Northern Plains News puts more lie to South Dakota Republican assertions that South Dakota is a model of the GOP smaller-government philosophy. From 2007 to 2012, South Dakota added workers to government payrolls at a faster rate than our neighbors and the national average:

The Mount Rushmore State, along with fellow Northern Plains states Wyoming and Nebraska, had government employment grow by more than 4 percent during that period.

North Dakota and Minnesota had a 2 to 4 percent decrease in state and local government employees during the period while Montana’s government workforce grew by less than 2 percent and Iowa’s by 2 to 4 percent ["SD State, Local Government Employee Growth Among Fastest in Nation," Northern Plains News via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.07.18].

Bigger government payrolls, faster state budget growth... that doesn't sound like what South Dakota Republicans tell us they're about, does it?

Republican-dominated state government pays its workers a lot more than do local governments:

Average annual state government wages in South Dakota were $50,000 to $55,000 and $35,000 to $40,000 for local government employees [NPN, 2014.07.18].

And in a remarkable and unexpected assertion of priorities, check out which field draws the biggest government paychecks in South Dakota:

State employees working in education were the best paid, at an annual salary of $60,000 to $65,000 and the lowest paid were local natural resources employees at $30,000 to $35,000 [NPN, 2014.07.18].

State workers in education get great salaries! It's too bad the state can't shake some of that $60K down to the K-12 teachers pounding the whiteboards for $40K to help with recruitment and retention.

4 comments

A cranky reader sends a snapshot of this cute Mike Rounds for Senate sign:

Kids Like Mike Rounds campaign sign, 2014

Now why would kids like Mike Rounds?

Do they like seeing Rounds and his fellow grown-ups give their schools a smaller piece of the pie than schools in other states get? According to an Education Week Research Center study of school finance, in 2011, the last year for which Governor Rounds dictated a state budget, South Dakota spent 2.5% of its taxable resources on education. One state, North Carolina, spent the same percentage on education. One state, Delaware, spent less, 2.4%. Everybody else gave their schools a bigger piece of the pie. Minnesota spent the national average, 3.6%.

The kids I know are sticklers for fairness. If they see other kids getting bigger pieces of pie, they're going to say, "That's not fair!"

So, kids, what's to like about Mike Rounds, who gave you kids some of the smallest pieces of pie in the country?

5 comments

Last week, 34 Dakota State University students and alumni issued an open letter protesting DSU president David Borofsky's decision to remove professors Tom Halverson and Wayne Pauli from their leadership roles in the College of Business and Information Systems and return them to full-time teaching status. This move mirrors the demotion of Kari Forbes-Boyte, who stepped down from her deanship of the College of Arts and Sciences to full-time teaching shortly after Borofsky's surprise promotion from interim to permanent president of DSU.

Dr. Borofsky responded Saturday with an e-mail to DSU students, DSU staff, and the Board of Regents. Borofsky raises shields, kindly assigning joint responsibility for the decision to VP Academic Judy Dittman. He says he was reluctant to discuss his "concerns" about their decision because "there is so much misinformation out there that it is difficult to address it all"... and of course, a good executive's first response to lots of misinformation should be silence.

As expected, Borofsky says personnel decisions are confidential, so he can't tell us the real reasons. (Former university professor David Newquist says that in South Dakota, "personnel matters" is usually code for covering the boss's backside, not protecting workers.) But organizations "evolve," and sometimes "change is necessary and positive."

Borofsky names all sorts of other DSU staff who have contributed to the university's growth and reputation, because DSU is an all-caps TEAM effort.

Being part of a TEAM also means not writing disrespectful e-mails. Borofsky says he has received some less than respectful e-mails on the Halverson–Pauli matter. "...I sincerely hope those who have ventured down that road will learn from this experience," says Borofsky. Leaders make important decisions with great care and concern for all stakeholders, but "they cannot always be transparent to the public." Borofsky asks that all concerned parties "give these decisions the respect they deserve" because "Doing so will be an important skill when you leave the academic world and begin careers in business and government."

Let me translate that last line: if you want to survive DSU and the careers for which DSU prepares you, you'd better learn to respect the boss and the decisions he makes, even when he refuses to give any good reason for his decisions.

I don't think we could ask for a better summary of the mission of higher education in South Dakota as conceived under the current regime: not dauntless intellectual curiosity, but workplace submission to managerial hierarchy.

Here's Dr. Borofsky's Saturday, July 5 response in full:

Dear students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Regents:

It appears the decision that Dr. Judy Dittman, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and I made to ask Drs. Tom Halverson and Wayne Pauli to return to the classroom full-time has created some questions and concerns. I have been reluctant to address these concerns via email because there is so much misinformation out there that it is difficult to address it all. I also will not hold a summer public forum because many students and faculty would not be able to attend. However, after a series of discussions with respected alumni and students, I have agreed to address the concerns via this letter.

A number of people who have contacted me have requested that I provide an explanation of the reasons that Drs. Halverson and Pauli were asked to return to the classroom. This is, of course, impossible as those are internal personnel decisions and are required by policy and law to remain confidential. While I understand a desire among some to have an explanation, it is simply not possible to provide one. What I can say is this: Drs. Halverson and Pauli both have great relationships with students (as evidenced by the many emails we have received). Asking them to be full-time faculty in the classroom extends the impact of their expertise and is a positive move for students.

Some of you have written about Dr. Halverson’s positive effect on the College of BIS, and I agree with you. But organizations, and DSU is no different, evolve and there are times when change is necessary and positive. Dr. Halverson is a well-respected Computer Science professor who has agreed, and will still be called upon, to provide his expertise outside the classroom. I expect that he will continue to work with students on the kinds of projects that several of you discussed in your emails. That very topic has been part of the discussions that Dr. Halverson, Dr. Dittman, and I have had.

In addition to Dr. Halverson’s and Dr. Pauli’s contributions, there are many other reasons that our Computer Science programs are so respected in the state, regionally and nationally. Over an arc of years, members of our Computer Science faculty have created that respect… faculty like Drs. Kevin Streff, Stephen Krebsbach, Ronghua Shan, Josh Pauli, Ashley Podhradsky, Pat Engebretson, Chris Olson, Surendra Sarnikar, Steve Graham, Brent Tulloss, Bill Figg and others have all contributed to our significant success. And, our newer (Kyle Cronin, Matt Miller, Jun Lui, Yong Wang, Rob Honomichl, Mike Ham, Dawn Dittman, and Josh Stroschein) faculty’s expertise is growing and expanding our reputation.

In addition to efforts by our faculty, numerous other DSU people have worked to grow our importance in the Computer Science field. DSU Vice President Stacy Krusemark has negotiated many contracts that have helped grow our presence; our Foundation staff has reached out and continues to reach out to ensure alumni and corporate donors are informed about DSU’s success. Dr. Kevin Streff brought recognition to DSU when he testified before the US Senate Banking and Commerce Committee about information security in the banking industry. Drs. Josh Pauli and Pat Engebretson have built a great relationship with the National Security Agency and that has enhanced DSU’s overall image with the Federal Government. A number of federal agencies are hiring our students as interns and our graduates as employees.

DSU’s commitment to Computer Science and Information Systems has never been stronger. We have raised millions of dollars to secure the purchase of the Madison Community Hospital building so that we can create the Beacom Institute of Technology. The creation of the Beacom Institute of Technology will allow DSU to expand its high-level technology partnership with the NSA, create a technology showcase facility, and will allow research in areas that are at the forefront of protecting the security of our country’s information infrastructure. As part of that growth, DSU has secured $900,000 in funding from the South Dakota Legislature to expand our computer science programs and faculty. In just the past year, new Masters and Doctoral programs have been added in these fields.

As you can see, a TEAM effort has built the success of Computer Science, Information Systems, Information Security, and related programs at DSU. Our commitment to, and focus on, the College of BIS and our students’ success has never been greater, and our best accomplishments lie just ahead. There are multiple activities planned (beginning this summer) that will continue to grow our Computer Science reputation and expand our student enrollment and success. A positive student experience will remain on the front burner for every faculty and staff member here at DSU. Our most important goal is to ensure student success – to make sure that the careers that students seek will be easier to obtain and that graduate schools will more readily accept our graduates. We have full confidence in Professor Rick Puetz in his role as interim Dean because he demonstrated his successful leadership style while holding the Dean’s position for nine years earlier in his career at DSU.

I am committed to respectful dissent. As a matter of fact, faculty and staff will tell you that I often talk about R&D, which in this case means Respect and Dignity. Frankly speaking, some of the emails I have received about this matter have not been respectful, and I sincerely hope those who have ventured down that road will learn from this experience. Leaders in organizations make decisions for a broad array of reasons and factors. These decisions are important and done with great care and concern for the long-term interest of all stakeholders, but they cannot always be transparent to the public. Some of you were concerned that the University’s leadership did not ask your opinion about this change beforehand. While we understand both your allegiance to Drs. Halverson and Pauli and your concern about important decisions generally, we acted in what we truly believe to be the best interests of the University for the long term. I ask that you give these decisions the respect they deserve. Doing so will be an important skill when you leave the academic world and begin careers in business and government.

Let’s go about the work of continuing to grow Dakota State as the premier university for Computer Science and Information Technology education. Our programs are a gem that deserves to be admired across our country and the world. It is up to ALL of us to keep DSU headed toward that goal.

Have a great rest of your summer. See you in August.

Sincerely,

Dr. David B. Borofsky
President
Dakota State University
[e-mail, 2014.07.05]

13 comments

Even the slaves to conservative opinion who edit the Rapid City Journal admit that low teacher pay is making it hard for South Dakota schools to fill teaching positions.

Last week’s front-page Journal story on school districts that are having trouble filling open teaching positions was predictable. It has been obvious that South Dakota’s last-in-the-nation teacher pay was having an effect on recruiting teachers.

That is, it was obvious to everyone except state lawmakers.

Last year, the South Dakota Legislature formed an interim committee to study education funding. But the panel was forbidden to examine teacher compensation. Nevertheless, the committee introduced a resolution that would have recognized that the state’s low teacher salaries was creating a teacher shortage. The Legislature rejected the resolution.

What is obvious to everyone is that state lawmakers’ bury-their-heads-in-the-sand approach to teacher salaries is producing a teacher shortage [editorial, Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.29].

Now I know that legislators and the Governor like to pass the buck and say that they don't set teacher salaries, that the local districts do. They are technically correct: state government does not negotiate local teacher salaries or issue local teacher contracts.

But the Legislature could pass some bucks to teachers. Every public school teacher in the state is an eligible member of the South Dakota Retirement System. Every South Dakota teacher has less income to put into retirement than her or his counterparts across the nation. If it wanted to, the South Dakota Legislature could make a special appropriation to the state retirement fund to be divided equally among the accounts of every active public school teacher in South Dakota.

Consider the advantages of such a pension boost:

  1. Offering a better retirement package may attract new applicants, especially young, financially savvy graduates whose craving for new toys does not keep them from understanding the value of starting to save early.
  2. Boosting the value of existing state pension plans helps keep experienced teachers in the system.
  3. The Legislature gets more long-term bang for the buck. Our state investment gurus do a pretty good job of turning our gold into more gold and get paid nice bonuses to do so.

Offering teachers more money for retirement won't pay bills right now (although SDRS members can withdraw funds early, with the usual steep tax penalties). But it is a concrete step the Legislature can take, if it is willing, to compete with other states and other job sectors for good teaching candidates.

16 comments

CNBC takes away South Dakota's #1 ranking for business, and KELO-AM's Greg Belfrage, who inclines Daugaard-ward more than I, says our drop from #1 to #11 may say "less about South Dakota than it does about the accuracy and reliability of these endless media rankings."

Given that GOP-soothing grain of salt, let's look at CNBC's business rankings for our neighborhood in detail:

State NE MN ND SD IA WY MT
Overall 4 6 10 11 12 21 33
Cost of Doing Business 10 38 22 6 7 18 12
Economy 11 5 7 20 18 41 38
Infrastructure & Transportation 18 5 10 31 25 12 25
Workforce 16 30 8 6 37 18 46
Quality of Life 8 4 5 10 20 16 11
Technology and Innovation 40 11 49 50 29 46 45
Business Friendliness 3 15 7 2 9 8 42
Education 19 12 22 30 22 12 21
Cost of Living 21 28 12 16 12 33 25
Access to Capital 35 11 45 26 49 35 27

South Dakota's in a competitive neighborhood. Three of our neighbors are top-ten states. All but Wyoming are in the top half on the overall ranking.

Yeah, it looked better with just one 1. How're we gonna fix that?

Yeah, it looked better with just one 1.
How're we gonna fix that?

As I noted this morning in response to a Republican spokesman, South Dakota's weak points on this scorecard, three areas where every neighboring state outperforms us, are education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation. Hmmm... when we see happy rankings, we gloat, buy a banner in the Minneapolis airport, and tell businesses those rankings indicate good reasons to move to South Dakota. When we see grim rankings, do we pout? Do we ignore them? Or do we tell ourselves those rankings indicate good reason to fix South Dakota?

Why might we be lagging in those three categories? Consider that education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation are the three areas in CNBC's methodology where improving a state's score hinges most on doing something, on spending money. We can't deregulate our way to good schools and roads and inventors. Investing real money helps all of those things happen. And investing real money gives South Dakota lawmakers the willies.

Zooming back out the nationwide dataset, CNBC's rankings provide a chance to look for relationships. Which of the above factors go hand in hand, and which run appear to run opposite?

  • Rankings for business friendliness and the economy seem to have the least to do (mathematically, the lowest average correlations) with the other factors on CNBC's business scorecard.
  • The cost of living and the cost of doing business are, predictably, closely associated (on a scale of 0 for no relationship to 1 for perfect relationship, the two factors correlate at 0.88).
  • The next strongest correlation is between tech/innovation and access to capital (0.66). Again, we'd expect that: folks starting more high-tech businesses and pumping out more patentable inventions probably have more venture capitalists around to support their efforts, along with the state resources that CNBC considers.
  • Rankings for quality of life and cost of living have a notable relationship, but it's negative (–0.62). Read this carefully: states ranking higher for quality of life tend to have lower rankings for cost of living. For instance, Hawaii is #1 for quality of life but 49th (as in worse, more expensive) for cost of living. Kentucky is #1 (as in best, cheapest) cost of living but 42nd for quality of life. Hmm... does money buy at least a little happiness?
  • None of the other correlations on the grid crack 0.60 (which is an arbitrary cut-off, but hey, a blogger has to take a break somewhere, right?), but education shows two mild correlations of interest. Seven of the top ten states for education (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) are among the ten states with the highest business costs (taxes, utilities, commercial rent, etc.). Six of the states with the lowest business costs (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Idaho, and South Carolina) are in the bottom ten for education. A similar pattern arises from the rankings of education and cost of living: states where folks pay more to get by tend to have better-ranked education systems.

CNBC's state business rankings may be just one more arbitrary set of numbers, to ignore or embrace as fits the narrative of our choice. But if we embrace those numbers as signs that South Dakota is doing well, we should consider giving them equal consideration when they point to things we can fix. And the things CNBC says we need to fix—our schools, roads, and research and development—won't fix themselves. Just as in business, if we want to grow, if we want to get back to #1, we have to invest.

3 comments

KELO is about as good at writing headlines as Pat Powers. Today's example:

Survey: 30 Percent Of SD Teaching Positions Open

30%?! Holy turnover! Nationally, the teacher attrition rate is about 16%. 30% turnover would put South Dakota on the news map. But KELO's headline is wrong. The AP report says that 30% of teaching positions posted this year remain open. This information comes from the School Administrators of South Dakota, who offer the following information:

  • South Dakota schools advertised 803 teaching positions this spring. Out of about 9,000 teaching positions total, that suggests a turnover rate of 9%. Remarkable: even with our lowest in the nation pay, those figures suggest South Dakota teachers leave their jobs at a lower rate than the rest of the nation. Dedication?
  • But wait! SASD gets its info from a voluntary survey of school districts. SASD says 125 of South Dakota's 151 school districts responded... which means we're missing info from about a sixth. Divide our turnover rate by 83% , and we get an adjusted turnover rate more like 11%.
  • 258 of those positions were still open on May 28.

SASD also collects some interesting data on openings and applicants in specific fields:

Openings Applicants Apps/Job High Quality %HQ
HS Math 62 524 8.5 153 29%
HS Science 36 129 3.6 62 48%
HS English 64 255 4.0 131 51%
HS Social Studies 15 197 13.1 95 48%

More applicants want to teach math than the other core high school subjects (trigonometric identities do have a powerful allure). The responding schools saw 8.5 applications for each high school math opening. Competition for science and English positions is half as intense. Social studies openings this year are rarest, but they draw the most relative interest, with 13.1 applicants per opening.

Quality doesn't correspond to quantity. Administrators reviewing the apps are finding fewer than 30% of the high school math applicants are "High Quality", compared to a muster-passing rate of about 50% for science, English, and social studies.

SASD does not break down data for openings in high school French. But I'll be keeping my French dictionary and my English certification handy!

2 comments

Friday I mentioned that Senator John Thune is using education as a prop to attack the Affordable Care Act. That insincere ploy fits the Republican Party view of repeal of the Affordable Care Act as a fundraising tool rather than a viable policy goal.

Michael Larson steps forward to emphasize the point by listing a number of bills that Senator Thune has opposed that would have spent more money on education. After-school programs, loan forgiveness for math and science teachers, Pell Grants... nope! Not worth Senator Thune's vote!

But hey, as a member of the House, Thune did vote for No Child Left Behind... and we all know how well that program worked. And just last year, Senator Thune was willing to support a five-year, $550-million increase in federal funding for education... abstinence-only education, which works about as well as No Child Left Behind, and which Thune would have paid for by diverting money from the Affordable Care Act.

Education isn't that strong of any issue for a Senator or Senate candidate; South Dakota's education funding problem is a lack of state commitment, not a lack of federal funds. But if Thune runs again in 2016, his opponents will want to bookmark Thune's inability to vote for effective education policy.

79 comments

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.

26 comments

MVT Poll: US Senate

U.S. Senate - July 2014
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