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Rep. May: Common Core Kills Indian Kids

I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.


  1. mike from iowa 2015.03.01

    Native children suffer from PPPTS-Pre,Present,Post Testing Stress Disorder? (Not meant to be snark)

  2. Tim 2015.03.01

    There are a lot of reasons why the suicide rate is so high on the reservation, I highly doubt common core has much if anything to do with it, take a drive through any of the state reservations, the real reasons are obvious. Any time Daugaard or any of the ruling party starts spewing about SD unemployment rates, cost of living, quality of life or wages just ask them if those numbers they are so f'ing proud of include the reservations.

  3. jerry 2015.03.01

    The big question is how the hell did May ever get elected in the first place? Common Core is not her issue, common sense is and she lacks that.

  4. Owen 2015.03.01

    And this is the difference between you Cory and other educators who are against Common Core and the far right who are also against it. Both what the same thing but for very different reasons.

  5. Bill Dithmer 2015.03.01

    " The big question is how the hell did May ever get elected in the first place?"

    Jerry, that would be because her father-in-law, Bud May was one of the most respected men on the Pine Ridge, native or white. Liz and Joe still own the grocery store at Kyle as far as I know. Joe has an adopted little sister that is one of the few fullblooded Ogallala Sioux still liveing.

    The Blindman

  6. Jana 2015.03.01

    Just curious how the reporter got this story and why no South Dakota media reported this? My guess is that they didn't hear it. There are no transcripts and hardly enough reporters to cover all that goes on in Pierre.

    What can we do to demand that transcripts of all hearings, floor activity and committee meetings are made public?

  7. Tim 2015.03.01

    Jana, we are not supposed to know what goes on in the statehouse, just relax and know the ruling party will take care of us.

  8. Jason 2015.03.01

    SDPB is providing coverage of the 2015 SD Legislative session. Cory has a link in the second paragraph of this story.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    True, Tim: the problem is not Common Core itself, but the mindset behind it that says we cannot trust teachers to carry out their professional duties.

    Youth suicide is a problem, too. I would suggest that bullying and the attitudes that enable bullying, akin to the attitudes behind our Legislature's attack on transgender students, are more directly responsible for physical and emotional harm to students than Common Core.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    As Jason notes, Jana, SDPB provides solid and comprehensive Legislative coverage. They record and publish all of the audio files from committee and floor debates from which I produce my transcripts.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    Good local perspective, Bill. The Mays have plenty of good community credentials. But being a good member of the local business community doesn't equate to being an effective and responsible legislator. Nor does the fact that one buys groceries from Elizabeth May obligate one to vote for her in an election.

  12. Jana 2015.03.01

    That's true Cory, and I'm grateful for SDPB's coverage, and I actually listen to as much as my day will afford...good treadmill stuff as it raises my heart rate.

    My point is that unless someone is willing or has the time, listening to all of the hearings, committee meetings and floor coverage is prohibitive.

    Transcripts are searchable, tagged and can be quickly read. Not to mention the historical value of being able to research issues as a voter.

  13. Jana 2015.03.01

    Besides, think of the jobs it would create for court reporters!

    Pierre is isolated and operates under the cover of an anemic media presence, transcripts give citizens who care about our governance a needed resource.

  14. David L. Newquist 2015.03.01

    I am a bit puzzled about how Rep. May can be reported to have said Common Cause kills Indian kids when she said, "I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect." It seems she sees Common Core as part of the clash between an honor-based society with the major concern of the welfare of its people and a material, discriminating society with the major concern of making classes of winners and losers. Perhaps, her big rhetorical mistake was attempting to address that concept in a body composed of mentalities that think only in terms of winners and losers.

  15. Bill Dithmer 2015.03.01

    " But being a good member of the local business community doesn't equate to being an effective and responsible legislator. Nor does the fact that one buys groceries from Elizabeth May obligate one to vote for her in an election."

    Nope, your right about that. Its all about the respect that family has built through the years.

    The Blindman

  16. Jana 2015.03.01

    It was interesting to hear Rep Conzet speak on how the legislature should respect the will and wisdom of the committee...let's see how she feels about the wisdom and will of the voters.

  17. Jana 2015.03.01

    What no one said, but is the elephant in the room is that keeping Common Core is of extreme importance to Daugaard and a legacy issue for now Senator Rounds.

    There is no way that the establishment Republicans won't follow blindly.

    Want to have fun? Make it a referendum issue and put it up to a vote of the people! Strange bedfellows indeed...not to mention the havoc it would cause the GOP, their faithful and their extremes who make up their base.

  18. Roger Cornelius 2015.03.01

    Here's the real reason May gets elected, tribal members seldom if ever run for state wide office and often don't vote in state elections.
    As I've said previously, May is what we get when Lakota Democrats don't vote. It has nothing to do with respect for Bud May, groceries or anything else.

  19. Fred Deutsch 2015.03.01

    Just to add a little perspective, out of the 400+ email I received on CCSS, approximately 4 dozen SD educators wrote to me: four supported the bill to end Common Core in our state. The remainder opposed. I can't add any constructive perspective to the words of my seat-mate.

  20. tara volesky 2015.03.01

    Rep. Deutsch, when you say educators are you talking about teachers or administrators, or former educators that now work under the Daugaard administration. From my experience as a former substitute teacher common core takes the fun out of learning and adds much stress and anxiety to students. I see where Rep. May is coming from. CC is a terrible thing. Great teachers I believe would never endorse CC, right Cory?

  21. Fred Deutsch 2015.03.01

    A smattering are administrators. Most are current teachers. I suppose like anything in life, experiences vary from person to person, but from the email I received there is no question in my mind that the vast majority of SD educators support it, while the vast majority of the Rapid City area citizenry oppose it.

  22. Roger Cornelius 2015.03.01

    I'd be curious to know where May got her thinking from. Did she visit with the parents and teachers of the suicide victims? She had to base her comments of some facts.

    The Pine Ridge Reservation has a number of different school systems: Shannon County Schools, 2 Catholic Schools, a government school in Pine Ridge, and numerous contract schools like Little Wound. Are all these schools compelled to teach Common Core standards?

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    Jana, I agree completely: listening to analog audio and video is a drag. I would much rather have text transcripts—that's why I type them up and post written excerpts here instead of monkeying around with embedded audio files. I wonder what the cost would be to have stenographers transcribe all committee hearings and floor debates.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    David, indeed, her words were unclear. But "it's part of the effect" is not enough text for me to credit her with trying to address a deeper cultural/historical issue the way Dr. Red Shirt did in her op-ed in that Sioux Falls paper (see link in original post). Rep. May invoked the suicides as a reason to bring HB 1223 to the floor. She failed to offer a clearer explanation, thus leaving the door open for reasonable listeners to interpret her words as an inartful statement that Common Core plays a role in driving Indian kids to kill themselves. That's obviously a provocative accusation, one that a responsible orator will anticipate and take pains either to avoid (or possibly explicate) with clear wording.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    Rep. Deutsch: 4 vs 44? I'm still outnumbered! :-)

  26. Jana 2015.03.01

    Court reporters for the session would probably cost less than what we spend at the Mall of America...

    Of course we could declare that there was a shortage of court reporters, conduct a blue ribbon panel to find out why and then pay them a special training wage after we have Man Power of Wisconsin recruit them.

  27. Jana 2015.03.01

    Fred, it wouldn't be very hard to poll the teachers. Wouldn't that be easier than just making a blanket statement on an assumption that you would like to believe?

    Please tell me your research as an academic and as a legislator is a little better thought out.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    Tara, I won't presume to speak for great educators. I'll just say that I've never seen the set of external standards that have moved me closer to greatness.

    Jana, I'm not convinced that Common Core is of "extreme importance" to the Daugaard Administration or that Rounds would consider it a major legacy issue. Sure, Daugaard sent Secretary Schopp to testify against HB 1223, but if Common Core opponents get wild and start their own initiative (we can't refer a defeated bill), I don't think the Gov would be as cheesed off by popular repeal of Common Core as he was by our defeat of his great merit pay/tenure-buster of 2012.

    And Rounds? What's he need a legacy for? He gets to fly his plane back and forth to Washington D.C., sit in the Senate, and look pretty important/importantly pretty for six years.

  29. Jana 2015.03.01

    Fred, with all due respect. There are over 9000 teachers in South Dakota.

    Does the volume of your email = a statistically valid research?

    Please tell me you take your job and the value of research far more seriously than what you have shown to make your case.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.01

    Hey, Jana, there are 850,000 people in South Dakota, but e-mails from 1,000 of them can win the day on any given bill. Half of winning the argument is showing up. The other half is not saying stupid things when you do show up.

  31. o 2015.03.01

    Jana, why is it that you do not have to live up to the evidentiary burden you snipe at Dr. Deutsch? You persistently come on here and post that teachers agree against the Common Core, but base that on the only few you have informally talked to. How many of those that oppose the Common Core do so based on incorrect and false "information?" Truth has certainly been the first casualty in the Common Core war.

    Dr. Deutsch's claim is also supported by the fact that SDEA has stood against the repeal of Common Core. Teachers have done the work trying to dismiss the fantastic misinformation of those that Cory has found himself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with on this issue. Those who live and teach in the reality of Common Core are the teachers writing to their legislators - Dr. Deutsch included. People oppose the mythology of Common Core; that opposition drops off when we restrain the conversation to the facts.

    (Yes, I do believe that sometimes you can - and should be - be judged by the company you keep.)

  32. Donald Pay 2015.03.01

    There were a spate of student suicides in Pierre during the 1990s. Also, in Rapid City a little bit later in the 1990s. Common Core wasn't around then.

    Common Core should actually help students, like many in Indian communities, who change schools often. Highly mobile students should have less chance to miss critical material because they change school districts.

    There will be issues that arise as Common Core is implemented in grades where adequate background has not been provided. It should correct itself over time.

    Standardized testing is a separate issue.

  33. larry kurtz 2015.03.01

    Mr. Pay, do you know Matthew Koehler?

  34. Jana 2015.03.01

    O, I have never backed or opposed Common Core. You might mistake my opposition to the process and hypocrisy of the GOP and their open despise of Common Core, when it was in fact a product driven by the GOP governors.

    Personally, I have stated that I am conflicted on Common Core.

    My father is a retired teacher who won national recognition for his sacrifice both in and out of the classroom. And he is conflicted.

    He isn't for teachers being told how to teach, but he remembers well the countless hours he spent in and out of the classroom helping new kids to the district catch up to what was being taught in Iowa.

    If GWB were still President, Common Core would have broader support. You figure out if it's politics or the current meme of the right that Obama is a socialist inflicting his policies on our children to scare the uninformed, the mouth breathers, bigots and knuckle draggers.

    In the mean time. Common Core was the brainchild of Republican Governors and I'll concede they may have good intentions but were more influenced by business than the good of the children.

    The opposition from the right is inspired by the same intellectual integrity of a Sarah Palin speech given without a teleprompter.

  35. Jana 2015.03.01

    Oh "Chhese-in-Rice" Fred, "Walking in High Cotton?"

    The good Doctor Fred decides to celebrate Black History Month with a headline that makes one go hmmm.

    "walking in high cotton"

    Seriously? You reference the pre-Civil War origins of the term but seem ignorant of at who's expense that "High Cotton's" bounty affected.

    Fred, I have no doubt of your scholarly credentials, but I amazed that you would have no qualms about placing civil war (adding the prefix 'pre' doesn't count) and high cotton in the same sentence.

    I also have no doubt that you have enough historical intellect to know of other phrases that can denote good times and high profitability without making a reference so closely tied to one of the embarrassing and shameful periods of American History.

    But, since that was your first and chosen reference to good fortune, I'm guessing we, and you, might want to examine further your views on minorities and history.

    Or is this your new catch phrase to lure bigoted businesses to South Dakota where we value low wages and indentured servitude.

    Maybe you should track your email response on if high cotton is better than high corn...and then rewrite your column.

    Seriously Fred. Get an intern (one that works for free preferably and not get caught up in that whole minimum wage thing) with a filter who can do math and understands racial insensitivity.

    Are you sure you should be guiding schools and education policy?

  36. CLCJM 2015.03.02

    As usual I appreciate all the comments but found Cory's and Jana's both the most informative and entertaining. Especially like the referendum idea, Jana.The right wing is already furious we used the initiative to get what we wanted. If we put Common Core up for a referendum, it would probably set their hair on fire! Gotta agree with you, Jana, that would be fun!

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