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Education Secretary Signals Retreat on Education Reform — Trick or Treat?

Did we win? Did we really win?

We killed Referred Law 16, Governor Dennis Daugaard's stinky pack of ideological teacher-busting policies, at the polls on November 6. The Governor and some minions sputtered some nonsense about ignoring stupid voters and bringing back RL 16 in bits and pieces.

But if I didn't know better, the Governor's water-carriers are now carrying white flags. Check out what Education Secretary Melody Schopp is saying:

Schopp said her department’s senior staff gathered for a retreat since the election and set out a new approach. She said the emphasis won’t be on “reforming” education and instead the focus will be on “supporting” education [Bob Mercer, "After Reform Bill Fails, SD Education Focus Shifts," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.11.27].

What's that? We don't need "reform"? The status quo is working, and we just need to "support" it more?

This could just be a trick, a diversionary tactic to make me think we don't have to watch the Legislature for school-bashing monkeyshines this winter. But folks tried to tell me that Referred Law 16, or House Bill 1234 as it was known last winter, was a trick, too, and neither I nor the Governor saw that trick play out.

Let's watch closely to see if Secretary Schopp is signalling a real surrender in the war on teachers. And if it's real, let's hold her to her word to provide real support for education. Forget the task forces and workshops and expensive software purchases; let's talk about erasing the Daugaardian new norm and restoring the funding that was unnecessarily and harmfully cut from education in the Governor's first budget.


  1. Steve Sibson 2012.11.28

    The legislature already gave the department rule making authority to implement the NCLB waiver. All they need is the money, which is easy to hide in the budget.

  2. Rorschach 2012.11.28

    Maybe it's time to focus on another abortion ban.

  3. Owen Reitzel 2012.11.28

    The key words are "watching them closely." You can't trust them as far as you can throw them.
    They were swatted down and they didn't like it.

  4. Candoryote 2012.11.28

    Yeah! I hope Daugaard learned a lesson from voters: no teacher scholarships, no teacher bonuses, no more funding in the formula!

  5. Richard Schriever 2012.11.28

    Brand X not selling as a re-form.
    Repackage as Brand C - use same ingredients - call it support.
    They'll never know.
    Keep an eye on 'em.

  6. Steve O'Brien 2012.11.28

    I hope, for the sake of education in South Dakota, that Dr. Schopp's reform comments are the focus of Pierre's legislative agenda this year - not Candoryote's spiteful reaction to the RL 16 referral.

    After the passion displayed in this state by its teachers, I still have hope for the possibility of channeling that passion with proper support into the betterment of the children of South Dakota. There are local boards and local associations working to do good work with proper funding.

  7. Jana 2012.11.28

    So what does the research say is the advantage that the best countries for education possess?

    1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focused system-wide attention to achieve improvement.

    2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

    3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.

    4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.

    5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today's job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today's students will need in future and teach accordingly.

    I would hope that Pierre would look at all of these objectively and then rank themselves on how well they are leading the state in the governing of our education system.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.28

    There are some voters who voted against RL16 because they think teachers don't deserve any more money. While I'm glad those voters helped us defeat RL16, those voters now return to the problem column. Many more people who voted against RL16 want at least a return formula (which RL16 did not affect at all). We'd be fine with teacher scholarships, if they weren't tied to bad policy and if someone could show they'd be enough to make a dent in any staffing problems rather than just ensuring a constant churn of young, politically non-threatening young teachers. And we might even buy teacher bonuses, if they were based on measurements of collaborative, constructive work that research shows benefit all teachers and students, not the ideological whims of politicians who would implement policies that research says makes schools and organizations run worse.

  9. John 2012.11.28

    SD education needs reform and support.
    The system is the problem; not the teachers, not the parents, not the students. The system is the problem and those who pretend to lead it.

    Higher education's been in a bubble for over a decade. It will pop like every other bubble. Our regents and presidents are part of the problem, some more than others - but it is rare for one to be part of the solution.

  10. Les 2012.11.28

    Considering voters as part of the problem will get you the same results our Gov experienced Corey.
    I believe you are not trying to imagine the schools of 2050.

    Smart teachers should be able to design a system the voters can get behind.
    Schopp isn't your friend, she left you teachers behind long ago.

  11. Steve Sibson 2012.11.29

    "Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes."

    That is social engineering, not education. It is expensive and can be a violation of parental rights.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.29

    Les, people who think teachers are a waste of resources are a problem. I work every day to fix that problem. Some voters are wrong.

    Steve, put down the catch phrase. The quote about changing the culture is discussing the culture in the education system and the political system, not the culture the kids are bringing to the classroom from their family/ethnic background. But all education is "social engineering" in the very little sense of building a society. Teaching math is social engineering, as we try to create rational, quantitative thinkers. Church is social engineering, as the pastor and congregation try to create a society of loving, generous non-murderers.

  13. Michael Black 2012.11.29

    Cory, you have repeatedly chastised me for expecting better efficiency and effectiveness in our classrooms. There is a great deal of room for improvement and innovation. And we don't necessarily need to spend millions of dollars to do it. The process starts when we realize that the status quo is not good enough.

    One of the dumbest moves a former governor made was eliminating the funding for alternative schools. I personally know many that graduated because of these programs.

  14. Steve Sibson 2012.11.29

    "But all education is "social engineering" in the very little sense of building a society."

    So then why doesn't the education tax dollars follow the parents' choice of social engineering? Just one element of the New Age Theocracy.

  15. larry kurtz 2012.11.29

    Get off the grid, sell your property and rent, Sibby.

  16. Bruce C. Boatwright 2012.11.30

    Just wondering, as I look at the above data (which is no doubt out of date) how we can improve the quality of the student we graduate? Isn't that the overall goal? When we say 'more teacher pay' what does that really mean? More classroom hours/longer school year? Who is best served when school is out for five days for Thanksgiving? Two weeks for Christmas? 14 Weeks for the summer? The joke going around about who wouldn't want to be a teacher, hardly ever a five day week and summers off springs to mind.

    One of my favorite scenes from West Wing was when Sam Seaborn was arguing that 'schools should be palaces, teacher salaries should be six figures, the competition to be a teacher should be fierce...' or something like that.

    don't get me wrong, I'm all for improving teacher pay, its an often thankless job and I would want the best my new grandchild, as do we all for our kids. I just hope that in my lifetime I can look at a graphic like the above one and see 'our kids' leading the world. I'm wondering if whats needed is a complete overhaul of the entire system, because if our kids are 17th in reading and 31st in math yet we spend the most per student and have the highest teacher pay of the 16 nations ahead of us something isn't working?


  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.02

    Given that perception of working conditions, can we identify more intense competition for teaching jobs than any other jobs?

    But Bruce, I will always take a non-practical position on summer: I got summer off when I was a child; it would be immoral of me to deny future children that same opportunity. I want every child to have that time away from school, to have those three months of unstructured education, to define themselves in a context other than an institution.

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