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Daugaard’s Merit Bonus Scheme Violates Teacher Code of Ethics

Dear readers, if you think I'm spending too much time tearing apart Governor Dennis Daugaard's teacher merit bonus plan, I apologize. But in the words of our Vice-President, Governor Daugaard's plan is "a big f---ing deal!" It's big, it's bad, and it attacks the core values of public educators in a way that even his proposed 10% budget cuts last year did not.

To understand the deep cultural threat, consider South Dakota's Code of Professional Ethics for Teachers. Those rules tell us that educators shall "maintain professional relationships with students without exploitation of a student for personal gain or advantage" [SDAR 24:08:03:01.7]. At no point should I or any of my teaching colleagues be walking into a classroom and thinking, "How can I make some extra money off these kids?"

We teachers are generally good people, but we aren't saints. Offer us all the chance to compete for $5000 by winning a better score than our neighbors on a form our principal fills out, and how can you expect many of us not to think of our students in terms of dollar signs? Dangling these bonuses over our heads and offering them only to the "best" 20% only clouds our vision of the values our professional code of ethics embodies, including, most importantly, a tireless dedication to the inherent worth of every little human being in our charge.

But hey, D.D., if you want to repeal our code of ethics and let us teachers compete tooth and claw for cash, just like they do out in the "free market," then go right ahead. I'm game. But that's what education will become: a game, played for profit, with our children as the pieces.


  1. Matt Groce 2012.01.12

    I see the basic problem as this, the Governor thinks that kids are in fact cars. He believes that you Cory, really work at Prostrollo's (if only you got paid like that! But I digress). They are but inventory to him. If you think education is just a business, this makes sense. If you think the goal of the entire K-12 system is just to beat the state next to you in a test, then this make sense.

    Give the test three times a year, wait... make it every week! Teach nothing but how to memorize and ace that standardized test. Who cares if they learn how to think, as long as they make us look good.

    How are we going to thrive in the idea economy when we produce children incapable of producing their own ideas?

    Please Cory, don't apologize for spending time on this topic. Keep hammering! Where is the list of teachers, administrators, college presidents, or education experts of any kind who helped put this plan together? Where is the scholarly work showing that merit pay is the fast track to lasting student achievement?

    Kids are not cars, they are not a product, this is what the Governor doesn't understand. Kids are humans, they need one-on-one human interaction (aka more teachers). They need to play, they need hands on learning time. Not more time sitting at a desk learning to pass a test.

    I wouldn't expect DD to know this, I would expect him to know enough, to stay the hell out of the way.

  2. troy jones 2012.01.12


    Few people have dedicated more of their lives to children than the Governor. And, his efforts at Children's Home Society were for those most disadvantaged. To say he thinks of children as "cars" is disgusting. Disgusting.

  3. Matt Groce 2012.01.12

    One more thing Cory. How are we going to attract highly skilled teachers with this system? Teachers lining up for this crap are they?

  4. Matt Groce 2012.01.12

    Troy, then let him prove me wrong. Cause this policy slaps a number on each and every "product" in our schools. He may have helped a lot of kids back in the day, but here hurt a whole lot more last year, and he's back for more this year. I don't care what you did, I care what you're doing, and what the Governor is doing is disgusting. Disgusting.

  5. Donald Pay 2012.01.12

    Students in high school and maybe even middle school know how to work these tests. Since there is generally nothing in these state bubble tests for students to prove (ie., no grade, no ACT or Advanced Placement score that might actually mean something), and since they require hours of boredom, many students don't take them too seriously. Some kids fill in the bubbles to make a design.

    So, some people say, make the test meaningful by making it high stakes. I mean even I, as an elementary school kid, figured out that if I dogged it on push ups and sit ups in the fall and really crunched them out in the spring, I'd get a great final grade. Now if dumb old me could figure that out at Mark Twain Elementary School, I'm sure older kids today will have no trouble screwing with these tests.

  6. troy jones 2012.01.12


    Disagree with your policy all you want. But to make that disgusting charge is over the top. He cares about kids and has proven it.

    Frankly, for all I know you hate kids. And considering the fact you seem to support the status quo, oppose any discussion that raises new approaches, obviously think what has/is occurring over the last 40 years is A-OK, I think you do hate kids. Are they something to be exploited for your gain? Or do you just like to see them not learn so they can be dependent on you.

    What is really disgusting is someone like you who hates kids yet says you like them.

  7. Elliot Knuths 2012.01.12

    I think there was a merit pay topic in Public Forum debate (2009/2010 year, maybe? Cory might remember better than me on this one), and I remember coming away with a positive view of merit pay, when done right. I don't know everything about the issue, but the biggest negatives I see in merit pay are: 1. Teacher rivalry and 2. Teacher cheating. I think they can both be taken care of with some smart legislation, but I wouldn't think this is a bill to rush through.

    I'm recalling a chapter from Freakonomics (co-written by a man I dream of studying economic theory under, Steven Levitt) that talks about teacher cheating in the Chicago district and how some economists fixed that. Fixing cheating isn't tough at all; anyone with a computer and a decent understanding of patterns can do that. I'm more interested in fixing teacher competition. I think that (smaller) bonuses school-wide for well-performing schools could enhance teamwork, although I fear sounding "trop a gauche" with this idea. I also fear that will polarize good schools and bad schools, possibly irreparably.

    I hope they develop this concept carefully but I personally think it makes sense that the passionate, hard-working teachers receive more than the ones who "just show up," or whatever they do. Implementing that idea is a tricky thing though, I hope for the sake of the teachers and students they do it the right way.

  8. Steve Sibson 2012.01.12

    Those rules tell us that educators shall “maintain professional relationships with students without exploitation of a student for personal gain or advantage”

    Cory, so does a student gain personally from higher performing teachers? Of course they do. You argument lacks critical thinking. How does giving teachers raises that have tenure and are just filling up space ethical?

  9. Matt Groce 2012.01.12

    Troy, calm down a minute. I don't know the Governor, I would never assume he hates kids, in fact I assume he doesn't hate kids. But his policies in past, present, and future, do not help kids education. He believes the best way to help schools is to implement free market competition into them, and he is wrong. I stand by my analogy of his purposed policy. It treats kids like cars, and teachers like car salesmen.

    As far as discussion that raises new approaches, hey man I'm all for that. Let's talk new approaches, not failed marketplace competition approaches. Let's embrace the human aspect of education. Let's look at what Finland is doing and say, "how can we do that in South Dakota." Let's find a way to use education to bring communities out of poverty in this state. Let's make public schools cathedrals. Let's make equality the most important word in education. Let's start the conversation Troy, you and I, but let's not do it by accusing one another of hating kids.

  10. LK 2012.01.12


    You're right it was the December 2009 PF topic. As a coach, I came away more opposed and firm in my belief that it would never be done right. I guess some of us can always see the same evidence differently.

    I am convinced that I will never see a bonus. I may not be good enough; that's an open question. However, matter what I do or how effective I am, the administration has me trapped. I am 54 and my future is tied to the SD retirement system. The administrators can ignore me because quitting my job for $5,000 is the epitome of being penny wise and pound foolish, especially when in-state jobs are being cut.

    Merit pay might work if the ability to move is truly available, but state teaching certification differs radically, so teachers are trapped within a single state and public teaching jobs and other public sector jobs are being shed rapidly.

  11. troy jones 2012.01.12


    I get it. So long as I accept your rules of the debate and my ideas fit within the confines of your rules, I have a place at the table. Otherwise, I am persona non-grata. And, somehow saying we think of kids as cars if we disagree with you is proper form of conversation and I should accept it?

    Listen and listen closely. I reject your continued hegemony over the education debate. Your ideas have been a disaster. By the results of your philosophy, you are hurting kids and since you want to confine the debate to your views, it is hateful to kids.

    There is going to be reform in education. It will be led by people who want one thing: better results. People whose only position is like yours (staying within boundaries of the current failed education policies) are going to get left out of the debate.

    And, finally, your statement about "failed marketplace competition" is false. It has never been tried in public education on the micro level teacher/administration policies but it is kicking public education's keister with the competition from our private schools (K-12 and college).

    Anecdote: Recently, I was in the presence of three A-B Sioux Falls public students who were asked to read from the Bible aloud. They struggled with basic words and read haltingly and with no confidence. A few nights later I asked my B-C Sioux Falls Catholic school grandson to read from the Bible and he sailed through it as if he had practiced. The problem: The public school kids were in high school, from good homes and with great parents. My grandson is in 3rd grade.

    My mom was a teacher. My daughter is studying to be a teacher. I care about all kids. In fact, I have a preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged. What is occurring in our schools hurts them the most and the current way is broken. We will fix it. Join the debate if you want but saying the Governor thinks of kids as cars gets you thrown right out. We tried it your way and are moving on.

    The only reason my kids went to parochial school was for the religion/faith aspects. I assumed the education was roughly comparable. It is not and I learned it by the time my daughters graduated. I could fill a book on similar stories. After awhile the evidence is damning. And I'm mad.

  12. Michael Black 2012.01.12

    Spend the money on raising all teacher salaries AND reinvent the alternative school programs to help troubled teens graduate.

  13. Chris Francis 2012.01.12

    A simple and more straightforward way to address standardize testing: Instruct all students to pick the letter 'D', in honor of our fine Governor, for every answer on every ridiculous standardize test, and when every student does just that, across our state, such testing schemes will fall apart, and just maybe, we can get back to a fully involved, critical thinking approach that is part of a culturally rich and diverse academic experience. (and get back to field trips, those were usually pretty cool ways to slack off, and often involved bus trips w/girls, just saying.)

  14. Steve Sibson 2012.01.12

    "He believes the best way to help schools is to implement free market competition into them, and he is wrong."

    Yes Matt he is wrong. We need to implement free market competition "outside" them. Pro-choice education.

  15. Elliot Knuths 2012.01.12

    Mr. Black,

    I could support that only if they drop the law forcing school attendance until 18. It is my belief that a school functions on a higher level if the only students there are the ones that WANT to be. But, yes, I think alternative schooling needs a re-evaluation.

  16. Charlie Johnson 2012.01.12

    Troy, FYI---Matt's parents are both educators. His father was my geography teacher in Jr. High. His mother was the principal where our three sons attended St. Thomas Catholic elementary in Madison. Matt also serves as the school district declam coach in addition to his regular job. I have also served with Matt on a school renovation project committee. While perhaps we disagreed on some aspects, I knew that his heart is there to serve students. On the issue of merit pay, Matt is correct on all arguments. Implementation of this policy will most certainly destroy what is left of our education system in this state. First of all, GDD credibility on the education front is sorely lacking with his education funding cutbacks in the last session. The emphasis of this plan is that 80 % of teacher workforce is unworthy of any merit pay. What does say to teacher/parents/ and students alike? Would principals be hearing from parents saying, "I don't want my child in a classroom run by the 80%." You bet and plenty more. This whoe process of merit pay is so wrong, so unwarranted, so unprofessional-it needs to find the nearest political dumpster soon and very soon.

  17. Michael Black 2012.01.12

    I know lots of these kids that have failed classes only to find very little in the way of remedial classes to remedy their situation.

    I have only bitter contempt for the know-it-all politicians from both parties that think our children are the enemy.

    Teenagers make mistakes. They should have the opportunity to get back on track. They deserve second chances and be able to graduate. Our state has decided to take away alternative school funding for struggling teens.

    A few programs still exist: Chester has their cyber school but Madison's Aim High is gone. Select High in Brookings is done.

  18. Troy jones 2012.01.12


    with all do respect, none of that matters. Matt thinks the Governor's life's work for children is meaningless. That means his and his parents background is meaningless. Their views get the same respect they give the Governor's.

    The Governor has proven his mettle with regard to results bettering child's lives.

  19. Matt Groce 2012.01.12

    The Governor and for that matter the President are both wrong on this issue. Study after study says so. Anyone who looks at the evidence should be able to see that.

    What I really want to know is, has the Governor looked at the evidence? What team of cutting edge educators did he consult with? My fear is... none.

    We've had states and school districts competing against each other for decades it doesn't work. Let's stop banging our head against the wall.

  20. Joseph Nelson 2012.01.12

    I want to pop in and say that home schooling is awesome. I find it kind of ridiculous that teachers in SD would give up on themselves and go against their code of ethics for a measly $5000. If that's who is teaching in SD public schools, I will gladly home school :) Whose teaching the teachers? Why are our schools filled with these immoral individuals so ready to drop morality and ethics for a quick buck? Maybe we should examine higher education, and what ethics standards are being taught therein?
    Regardless, my kids still get to participate in the extracurriculars (since I am still paying taxes!), but no exposure to marketing by big business, no lack of attention from the teacher due to unruly students, and no lazy teacher trying to make an extra $5000. And it gets even better if you join a Homeschooling Coop! Heck, if Cory joined one, he could act as French/Math/Art/Debate/Speech/Civics/Ag teacher. Imagine if you had 5 or 6 more parents, all bringing their special focus to the table. Just a thought.

    I guess the question comes up as to what is the purpose of public education? Is it to produce intelligent, well-rounded individuals? If so, why? Is it the concept that if one is educated, they are less likely to be a detriment to society? Is it to produce good little consumers that will do their duty and serve the almighty economy? If we go by the SD Constitution it is for "The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.". To that end I would say that the purpose is to turn uneducated, immoral youths into educated, moral youths who will support our republican form of government. So, how does one evaluate that?

  21. troy jones 2012.01.12


    You are missing my point. We dont consider you and those who think, including your sources, like you credible. Your results and you unwillingness to recant your rant against the Governor proves the point.

    Joe, good point. By the measure in the Constitution, the current cabal running the education has failed.

  22. Jana 2012.01.12

    Cabal? Troy, really? Cabal?

  23. Charlie Johnson 2012.01.12

    To provide better and more worthwhile salaries to all educators who interact with students is a far better objective than spreading limited resources on just 20% who pass some kind of artifical litmus test- A test that will create school politics that will destroy education. When you pay people of any profession a better wage, they will perform to a higher level. Your expectation of what comes about in results should and will increase also. I will expect better management out of any principal when they supervise(yes, that includes exodus of staff that don't cut it)educators who all receive excellent wages versus a principal who must administer a program that throws limited money at a select few. You know for a political party and governor who speaks evil of "big brother", it is ironic that GDD and his political friends would endorse/let alone propose a project that has big brother written over all of it's fingers.

  24. Joseph Nelson 2012.01.12

    Charlie, I am afraid I have to disagree with your comment "When you pay people of any profession a better wage, they will perform to a higher level."
    But maybe you will define "higher level" to me in you subsequent posts. Let's propose a hypothetical example. I tell a SD teacher "This year I will pay you an extra $5000. Can you tell me that you are going to be a better teacher?"
    If they answer "no.", then my money is wasted. If they answer "Yes.", then it begs the questions "Why the heck are you not performing at this higher level now?" and "So what I hear you saying is the quality of education my child receives is proportional to the amount of pay a teacher gets?".

    I agree that a person in a profession may have a happier sentiment because they have more money in their pocket, but I do not think the garbage man is going to perform at a higher level because he gets more money, I do not think my fellow soldier is going to perform at a higher level because he gets more money, and I do not think a teacher will perform at a higher level if they get paid more money. Unless, of course, you mean that on some level the teacher will have an epiphany that the State is paying them SO much money that the teacher feels an immense obligation to really give it their all and perform at this "higher level".

  25. Charlie Johnson 2012.01.12

    First of all, teachers give it their all everyday. But the burden is not on what I may propose but what the governor is seeking. Sadly the governor is using the 80% of the educational workforce as "straw men". For one, I don't appreciate that. Neither do any or all instructors who work in education today. Higher and better salaries for all educators allows the principal to have management flexibility to demand better performance and weed out those that do not belong in the profession. Higher salary levels will encourage the best and brighest amongst us to consider it a career. This will allow a principal the recruitment field to seek and upgrade his/her staff on a regular basis. Nothing will allow a poor teacher the greater opportunity(to hang on)when a principal has no options for replacement. Parting comment: I would have no problem that higher salaries would also command 10 or 11 month contracts rather than the standard 9 month. Those extra months could be used for continued education, research opportunity, summer schooling, etc.

  26. Charlie Hoffman 2012.01.13

    This entire post, every public intitiative, and all the money in the world is meaningless unless parents step up to the plate and put their children in first place priority in their lives and do everything, take every opportunity, and spend every second of their lives possible when they have the opportunity making sure they are being the best they can be. Hillary Clinton wanted us to believe it took a village to raise a child. I called her foul and said it took at least one parent who put 100% of their own time into raising a child for that child to make it.

    Go ahead and try proving me wrong. :)

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.01.13

    So to get parents to step up to the plate and do their job right, the state should create a uniform parent evaluation scorecard, spend millions of dollars to train social services specialists to use it and parents to understand it, and then give $5000 to each of the top 20% of all parents in the state each year. Merit bonuses would help all parents become more effective, right? Move to amend!

  28. sraP 2012.01.13

    As I read this I am crying. I teach Spanish. Whether I love kids or hate kids; whether I am a top-notch teacher or the put-in-the-hours teacher; whether I create a responsible, thinking adults that are a boon to our society or merely send them on the path to incarceration, I do not matter in this debate. I will never be able to be in the top 20% because none of my subject matter is tested.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.01.13

    Señora, you're in my top 20%.

  30. Bill Fleming 2012.01.13

    Charlie Hoffman, parents are part of the village. If you want a good picture of the concept, read Malcom Gladwell's "Outliers."

    Or maybe just brush up on your English poetry:

    No man is an island

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man's death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    John Dunne

  31. Steve Sibson 2012.01.13

    "Señora, you’re in my top 20%."

    And it is very clear that I am in Cory's bottom 20% and I help pay for both of their salaries.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.01.13

    ...and thank you, Steve, for paying the taxes that pay us to build the foundation of democracy. Carry on.

  33. larry kurtz 2012.01.13

    Cannápopa Wi – Moon When Trees Crack From The Cold

  34. LK 2012.01.13


    I know a few comments have sent you on tilt. The "cabal" comment probably has me over the edge.

    Republicans have held the governor's mansion and dominated the legislature for the past 30 years. I don't recall if the Secretary of Ed has been appointed for all of that time, but I know that recent Republican governors have made all of the appointments.

    To call SDEA a powerful union is to make a mockery of the terms "powerful" and "union."

    I don't where this cabal is but if they have done what you claim, they have more organizing and survival skills than Saul Alinsky and Chief Joseph combined. (Sorry Larry)

  35. Bill Fleming 2012.01.13

    Cory, do you know if Sibby has any kids in public school? I sure hope so. If he's home schooling them, I think that might be a form of child abuse. ...oh wait, that's right, Steve's not a parent. He's just putting his nose in where it doesn't belong again. Never mind. Carry on.

  36. Steve Sibson 2012.01.13

    "The “cabal” comment probably has me over the edge"


    No you are on track. The "cabal" is taking us over the edge.

  37. Bill Fleming 2012.01.13

    I know a lot of parents who homeschool their children quite well, Sibby. I'm just saying you shouldn't.

  38. Steve Sibson 2012.01.13

    Bill, so should homeschoolers get a tax refund?

  39. Bill Fleming 2012.01.13

    I'm not opposed to the idea of vouchers, if that's what you mean, Sibby. But no, not tax refunds. I'm opposed to war. Should I get a tax refund in proportion to the amount of tax dollars that go to fighting them? No. That's now how the system works, Steve.

  40. Nick Nemec 2012.01.13

    I'll answer that one Steve. To put it simply, no.

    Charging people only for the government services they use goes against the idea of the greater collective good.

    I feel pretty safe out here in the sticks and don't see the need for a war on terror, or the military for that matter. So I'll just keep the portion of my taxes that pay for those two things.

  41. Steve Sibson 2012.01.13

    Strawman argument Bill and Nick. No body is saying you should get a tax refund because you are funding your own war.

    The argument is that the education tax shold go to the school that the parents chose. It is the same argment used during the founding by the Baptists in regard to the church tax going exclusively to the Church of England.

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