The House Education Committee had the good sense yesterday to kill one of the ugly ghosts of last year's failed education "reform" package. House Bill 1166 would have thrown merit pay at the 10% of school districts with the lowest rates of graduates taking college remediation classes. Eleven of the fifteen House Ed members recognized that such bonuses, based on a single limited metric, would fail to measure all of the important work teachers do. Such bonuses would also fail to reach many of the people responsible for even that one good metric, like the kindergarten teacher who instilled a love of reading in today's college freshmen but who retired ten years ago.

The only three House Ed members who voted for HB 1166 yesterday were three Republicans—Reps. Hal Wick, Jenna Haggar, and Jacqueline Sly—who stuck with the Governor on merit pay and his other school-wrecking plans last year. Another Republican who backed the Governor's agenda last year, Rep. Jim Schaefer of Kennebec, saw the light and voted to kill HB 1166 (not his first outburst of good sense this session!). Everyone else on House Ed is a freshperson legislator, and every one of those freshpeople (with the exception of Rep. Dan Kaiser, who was out taking a phone call from the Ron Paul Revolution search committee) heard the voters, too, and voted against the merit pay that South Dakota made clear last year it does not want. Thank you for listening, legislators!


[Yup, I screwed up my reading of HB 1166 in my first post. Let's try again!]

Mr. Montgomery notes the eerie cries in Pierre of the ghosts of HB 1234, the mostly bad ideas for education reform that Governor Daugaard tried to force on our public schools last year. I've already warned the anti-teacher GOP to back off their destructive plan to take away what little due process experienced teachers have with continuing contract rights.

The newly filed Senate Bill 233 resurrects the Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship Program. Just like the provision in last year's HB 1234, this new bill offers university students free tuition for their last two years of school if they will promise to stay in South Dakota for five years to teach in fields where we are short of teachers (like French, right?!).   SB 233 has good intentions, but it still ignores the math that the smartest prospective teachers will do to realize that signing up for this scholarship is a bad financial move.

And among the rusty chains of HB 1234 that our legislators are shaking, we find a new spin on merit pay. Last year, the Governor wanted to give bonuses to an arbitrarily chosen top 20% of teachers. This year, legislators are considering House Bill 1166, which would send extra money to school districts that are meeting one metric of quality education. Specifically, HB 1166 identifies the 10% of schools with the lowest rates of graduates requiring college remedial classes and gives every teacher in those schools bonuses. In a noteworthy deviation from last year's merit pay scheme, HB 1166 appropriates real money for the bonuses, one million dollars.

Ignored in this formula is any measure of how well a school district prepares students who aren't headed for college. Ignored in this formula is how well a school does meeting the many demands of special education. Ignored in this formula is any attempt to determine the holistic quality of education offered, the different efforts made by different teachers, and the different abilities of each class of students. Ignored in this formula is the fact that, once we've assessed which kids needed remedial classes at college, some of their old high school teachers may already have retired or moved to other districts, meaning new teachers who had nothing to do with teaching those students or creating the successful culture in which those students thrived will get bonuses just for showing up.

Take away teachers' only due process rights. Offer scholarships too cheap to make up for the applicants' lost income. Throw bonuses at schools based on one metric, with no clear analysis of the people or conditions responsible for that one metric. Sometimes I wonder if anyone in the Legislature really understands education... or, given the passage of the school-gunslinger bill in the House this afternoon, over the objection of experts in education and security, whether the Legislature would really rather do harm to our public K-12 education system.


Alas, even my fellow teachers can get policy wrong. The Newark, New Jersey, teachers union just voted to accept a contract that includes merit pay. Of course, if you back teachers to the wall and drag them through two years without any contract, you can pressure them to accept all sorts of bad ideas... including a program dependent on private donations from millionaires with their own self-serving agenda for education.

Governor Dennis Daugaard will surely point to the Newark teachers' vote as justification for his inevitable push for more bad education reforms. Never mind that merit pay still hasn't been tied to any consistent improvements in student achievement. Never mind that merit pay will go to the wrong teachers. Never mind that if we really want to improve our education system, we need to move in the absolute opposite direction from the merit pay, competition, and testing that Newark teachers have been driven to accept.

See also: Finland. Pasi Sahlberg, the floor is yours:

Pasi Sahlberg, an official with Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture, is in Seattle this week to share the story of Finland's success, and what states like Washington can learn from it.

Sahlberg's message, although he is too polite to put it so bluntly: Stop testing so much. Trust teachers more. Give less homework. Shorten the school day.

Finland, in other words, has become an education star by doing the opposite of what's happening in many U.S. schools and school districts, including many in Washington state.


Rather than judging teachers and schools based on test scores, he said, Finland puts trust in its teachers and principals. Teachers develop the curriculum in Finland, and design their own tests. There are no national tests, except one at the end of high school.

That's just the start. Along with a shorter school day, Finnish students don't even start school until they are 7 years old. Many primary schools have a policy against giving homework.

...Sahlberg spoke almost harshly about charter schools, which Washington voters have just approved, saying they privatize the public-school system. In Finland, he said, parents don't angst over where to send their children to school. All the schools, he said, offer the same high-quality program [Linda Shaw, "Finland's Educational Success Story: Less Testing, More Trusting," Seattle Times, 2012.11.14].

Nix Newark. Let's follow Finland!


In the political video battle, opponents of Referred Law 16 outnumber proponents so far 5 to 1. The backers of Governor Daugaard's really bad education reform bill give us one teacher preaching math based on imaginary numbers. Opponents lined up three educators in their first video to discuss RL16's injury to local control; now they release video #2 pointing out that the centerpiece of the plan, merit pay, has been proven not to work in multiple experiments:

New York, Chiacgo, Nashville—ticking off those examples of the failure Governor Daugaard's preferred merit pay policy is Kate Hanson, Harrisburg first-grade teacher and former Madison High School Bulldog debater. O.K., she didn't debate many rounds, but even a couple tournaments clearly made her a better speaker with an excellent grasp of the importance of basing policy on evidence!

Want better student achievement? Get your kids to sign up for debate... and Vote No on 16!


Edcuation advocate Diane Ravitch is drafting a letter to President Obama urging him to win back the hearts and minds of teachers nationwide by reversing course on a number of his harmful education policies. Her critique of President aligns well with the reasons South Dakotans have to reject Referred Law 16, the ugly mess of school-wrecking policies Governor Dennis Daugaard would foist upon our effective public schools.

Please, Mr. President, stop talking about rewarding and punishing teachers. Teachers are professionals, not toddlers. Teachers don’t work harder for bonuses; we are working our best now. Waving a prize in front of us will not make us work harder or better. We became teachers because we want to teach, not because we expected to win a prize for producing higher scores.

Please stop encouraging the privatization of public education. Many studies demonstrate that charters don’t get better results than public schools unless they exclude low-performing children. Public schools educate all children. The proliferation of charter schools will lead to a dual system in many of our big-city districts. Charters are tearing communities apart. Please support public education.

Please speak out against the spread of for-profit schools. These for-profit schools steal precious tax dollars to pay off investors. Those resources belong in the classroom. The for-profit virtual schools get uniformly bad reviews from everyone but Wall Street.

Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education issued a joint paper saying that such methods are inaccurate and unstable. Teachers get high ratings if they teach the easiest students, and low ratings if they teach the most challenging students.

Please stop closing schools and firing staffs because of low scores. Low scores are a reflection of high poverty, not an indicator of bad schools or bad teachers. Insist that schools enrolling large numbers of poor and minority students get the resources they need to succeed.

Please, President Obama, recognize that your policies are demoralizing teachers. Many are leaving the profession. Young people are deciding not to become teachers. Your policies are ruining a noble profession [Diane Ravitch, "Help Write a Letter to President Obama," blog, October 3, 2012].

South Dakota's wingnuttiest conservatives have been freaking out over what they perceive as our Republican Governor's embrace of liberal Democratic policies, especially ObamaCare. If they really want to challenge Governor Daugaard's power, those wingnuts should get practical and help turn back Daugaard's embrace of "ObamaSchool" by telling all their friends to vote against Referred Law 16.


When I finish rattling off the numerous evidence-based reasons that we should vote No on Referred Law 16 to protect South Dakota's successful K-12 schools from Governor Daugaard's ideological wrecking ball, proponents often resort to saying, "Yeah, but President Obama likes merit pay for teachers, and you like President Obama; therefore, you must like merit pay."

My simple response: I like my wife. My wife likes squash. I hate squash.

My simpler response: President Obama is wrong.

I yield the floor to the Minnesota Progressive Project, which hammers teacher performance pay:

First, incentive pay for professional workers completely and utterly misunderstands motivation. This ten minute video on what motivates professional workers is a must for any leader or policy maker. At the behest of performance pay proponents, Vanderbilt University conducted the most exhaustive study on its effects to date. The results of this pro-performance pay study? It is a colossal waste of resources with zero bang for the buck.

Secondly, and more insidious, is the modern reform narrative this reinforces, on purpose. To assume performance pay will close the gap, you must assume teachers just are not working as hard as they can. But for a few extra bucks in the pocket, they would somehow answer more kids questions or grade a few more papers more closely. It reinforces the modern reformers claim that, "If we ignore all factors that affect student achievement except teachers, we can definitively claim that teachers are at fault."

Recently in Michigan they completed a total takeover of the urban schools by the staunchest, most vindictive of modern reformers.  Their own evaluation scheme rated 99% of teachers as either effective or highly effective. Minnesota's top modern reformer has stated, verbatim, that 99% of teachers are fantastic. I will just have to take her word for it. If 99% of teachers are fantastic, and 99% of Michigan teachers are effective, or highly effective, why are we spending hundreds of millions on just 1% of the labor force?

The answer is simple, and the third reason why this law is so destructive. We know for a fact that successful schools, Charter, Private, Traditional, you name it, achieve success when all teachers work together on all students. Pitting worker against worker on an assembly line race might work in the business world. A student's achievement is dependent on an entire team of teachers working together over several years. The Super Teacher works great in movies, but it is neither scalable nor sustainable ["Alec," "Why Obama's New Teacher Incentive Pay Will Take Education Backward," Minnesota Progressive Project, September 28, 2012].

Both President Obama and Governor Daugaard are investing in a misapplied Hollywood/free-market fantasy. Referred Law 16 on South Dakota's ballot is our chance to tell them both they are wrong... and to protect our kids and teachers from bad policy.

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My Yankton friends cited Daniel Pink on the science of motivation early in the debate over the merits of Governor Dennis Daugaard's plan to wreck public schools with ineffective merit pay. I posted this animation of Pink's basic pitch: the ideology of carrots and sticks doesn't work in 21st-century education or business.

Now fellow teacher Mike Larson drops by the comment section to provide this TED talk straight from Daniel Pink that gives us reason #1 why we must repeal HB 1234 (soon to be christened Referred Law 16) at the polls this November: teacher bonuses won't improve teacher performance or student learning; they may well hurt our public schools.

Pink talks about an experiment comparing the problem-solving skills of two groups, one told they were being timed simply to measure average solution times, the other told they would receive bonuses for solving the problem faster. The bonus group took significantly longer to solve the problem

[4:15] If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That's how business works. But that's not happening here. You've got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity [Daniel Pink, TED talk, July 2009].

Governor Daugaard's education plan offers teachers bonuses for getting high scores on a state-mandated teacher evaluation scorecard. That's exactly the extrinsic motivation that Pink says doesn't work in complicated modern work like teaching:

[5:19] If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what's alarming here is that our business operating system --think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources -- it's built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks. That's actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks. But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn't work, often doesn't work, and often does harm [Pink 2009].

HB 1234 tries to fix our public schools (and you really should ask the Governor to explain to you what in your local high school needs fixing) with bonus plans that are proven not to work.

[8:36] This is not a feeling. Okay? I'm a lawyer; I don't believe in feelings. This is not a philosophy. I'm an American; I don't believe in philosophy. (Laughter) This is a fact... [Pink 2009].

My readers and I are cudgeling our brains trying to figure out an appropriate counter-moniker to challenge Governor Daugaard's propagandistic labeling of his wildly unpopular education plan. But even if we take the Governor's preferred label and call it the "Teacher Bonus Bill," Daniel Pink will make clear that bonuses don't work. That's not a feeling; that's a fact.


While circulating petitions to refer HB 1234, the Governor's education reform plan, to a public vote, I've heard more than one neighbor speak of the need to make public education operate more like a business.

Rep. Fred Romkema, one of the noble legislators who changed his mind to vote against HB 1234, said he resisted Governor Daugaard's arm-twisting specifically because he doesn't see the applicability of the business model to education:

"The part that's troubling to me is how you apply a business model to an educational model," Romkema said. "In the past 35 years, I have not been able to determine how to do that" [David Montgomery, "Education Reform Bill Passes House, Heads to Daugaard," Rapid City Journal, 2012.02.29].

But let's throw Rep. Romkema's caution to the wind and think like businesspeople for a moment, shall we? My fellow public educator The Displaced Plainsman reads Seth Godin's hierarchy of business needs:

  1. Avoiding risk
  2. Avoiding hassle
  3. Gaining praise
  4. Gaining power
  5. Having fun
  6. Making a profit

When you pitch a plan to a business, says Godin, you first have to assure them that your plan is not increasing their risk or hassle. Until you put those concerns to rest, they won't listen to your promises of big money.

The Displaced Plainsman ties Godin's hierarchy of needs to Team Daugaard's really bad sales pitch on HB 1234:

On the ed reform level, South Dakota's HB 1234 and nearly every other effort I've read about seem premised on the belief that giving teachers a small chance to earn a little extra money justifies condemning them, increasing their risks and hassles, and reducing their autonomy, thereby making the job less fun. The reformers then feign shock that teachers resist merit pay [LK, "Teachers Need to Understand Godin's Hierarchy," The Displaced Plainsman, 2012.06.08].

As LK points out, HB 1234's plan to make teachers scramble for a few competitive handouts fails to satisfy the first five steps of the hierarchy and only holds out to teachers a vague possibility of a profit. We can put our business fedoras on and read the Governor's plan as a really bad sales pitch.

If Education Secretary Melody Schopp would read the blogs, she might understand why teachers are insulted by her characterization of HB 1234 as a gift to teachers. Secretary Schopp, it's not the gift but the thought that counts. And the thought behind merit pay based on more standardized test scores is wrong, whether we look at it as teachers or as Godin-esque businesspeople.


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