Last updated on 2014.12.06
Josh Verges's headline, "Panel Guts Education Reform Bill Before Sending to Senate," would lead readers to believe that House Bill 1234 is now a far cry from the atrocity introduced by the Governor one month ago today and the ugly ed-wrecker passed by the House twelve days ago.
Such was the theme of comments from District 31 legislators at their crackerbarrel at Spearfish High School this morning. Senator Tom Nelson says the current version of HB 1234 is an "entirely different animal." Rep. Fred Romkema says HB 1234 has "been amended heavily. I don't believe it resembles the original bill."
Over 2000 people signed my petition calling for an education task force instead of HB 1234 before Senate Education's aye vote on Thursday. If one believed Verges, Nelson, and Romkema, one might think those 2000 signers now have nothing to worry about.
One would be wrong. Despite two hoghouse amendments, HB 1234 still has the same four bad policies Governor Daugaard asked for in the first place. Let's break it down:
1. HB 1234 imposes state-mandated standardized evaluations of teachers (Sections 37–42) and principals (Sections 43–46) on public school district in South Dakota. These sections are, as far as I can tell, identical to Sections 17–26 of Governor Daugaard's original bill. No local control has been added. No school district may opt out of the state-mandated evaluations.
2. HB 1234 takes away teachers' due process protections under continuing contract (Sections 47–54). Section 47 ends continuing contract in 2016 instead of 2012. Section 47 makes explicit the right of local districts to offer continuing contract protections, a right which was arguably implicit in the original bill, although one "may not" changed to "need not" in Section 47 suggests that may not have been the case.
Otherwise, Sections 47–54 are identical to Sections 27–34 as originally proposed by the Governor.
3. HB 1234 establishes merit pay limited to the top 20% of teachers in each school district. This ill-advised, disproven policy remains the state's preferred way to spend your tax dollars. Sections 17–25 remain identical to Sections 7–15 of the original bill (with the exception that Section 18 now clarifies that participation in the top teacher reward program is voluntary "for teachers"). The new Section 36 also includes the full language of the original Section 16, allowing teachers to participate in both the top teachers reward program and the math and science teacher incentive program.
The two major changes to the merit pay policy are the addition of local opt-out (Sections 26 and 27) and local teacher reward plans (Sections 28–36). The local opt-out provisions, whereby a school district forfeits any additional funding from the state's merit pay plan, are identical to Sections 16–17 in the bill passed by the House on Feb. 13.
The option for districts to create local teacher reward plans (LTRPs) as alternatives to the state was not in Governor Daugaard's original proposal, and it has been changed somewhat from the House version. Merit-based LTRPs now can use broader criteria of "impact on student achievement" and "teacher leadership" not explicitly tied to the state-mandated teacher evaluations. However, non-merit-based LTRPs are more explicitly limited to "critical teaching area needs." (Compare current Section 29 with House version Section 19.)
HB 1234 convenes an LTRP Advisory Council to write up one or model LTRP applications, which I assume will serve as models of plans the state considers acceptable. Section 30 of the current bill gives teachers more voice on this council. The House version would have empaneled six principals, six superintendents, two board members, and three teachers; the current version empanels six administrators, six teachers, and three board members.
But this board only provides input. The Governor's Education Secretary gets the final say on the model applications (Section 31, identical to House version Section 21). Worse, the ongoing control is given to an LTRP Oversight Board (Section 32) beholden to the Governor. Compare the proposed panels:
The current version of HB 1234 increases this governing panel from five to seven, and increases the majority appointed by the Governor from three to five. And just for kicks (check your shins, fellow teachers), HB 1234 now doubles the number of education non-experts to offer their irrelevant bromides about how to run schools like businesses. And these seven people in Pierre, not local school boards, will decide what plans local schools get to use to receive additional funding.
By including the Secretary of Education on the LTRP Oversight Board, HB 1234 now reduces one step in the bureacracy, as the Board and Secretary work together in the decision-making process. And where the House version said that schools whose LTRPs are denied go straight into the state's 20% top teacher merit pay plan, denied schools now can opt out and give up on receiving the additional funding (Section 33).
Sections 34 and 35 establish the schedule and amount for the state's LTRP disbursements. These sections are identical to Sections 24 and 25 from the House version.
4. HB 1234 enshrines the principle of math and science Über alles (Sections 11–16). HB 1234 still insists on treating math and science teachers as a special class. Which of them get the money and how have changed somewhat. Elementary math/science specialists join middle and high school math/science teachers in the running. Instead of $3500 going to every MS/HS math/science teacher, $2500 bonuses now go only to those math/science teachers receiving "distinguished" or "proficient" evaluation ratings.
The math/science incentives thus compound a tunnel-vision focus on math and science (what, we don't need engineers who can communicate?) with an expansion of the Governor's wrong-headed belief that merit pay works. And just in case any school district wants to avoid the deleterious effects of merit pay, Section 26 specifies that no school district may opt out of this math/science-focused merit pay program. No local control there.
The only really new wart on this hog is the critical teaching needs scholarship program, neatly fit into Sections 1–10 to allow easy renumbering of all the other recycled sections. The scholarship program may just be a spin on an old program recalled by new eager commenter D.E. Bishop. The program seems harmless enough but it has no direct link to improving student achievement. It's also worth noting that college juniors and seniors may still do the math and find they will end up with more income and less rigamarole if they go teach in Minnesota or Wyoming.
So sure, Mr. Verges, the Gang of Six gutted the bill. They then stuffed those guts right back in, with a couple cupcakes and cowpies thrown in for good measure.
Overall, in principle and in policy, HB 1234 is still very much the same lame but rabid beast Governor Daugaard has sought to send slobbering through our public schools.
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For the auditorially inclined, here's how I laid out some of the above case at today's crackerbarrel in at the Spearfish HS auditorium:
And here's how Senator Tom Nelson (R-31/Lead) responded:
Have faith: we'll keep changing it, and it will work. Why am I still nervous?