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Munsterman Floats Education Experiment; Brookings Teachers Just Need Time

Rep. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings) is looking for ways to improve education. At last Tuesday's Brookings school board meeting, he floated a program he's calling "Teaching and Learning Across the Community." Apparently he's working with some SDSU education profs to put together a study that would place student teachers in year-long internships in Brookings and three other schools to implement an experiment in community-based contextual learning. It sounds like the proposal wants to replicate some of the efforts being made by USD's GoTeach South Dakota program, though the focus seems to be more on producing research data on student achievement than improving the quality of teacher preparation programs.

You can read the draft proposal and background review of student achievement factors presented to the Brookings School Board. Brookings superintendent Roger DeGroot says the two-year experiment would cost $388,000.

Making the program fly means finding teachers willing to undergo training, revamp their curriculum, collaborate with an intern for a full year, and coordinate with a "Community System Team" consisting of parents "and a number of community members that represent service organizations, health organizations and local business."

Finding volunteers at Brookings High School may be tough. At the same meeting where Rep. Munsterman made his pitch, two experienced BHS teachers stepped forward to say that the districts move last year to cut their planning time in half and increase their student load is swamping them and lowering the quality of their teaching:

Steve Keppen, who is in his 42nd year of teaching math, and Kelly Riedell, in her 16th year teaching science in South Dakota, addressed the board during its Tuesday night meeting.

Keppen said he is concerned about poor teacher morale and how it is affecting education at BHS, not just in the math department but across the board. Within the past couple weeks, he surveyed his fellow math teachers to see how things were going.

"The work load is overwhelming; I'm burning out," one teacher wrote. "I have from 110-130 papers to collect and process daily. It takes well over two hours to do this without quizzes, tests, copying. There is no time to develop new lessons. I'm having to give up parts of the curriculum with the increased workload and loss of prep time. My work load has increased 20 percent, my prep time has decreased 50 percent."

Another teacher said their one free class period is consumed by entering grades in the computer, responding to emails and updating class Web sites all things that teachers didn't do until several years ago, Keppen said. There's no time left to correct papers, plan lessons or write and copy tests [Charis Prunty, "We're Stretched Too Thin," Brookings Register, 2012.11.14].

Riedell expanded on the time crunch and the inevitable decline in teaching quality:

Riedell, who teaches biology, honors biology, AP biology and zoology this year, said in the past she has received honors from the district, state and even the president .

"If I was teaching then the way I have taught this year, I would not have received any of those honors," she said. "I have become a mediocre teacher."

This year, and never before, she has "winged it" in teaching a class; has told students needing help that they'll have to come back later; has converted all biology chapter tests to use only multiple choice questions that can be graded by computer; has stopped teaching before a class period is done to prepare for the next class; has taken more than one day to grade and return assignments. "I let two labs sit on my desk, waiting to be graded, that eventually got so old and I just said 'Completion grade,'" Riedell said. "I've never done that before. I skipped doing a lab in a class that I normally would do because I didn't have time to prep and get it ready.

"I turned down a student teacher placement this year, request to be in my classroom, because honestly I didn't have the time or energy to deal with it. I turned down requests from SDSU to have PS1 and PS2 students observe in my room, because who wants to have someone come and watch you not do your best?" [Prunty, 2012.11.14].

These sound like teachers who hardly have time to maintain the quality of their existing curriculum, let alone take on a new educational experiment.

I appreciate Rep. Munsterman's efforts to look for practical, evidence-based approaches to improving education. But one must wonder to what extent Rep. Munsterman talked with his local teachers as he came up with his plan. It would seem that the most obvious need Brookings High School has is not a new educational experiment. The most pressing need for Keppen, Riedell, and their colleagues is time to do the great work they want to do.

How do we create time for these professionals? With money. Forget raises; we need to hire more staff. Put more leaders in the classrooms so each teacher can give more attention to a smaller group of students. $388,000 would put nine, maybe ten more professionals on the job. That would buy Keppen and Riedell a lot more time to prepare lessons, provide one-on-one help, and evaluate student work. I don't think we need a study to figure out that teachers and students would respond well to that plan.


  1. Charlie Johnson 2012.11.20

    Again, it's another diversion tactic to the real problem, which is chronic underfunding to school districts. Schools need money to do three things--bring salaries to a more professional level, increase staffing ;levels, and return to broader course offerings. Legislators, whether D or R just need to focus.

  2. Nick Nemec 2012.11.20

    You've hit the nail on the head Cory. More teachers, each with fewer students, could spend more time with the students they have, increasing individual teaching time and improving results.

  3. Eileen Van Soest 2012.11.20

    The Governor and Legislators need to talk with and LISTEN to teachers vs. coming up with their personal ideas to "improve" education. I agree funding is the issue.

  4. Steve Sibson 2012.11.20

    "How do we create time for these professionals? With money. Forget raises; we need to hire more staff."

    Completely wrong Cory. It is the money that has created the standards and the technology that you describe as the source of the problem. The solution is to reverse the trend that Munsterman is simply advancing. Reduce government and its control and free the teachers. That means we spend less money on so-called "professionals".

  5. Les 2012.11.20

    I can relate having a mother who left before 7 am and didnt return until after 9 pm teaching her rural schools of 25 in 8 grades. I wonder how many hours Keppel and Riedell are putting in?
    Until you teachers go to Pierre with a plan that says something other than the cry for more money, you will get what the legis proposes.
    What happened to a redesign of 1234 by the teachers that said there was some good and bad in the bill?
    Get a program designed by a designated group of your peers and reviewed by all for context and success and dump nclb.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.20

    Sibby, step out the ideological box for a moment. Brookings HS teachers don't have enough time to teach as well as they want ans should. They need more time do it. The only way to give them that time is to hire more staff to permit them to have their planning time back. I don't care where the money comes from. Cut laptops, administrators, air conditioning, whatever else you care to identify as waste. But you won't solve the immediate problem without spending more money on more staff members.

  7. Carl Fahrenwald 2012.11.20

    Aside from this there is no way out from the federal trap of NCLB or rather now the new plan the state is pursuing with the NCLB waiver. We have become too dependent on federal dollars to refuse to play the game. Replace the federal dollars and that would become a different matter but the feds also have heavily subsidized and (thus regulated) public school districts' food service programs.

  8. Steve Sibson 2012.11.20

    "Sibby, step out the ideological box for a moment. Brookings HS teachers don't have enough time to teach as well as they want ans should. They need more time do it."

    They can get that time by eliminating the added requirements that have proven not to increase performance. Simply adding more costs and more teachers and more staff is what we have been doing over the last few decades. It is not working. Start doing the opposite...reduce, reduce, and reduce. Nothing ideological about it, it is simple common sense.

  9. Steve Sibson 2012.11.20

    Carl has it right. It is the federal strings attached to the federal money that is wasting South Dakota's tax dollars, wasting the teachers time, and wasting the students minds. Stop the waste, eliminate the fed. If every state would follow, then watch the federal debt go down. That is how you avoid the fiscal cliff.

  10. Michael Black 2012.11.20

    If what you are doing is not working, then you are forced to change. There are ways to better leverage time that none of us are using now. Engaging the students with collaborative learning with less homework and tests can save the teachers time and get better results. We don't have to think outside the box. We have to redefine the box.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.20

    Michael, enough with this fantasy that everyone can always do more in less time. Efficiency has its limits. There is a limit to how many good photos you can take in one day. There is a limit to how many good blog posts I can write in one day. And there is a limit to how many student projects a teacher can effectively evaluate in one day.

    The Brookings teachers are past their limits. They had a system that worked pretty well. Then the school said, "Here, teach more kids with less planning time." Eventually something's got to give, and unfortuntely, in this case, that something is quality.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.20

    Right, Steve, as if we're just supposed to teacher reading, writing, and arithmetic? No civics (democracy needs that)? No foreign language (oops: that boosts test scores)? No music (oops: that boosts test scores)?

  13. Bree S. 2012.11.20

    Early music learning is good for math skills. (Early learning is fine with me as long as it is voluntary and not mandatory)

  14. Michael Black 2012.11.21

    Cory, we don't have to do more in less time. We have to do better in less time. There is a huge difference.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.21

    That message is not so clear. South Dakotans rejected funding education with an extra penny sales tax 43% to 57%. My read: 43% want more funding for education, 28% don't want more funding for education, and 29% want more funding for education but don't want to do it through a sales tax.

    South Dakotans also rejected Referred Law 16 33% to 67%. Again, my speculation: 33% wanted to spend money on bad policy; 28% didn't want to spend more; 39% didn't want to waste money on bad policy.

  16. Charlie Johnson 2012.11.21

    The people of South Dakota are not tired of the education issue. They are waiting to bring approval to a well planned and thoughtout approach that brings about better pay, better staffing, and broader programming.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.21

    Franklin (and check your e-mail), I'm with Charlie. The biggest edu-fatigue right now is on the second floor of the Capitol, where Team Daugaard is licking its referendum wounds. We need the things Charlie talked about. South Dakotans would be thrilled to get that. Team Daugaard and the GOP leadership aren't willing to give that. A line like "edu-fatigue" gives them cover not to live up to their duty to provide a free and fair education system.

  18. Michael Black 2012.11.22

    Education will see its funding cut at the federal level to cut the deficit. That is why we have to get more innovative and yes Cory we have to become more efficient with our tax dollars. I wish there was an easy way to fund education at the levels that would make everyone happy, but the average family out there had seen costs for everything rise dramatically and wages are stagnant. Families have had to say NO more than ever before to replacing and repairing vehicles, going to the doctor, eating out or buying clothes. Heath insurance premiums alone can cost an additional grand each and every year.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.22

    We are past the point where being more efficient makes us more effective. I understand that, under current condidtions, schools will have no choice but to spend less. Schools like families will have to say No to more things than before... meaning that, as Keppen and Riedell make abundantly clear above, they will provide less value for each student. That's a necessary response to fiscal reality, but it's a net negative.

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