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Mitchell Supt. Graves Continues Anti-Teacher Arguments for Referred Law 16

Last updated on 2013.09.10

Mitchell school superintendent Joe Graves is still bucking for a promotion. He took to the pages of the Mitchell Daily Republic last week to continue his shameless flacking for Governor Daugaard's really bad education policy, Referred Law 16.

Remarkably, given that a good superintendent ought to be a sharp policy wonk, Graves mostly wages advocacy by bromide, innuendo, and wishful thinking.

Much of his essay is the "change for change's sake" argument. He tries to turn the old curse "May you live in interesting times" into a moral imperative and casts those who would oppose what he finds interesting as regressives:

Frankly, I don't see it as a curse. Who exactly would want to live in uninteresting times? And the answer is: apparently a lot of people. The good news is that regardless of just how many people do want their lives to be unchanging, they typically can't do much about it other than to stew and lament [Joe Graves, "Despite Backlash in SD and Chicago, Educational Sea Change Happening," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 18, 2012].

Graves cheerfully disdains the public school "establishment" in which he works:

Twenty-five years ago, K-12 education was a cultural institution with almost no outside competition and the 8 mm movie projector its most compelling technology. Today, public education has competition from private schools, home schools, virtual schools, charter schools (though not yet in South Dakota) and other public schools (through open enrollment).

In each of these cases, at least some part of the public school establishment has railed against and fought the legality of the new competitors and, in every case, they have been unsuccessful in doing so. And through all of it, public education has survived and in some cases thrived in the face of that competition [Graves, 2012.09.18].

Note the compound generalizations here. Graves creates the impression that you can count on the public school "establishment," that vague and thus irrefutable monster of his and neighbor Sibby's paranoid fantasies, to throw some obstacle against every new policy or practice. Public education still exists; therefore, Graves implies, you should ignore those silly public educators when they protest some policy, because no change is bad and no change can hurt the public schools.

Graves says change is "inexorable" and "inevitable." In his mind, that means we public school teachers have no business suggesting that some forms of change, like Governor Daugaard's Referred Law 16, are the wrong kinds of change:

...advocates for South Dakota teachers, who have always argued correctly that our state's teachers are not paid enough, sponsor and advocate for a referendum to defeat recently passed legislation, HB1234, which provides tens of millions of new dollars for teacher salaries, provides both market and merit incentives, and ends a state mandate for teacher continuing contract rights (tenure), i.e. job security [Graves, 2012.09.18].

Graves is getting a bit hyperbolic here. Referred Law 16 includes no funding, but the Governor promises that he'll get the Legislature to allocate $15 million to fund his selective bonus proposal. Graves apparently rounds that 15 up to 20 and calls it two "tens of millions." He also calls continuing contract "job security," when in fact the slim security that Graves and Daugaard insist they must take away from teachers is the simple requirement that if Graves doesn't want to offer a contract to a veteran teacher, Graves must write that veteran teacher a letter explaining why he's changed his mind about that teacher's fitness to serve the Mitchell school district.

Graves then proceeds to inflate his anti-public-school ideology to a global consensus:

So what if the whole world now recognizes that market forces must be allowed to solve the problems of teacher shortages? Who cares that a compensation system which offers no recognition of teacher effort or merit is patently unfair? And big deal that tenure means that some students will continue to have mediocre, or worse, teachers.

The whole world? No, Joe, the whole world does not view market forces as the solution to school woes. South Dakota has been failing to recognize teacher effort and merit with last-in-the-nation teacher pay for at least two generations, but that doesn't justify imposing a bonus pay system that research shows doesn't work. And by saying that some students will continue to have mediocre teachers, you admit that you aren't doing your job as an administrator with the training and legal tools you have to ensure your school only employs qualified, effective teachers.

Graves's advocacy for the Governor's really bad education ideas exemplify the shifty rhetoric to which supporters of Referred Law 16 must support. They can't back the specific policies of Referred Law 16 with evidence. They know if we get into the details, voters will see that bonuses for an arbitrary 20% of teachers, cutting continuing contract, and state-mandated test-based teacher evaluations won't help their kids learn more. Graves and Daugaard thus have to resort to vilifying teachers. Graves and Daugaard will accuse us of wanting to destroy the public schools by standing in the way of "change"... even though the change they advocate is the real hazard to public K-12 education.


  1. Donald Pay 2012.09.24

    Graves exemplifies the real problem in South Dakota's political educrat community: it is not for change. It just wants to reward its political friends and cripple its politcal adversaries.

    Graves just mouths the same arguments South Dakota has had for the last twenty years. Well, not exactly the same, because the magic bullet they see as the savior of education keeps changing. See, these guys have been in charge of education in South Dakota for years, proposing magic bullet after magic bullet as payouts to various constituencies---computer hardware companies, education software companies, various curriculum companies, consultants, etc. They see that none of their expensive "change" has not had any impact on test scores. So, they have to keep switching the topic so people won't notice.

    In the early 2000s the Rapid City School District piloted an on-line program to satisfy demands from some of our more advanced students and their parents for this alternative. We received about $100,000 from the state to pilot this project, but after the first year the state refused any more funding. This was actually something they wanted, and we wanted, but they didn't have control over our program, so they cut the money off to our district and tried to find some out-sourced private entity to do it.
    This has never been about the inability of teachers to change. It is about who controls change, and who benefits. Referred Law 16 is just one in a long line of fake change that is really a mask for the failure of Pierre leadership.

  2. Jana 2012.09.24

    So I'm confused. Was Superintendent Graves wishing a curse on teachers and education...or didn't he realize that it was a curse. Maybe he should have had a teacher correct his paper.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.24

    Good point, Donald! I can think of all sorts of changes that my fellow teachers and I would like to try. I can't think of any change from the top over the last 20 years that teachers have blocked. When Janklow wanted to wire the schools, he didn't ask teachers' permission; his inmate crews just came right in and did it while I was teaching. Referring Governor Daugaard's really bad bonus plan to a vote is an unusual bit of resistance from teachers, who generally will come to the table to help guide good ideas to practical and effective implementaiton, but who in this case recognize that Referred Law 16 is so bad that we need to simply kill it and come at "reform" with a whole new perspective... preferably one based on evidence instead of ideology.

  4. grudznick 2012.09.24

    Wiring the schools with inmates was bad. They probably planted all sorts of bugs and are wiresniffing all sorts of stuff today.

    Bonuses to good teachers is good.

  5. Owen Reitzel 2012.09.24

    "Bonuses to good teachers is good."

    I agree but what is a good teacher grudznick?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.24

    "Bonuses to good teachers" have not been shown to improve student performance. Good teachers improve student achievement. Good pay for all teachers makes it easier to recruit and retain top talent. Let's first pay teachers for the work you're already squeezing out of us for free: raise teacher pay across the board so that we average, say, 40th in the nation. Then we can talk about other reforms.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2012.09.24

    Graves is a continuing reminder that administrators are grossly overpaid in comparison to teachers.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.24

    Grudz, and it occurs to me that now that we've gone wireless, a lot of that wiring is superfluous. We still need the big server room and one wire to each classroom to plug in the router, and we need the extra power conduits to charge up the laptops after lunch. But here in Spearfish, I've never plugged my computer into a network outlet. Janklow's wiring did put us ahead of the game, but technology moves fast. (Contrary to Graves's assertion, this teacher is already ready for change... at least the change that helps me do my job better.)

  9. Donald Pay 2012.09.24

    I'm not against bonuses, if it's done right, which means that it's negotiated. But let's not call that change, because any school superintendent can now push the issue in negotiations, and impose it if negotiations aren't successful. So, unless he's done this in his district, Graves isn't much of a change agent. He's more of a political toady. Licking the Gov's butt might get him a plum appointment someday, but it isn't going to create the kind of change he says he wants. In other words, he's the worst sort of person we have in education today, and he would be wise to leave.

    We've had standardized tests in schools since I took the Iowa Basics in the 1950s. Change would be ditching most of these tests or actually using the data to help develop individual learning plans for students, or making curriculum or school structural changes that might help improve test scores. But we won't see people like Daugaard or Graves using the data in a productive way. They want to punish, rather than than solve problems.

  10. grudznick 2012.09.24

    Maybe inmates can tear out the unneeded wires after hours. I wonder if there are really less wires today than in Mr. Janklow's day. I'm told back then there were labs that had a wire to each computer and now there are wires all over the place. And the fancy microwave technology that beems my letters and vowels across the internets to you probably has some wires somewhere.

    I say let those fat cat administrators pick the best teachers because it's their job as the bosses. (and take away their fancy parking spots too)
    If they can't pick out the top 20 percent then I volunteer.

  11. Carl Fahrenwald 2012.09.24

    Supt. Graves mouths support for public school competition as necessary (and inevitable) yet he has personally been a "part of the public school establishment (that) has railed against and fought the legality of the new competitors". You can't have it both ways my friend. Legislation to dissolve schools below a certain size, legislation to block or limit bus service for open enrolled students and on-going legislative attempts to punish public schools who have demonstrated success in the open enrollment "market" by removing state aid are just a few examples of this protection racket mentality. Market forces and open competition between all entities offering educational services will create a more dynamic system that improves quality and choice for students and their families. The Rutland School District is building a future on this very concept. Exciting times indeed!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.24

    There are still plenty of wires and lots of equipment. And my fancy Smart Board still has to talk to my laptop by wire (which is a serious gap in functionality!). But computer labs are obsolete when every kid has a computer in her backpack.

  13. Michael Black 2012.09.24

    Alright Cory, are all of those technology applications allowing our teachers to do their job more effectively? The answer is a resounding NO!
    We now have kids that have to worry about dealing with email and submitting their paper online. What's wrong with a pencil and a piece of paper? Our kids may be great at looking something up on Google, but does that translate into real learning?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.24

    Mike, I just had my French 3 kids hand-write a quiz on paper and hand it to me. Nothing wrong with that... aside from the fact that they will type and submit electronically every important document in their future careers.

    Carl—that's right! Graves has tried to reduce the funding small schools get for their successful competition through open enrollment. How'd Mitchell vote on that SDHSAA amendment to keep open-enrollers out of varsity sports for one year?

  15. David Newquist 2012.09.24

    To understand why education has been flailing around with attempts for improvement, one need only read Mr. Graves little piece with an eye for those prime qualities educators need: a respect for accuracy and a willingness to do the scholarship that informs one of accurate facts and circumstances. Begin with the statement: "Twenty-five years ago, K-12 education was a cultural institution with almost no outside competition and the 8 mm movie projector its most compelling technology."

    Twenty-five years ago, educators had already lived through the previous 25 years of the behaviorist fad that produced programmed learning and the teaching machine and were desperately trying to make up for its failures. Twenty-five years ago the nation was swept up in the fad spawned by "Nation at Risk, a report commissioned by Ronald Reagan, which was notable because the commission had only one classroom teacher on it, a teacher of the year. And most educators know that teachers of the year are selected for their willingness to endorse the schemes of their administrative and board superiors.

    Eventually, a cabinet secretary asked the statistician at the Sandia National Laboratory to run the statistics that the commission report was based upon, and found that the statistics were seriously flawed with a well-known statistical error called Simpson's paradox. While teachers savvy enough about statistics to try to deal with the misinformation, the Sandia report was almost totally ignored.

    A program that was unusually successful that began in the 1980s is the National Writing Project in which working teachers gathered together to determine what works, how technology can be used for active learning, not passive conditioning, and what administrative support and communication is necessary to apply what is working and how to keep tactics and techniques up to date. It was not popular with administration and school boards because it relied upon working teachers to formulate and refine the practices.

    Mr. Graves is stuck on those political transformations for education that involve competition, charter schools, turning teachers into day laborers with no rights in the workplace--the dream of a subjugated work force that is expendable and disposable. Our latest effort at making education a competitive business, NLCB, did what competition nearly always does, whether in business or athletics. It turned a bunch of administrators and teachers into cheaters--recall what happened in Texas and Georgia­­? The Nation at Risk report began a series of such reports that were designed to make education, like the economy, a trickle-down business with administrators and school boards and that political class that so hates a relatively independent class of professionals with whom they might have to share authority under the rubric of collegiality. And most of the ideas about improving education for the past 30 years come from that GOP segment that so fervently desires to impose its neo-feudal notion of social order on the people. None of the authors of these schemes are people who have worked the classrooms and hallways and actually dealt with the problems facing true educators today. So here we are.

    If the Mitchell school board wants to improve education in its system, it would be b est to review the kind of scholarship and administrative theories of its administration. That's where the real deficiencies of public education are so deeply rooted.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.25

    Indeed, David! Whom does Graves think he's kidding? The politicians and leaders have been imposing fad after fad, all for the sake of looking like they are doing something, while teachers do the hard work of keeping the kids learning amidst the needless policy churn. In referring HB 1234, we're finally saying, "Enough is enough. If you have to change things, you listen to us and try doing things that actually work."

  17. Testor15 2012.09.25

    At what point will we as a society quit jumping from one fad to the other and actual educate the pupil? Education is not only a math, science and business curriculum. An education is knowledge and critical thinking gained from a well rounded liberal arts education. Critical thinking is gained by having the preconceived notions of the student questioned through the process of exposing the child to outside ideas. By pushing the comfort envelope these students learn to question long held views.
    By pushing the child's knowledge envelope we give them the tools to solve insurmountable problems with amazing solutions.

  18. larry kurtz 2012.09.25

    Scab teachers would be no better than scab refs. RT @markos Markos Moulitsas

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