must generate present a similar irony. Every minute spent assigning numbers to student performance is time not spent imparting knowledge that could improve the skills the data is ostensibly measuring [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

Keizer knows that all this data we are gathering will be long forgotten when we and our students still remember those chance encounters.

There’s not an easy way to quantify the value of a conversation with a sophomore who has just decided to share her first poems with her English teacher. The poems were not mandatory, and the conversation occurs after class, so the event falls into a netherworld that the educational bureaucracy doesn’t recognize. But these are the moments that matter most to teachers and students long after the course material is forgotten [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

Good teaching is good conversation. Discuss. (You will be engaged and challenged, but you will not be graded.)


Speaking of South Dakota wages, I continue to gather evidence that South Dakota could afford my moonshot plan to raise our average teacher pay $10,000, to 34th in the nation.

$10,000 may seem like an awful lot of cream on top of the teachers' pie, but this chart from the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute says we could have done if we loved teachers as much as we love state employees:

SD Budget and Policy Institute: growth of state employee salaries vs teacher salaries, 2000–2013

(click to embiggen!)

South Dakota's average teacher salary: $39,580. South Dakota's hypothetical average teacher salary if we had funded salary increases at the same rate that Governors Janklow, Rounds, and Daugaard gave their employees: $49,189. Difference: $9,609.

Where there's a will, there's a way.


The Bakken oil boom is making North Dakota rich! Too bad its universities are falling apart:

Students returning this week will attend classes in buildings without adequate ventilation or fire detection systems and in historic landmarks with buckling foundations. A space crunch is making it difficult for researchers to obtain grants and putting the accreditation of several programs at risk, administrators say.

“It’s embarrassing,” said North Dakota state Representative Kathy Hawken, a Republican from Fargo who sits on the higher education funding and budget committees. “We have a divided legislature on higher ed: Some think we put too much money into it and some think we don’t put enough. Buildings aren’t people, so we don’t put dollars there” [Jennifer Oldham, "North Dakota Universities Crumble as Oil Cash Pours In," Bloomberg, 2014.08.26].

Moving that money from petro-tax revenues to classrooms is complicated: Oldham reports that 30% of the money is locked up in a state trust fund until 2017, while another big chunk goes to municipalities. The $300 million the North Dakota Legislature gets faces competition from road needs. While the universities need $808 million in repairs, the state also needs $925 million to fix roads statewide over the next two years, including $485 million for repairs to industry-battered oil-patch roads.


I've lived in Spearfish. I've seen Gillette. No one can convince me that Gillette is a nicer place to live and work and love than Spearfish.

But former Spearfish teacher Lynnae Fox disagrees. Wyoming's teacher pay just enticed her and several colleagues across the border:

Lynnae Fox is one of seven teachers from South Dakota who have been recruited to Gillette. Fox is a new fifth grade teacher at buffalo ridge elementary.

Fox spent the last four years teaching second grade in Spearfish, S.D., before taking her new position.

The Campbell County superintendent says a lot of out of state teachers come to Wyoming for the salary increase [Melea VanOstrand, "Wyoming Schools Recruit Teachers from South Dakota," KOTA-TV, 2014.08.27].

Just one school district pulls seven of South Dakota's good teachers in one year. That's brain drain isn't going to help our teacher shortage.

South Dakota's only hope for keeping teachers in the nation's teacher-pay gutter is stiff competition:

South Dakota teachers made up 38 percent of out-of-state applicants but the district only hired 2 percent of them. The district hired a total of 74 new staff members [VanOstrand, 2014.08.27].

The lesson for South Dakota: pay good money, and you can afford to be choosy about your teachers.


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