Mitchell school superintendent Dr. Joseph Graves admits that he's ambivalent about Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed summer study of education... which, for a guy who has flacked for the Governor's worst policy whims, could be read as stern condemnation.

But I'm not fooled. Graves cocks an eyebrow at the summer study, then returns to his usual form of giving us darn teachers both barrels. Check out the ink Graves devotes to thinking up ways to make sure that, even if we decide we can pay teachers more, we sure as heck won't pay more teachers:

Alternatively, there may be other options for increasing average teacher compensation levels other than the straightforward and endlessly offered by educators and their lobbyists: give the schools more so they can pay teachers more. If schools, for example, were to present more online coursework and more virtual offerings, costs would decline and current revenues could be used to enhance teacher pay. If the state were to offer tax incentives for parents enrolling their children in private schools or homeschooling their progeny, the resulting savings from more parents choosing such alternatives could be used to increase the per pupil support of students who remained in traditional classrooms [Joseph Graves, "Don't Meet Me in the Middle," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.02.16].

Online classes make costs decline by allowing schools to cut teachers from the payroll. Ditto Dr. Graves's private/homeschool scenario: incentivize draining public school enrollment, force public schools to lay off teachers, then split the savings between the remaining public school teachers and the ongoing subsidies for largely religious education. Graves is simply roadmapping a plan to increase pay for fewer teachers and further weaken one of the few bastions of labor power and intellectual opposition in South Dakota. It's policy dreck but political genius.

But since teachers like me call his proposal dreck, Graves says we're to blame for political resistance to higher teacher pay:

Yet educators don't typically endorse such proposals, leaving us open to the criticism that we endorse only the idea of giving us more money with no changes in how we do things and no rules on how we spend it. This view of educators is reinforced by the fact that we have had our hands out to the Legislature, demanding more money, every year since Dakota was a territory [Graves, 2015.02.16].

I'm curious, Dr. Graves: what do we have to change to justify our continual requests not to be last in the nation in teacher pay? What extra work do teachers do in Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Montana to earn more pay than teachers in South Dakota? What new rules must we adopt from every other state in the country that would finally warrant pay parity?

So is that image of our state's educators as woe-is-me mendicants due to the fact that we are starving, or because we are mulish monoliths refusing to engage in more efficient means of serving students? [Graves, 2015.02.16]

Short answer, Joe: we are starving. If your long alternative were correct, we would have to accept that we monolithic mules have been uniquely wasteful for our state's entire history, and that our Legislature and school boards have responded not by rooting out that waste and hiring good, efficient teachers but by simply depressing teachers wages to the lowest level in the nation. In Graves's excuse-iverse, South Dakota's leaders must be more interested in standing in the mud whipping their mules than in buying good horses and getting to town.

Dr. Graves wants to address the teacher shortage by getting rid of teachers. I unambivalently reject his plan and mulishly stick my own: fix the teacher shortage by paying teachers more.


Former legislator Rod Hall renews his challenge to perennially vacillating legislative aspirant and educational not-so-goodnik Joe Graves in a letter to the Mitchell Daily Republic. Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell school district, sent up trial balloons in 2004 and 2008 saying he wanted to run for Legislature. In 2008, Rod Hall, a former legislator and former member of the Mitchell school board, said he'd run against Graves if Graves threw in. Graves didn't run.

In Sunday's letter, Hall says his challenge stands: if Graves runs, Hall runs. Hall also says that Graves's seeking permission from the board to run is an unnecessary political ploy:

Graves correctly states in his response to The Daily Republic, “District employees have a right to run.”

Should Graves decide to run he simply notifies the board. No board action is required or is appropriate. Asking the board for a stamp of approval to run is getting a non-political school board involved in a partisan political election by asking for that board’s endorsement [Rod Hall, letter to the editor, Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.09.28].

Hall is correct that Graves needs no permission to run. Graves needs his board's permission to rejigger his work schedule to ensure that he can fulfill his contractual obligations while campaigning and, if elected, legislating. Such permission wouldn't quite be an endorsement of his candidacy, but it would be a formal vote from an elected body that the candidate could use to rebut one key argument against his candidacy.

I won't hold Graves's conversations with his board against him: Graves and the Mitchell school board, like any other employee and employer, should have a clear conversation about the impact outside part-time employment will have on the effective performance of his duties. But if he does run, I look forward to Rod Hall's counter-candidacy to explain to the voters of District 20 why Joe Graves as legislator would be bad for K-12 education.

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Pat Powers gets it wrong—I could fill pages with posts starting with those words. But what fun would that be?

Still, in his Joe Graves flog-prep, Powers throws up another fallacy in his discussion of whether the Mitchell school superintendent ought to run for the Legislature:

Teachers teach, but administrators are the ones who have to try to get the job done with the limited resources they’re given. Why not give someone on the front line a seat at the table? [Pat Powers, "Mitchell Daily Republic Discourages Public Service," Dakota War College, 2013.09.17]

Front line? If that analogy applies, and we're talking about the war against ignorance, superintendents are the generals, and teachers are the soldiers. Teachers are on the front line in education. Teachers get the job done.

If we apply the analogy to the war against education waged by our legislators, our teachers are on the front lines shoulder to shoulder with administrators. Teachers offer the front-line expertise on the direct impacts of policy on their classroom practice; administrators offer front-line expertise on the impacts of policy on their budgeting and management activities. (I commit my own fallacy here, assuming that the Legislature is willing to listen to expertise from our education professionals).

The idea that Superintendent Joe Graves sits in an office on the front line of education makes full sense only in a policy sense, not in the sense of directly and daily delivering value to children. And while the Mitchell Daily Republic doesn't go there, when we see how bad he is on policy, the Mitchell paper and the rest of us should discourage Graves from joining the front line at the Legislature.


Sibby, save us! Mitchell school superintendent Joe Graves wants to run for Legislature:

Monday during the Mitchell Board of Education meeting at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, Graves, the school district superintendent, announced his plan to run for the South Dakota Legislature in 2014.

...Whether he runs for the House or Senate, Graves said, will partly "depend on what other people are doing," but either way, he will run as a Republican.

..."I want to be someone who can help continue to make South Dakota a free and prosperous state, as great a state as it can be," he said. "Lots of education decisions are made in Pierre. I think I can add to that process, as well" [Candy DenOuden, "Graves Wants Legislative Seat," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.09.09].

Yeah, add more horsehockey to the process. Superintendent Graves is a persistent Pierre sycophant, flacking for Governor Dennis Daugaard's really bad education plan in 2012 (when 97% of his fellow administrators did not support the plan), using anti-teacher arguments to fight that plan's referendum, and then saying teachers deserved a legislative screwing for having the gall to fight bad public policy that he said was good. Graves has signaled that he doesn't like the Common Core standards, but I'm thinking that's just a ploy to win some local Tea Party cred and maybe split the Steve Sibson vote (hey, they are a third of the District 20 GOP primary electorate!), not a statement of direction for real policy that a Senator or Representative Graves would vote to wreak on our schools.

The Mitchell School Board reacted cautiously to Graves's pre-announcement announcement:

Board members offered little commentary on the announcement, and board President Theresa Kriese said in a follow-up interview she doesn't know if the board will approve the plan when Graves presents it.

"We will see what Joe brings forth as a plan," she said. "We still have to review what his plan is for coverage of the district while he's at session" [DenOuden, 2013.09.09].

While he's at session—easy, Theresa: he hasn't won the election yet!

State law and Mitchell school board policy say that the board can't (and shouldn't!) stop Graves from running, just as the board couldn't stop excellent educator Mel Olson from running and serving in the Legislature from 1993 to 2004. Their approval of a plan to cover Graves's duties during the campaign and maybe during the session is not a legal prerequisite to the Graves candidacy. But Mitchell's policy does say an employee can't announce candidacy until the board as acted on that employee's written request. Graves thus must portray his signal of intent as something less than a formal announcement.

But Davison, Aurora, and Jerauld County voters, if you want education to head in the right direction, you should see if you can find some local Democrats or Republicans who might help change Graves's intent before he formally announces his desire to take his bad ideas to Pierre.


Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves usually flacks for whatever the state wants. But at last night's Mitchell school board meeting, he threw arch-conservative opponents of the dreaded Common Core standards a bone:

During the meeting’s public commentary segment, Mitchell resident Steve Sibson expressed concern about the pending statewide adoption of common core curriculum standards.

“It’s my belief that common core is not about the quality of education, but the control of our kids,” Sibson said.

“Common core is not the way to go,” agreed Graves, who said the district is being forced into preparing curricula to meet the new standards. Graves said after the meeting the move to common core standards in math, English and other subjects in the future is a move toward a federal curriculum [Ross Dolan, "Mitchell School Board OKs Nearly $25 Million 2013-14 Budget," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.07.08].

Holy cow! The lines on Common Core we hear from school superintendents usually range between safe parroting of the state Department of Education's bunnies-farting-rainbows talking points to perhaps a fatalistic shrug at carrying out state mandates. But here's Dr. Graves saying Common Core is bad and moves exactly in the oppressive, power-usurping direction the Common Core opponents say it will. Kudos, Joe!

Our man Sibby then offered to bring his gun to school:

On another subject, Sibson also noted a new state law allows school districts to appoint armed security sentinels. Sibson offered his services as a school sentinel. Sibson offered to become trained for the volunteer duty at his own expense.

The board made no comment on the offer [Dolan, 2013.07.08].

Sibby with a gun in school—yeah, that'll raise your insurance rates.


I've ridden Joe Graves's case all year over his flacking for Governor Daugaard's really bad ideas for education. The Mitchell superintendent's sour grapes on last month's election results give me plenty of reason to keep riding.

Graves manages to make a little sense on the logic and values that rejected Governor Daugaard's Referred Law 16 (née House Bill 1234):

...those who opposed 1234 spent an enormous amount of money to block $15 million in annual spending, all of which would have gone into the pockets of South Dakota teachers. If educators themselves felt it was more important how such dollars would be divvyed up among teachers than that they would be provided to teachers, it can be argued that teacher pay is not as pathetic as is often argued. (This is not to say that South Dakota teachers are not behind the rest of the country or that we do not need to enhance that pay. We do. It is simply a recognition that even among education groups, apparently, other considerations are more important than the goal of increased teacher compensation.) [Joe Graves, "Election Results Bad for Education," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.12.11]

The sense Graves makes here is a bit hard to hear through the sneer he's practicing for contract negotiations next spring: You teachers didn't want $15 million from Governor Daugaard, so you must not want a raise from me, either! Set the snark aside, and you hear Graves stating the obvious: if higher wages outweighed everything else in teachers' life choices, there wouldn't be a single teacher left in South Dakota. Teachers put the good of their students first. If a pay scheme promises to harm those students (and HB 1234 would have), good teachers will reject it. Fortunately, so will 67% of South Dakotans.

From there on, Graves falls into full denial:

For educational advocates — though I certainly admit I am in the minority on this view — the results of the election were an unmitigated disaster. To summarize, education groups spent, by some accounts, over a million dollars to block giving teachers $15 million a year and spent so much time and energy on 1234 that it left the much more important issue of the sales tax initiative neglected both in terms of campaign funds and attention, spelling its demise. Put another way, education groups spent over a million to block $15 million in funding for teachers and effectively ignored the opportunity to secure $180 million for schools annually [Graves, 2012.12.11].

Graves clings to the notion his fellow supers tried to float back in the spring, that referring HB 1234 would confuse voters and hurt the chances of passing Initiated Law 15, the sales tax measure. Graves and the Governor over whom he fawns may want you to believe that voters were confused on November 6, but there is no evidence that votes against the education reform bill increased the votes against the sales tax.

Besides, I'm willing to argue that it was more important to defeat HB 1234 than to pass the sales tax: flip the votes, and the extra $90 million for education (Graves forgets that the extra-penny sales tax would have been split evenly between K-12 and Medicaid) would have been dumped into a system made toxic by HB 1234.

Graves then excuses Governor Daugaard from trying to make any real improvements in education, because, Graves argues, teachers are meanies:

...given what I at least perceived as the nastiness of the campaign against 1234 and the Governor’s Office, I can’t imagine what incentive he or his people now have for working on reform initiatives for education, especially given the fact that most education groups provided input on 1234, received the changes they asked for in that legislation, and then turned around and opposed the law both during the last legislative session and in the election [Graves, 2012.12.11].

That's strange: I can imagine the incentive. It's called public service. It's called taking your lumps, coming back from a hard debate and defeat, and still trying to do the right thing. It's the same incentive that will make Superintendent Graves's teachers come back to their Mitchell classrooms tomorrow morning, even after they read their boss's nastiness toward them in the paper, and keep trying to do their jobs better. It's the same incentive that keeps thousands of teachers across South Dakota coming back to work each day, despite the constant ingratitude of the lowest teaching wages in the nation.

Graves concludes with this incredible exercise in Newspeak:

In some sense, the educational community should be pleasantly surprised to receive the benignity expressed in the recent budget address. Hopefully, we can follow that up with some small, positive changes to education and its funding in South Dakota (one-time monies, categorical programming to assist students such as a funding factor for ESL students, etc.) during the coming legislative session. If we can, though, it will be in large part because this governor is continuing in his willingness to not allow the poor behavior of others to interfere with serving the best interests of students and, ultimately, to put solving the problems of the state of South Dakota over more political interests [Graves, 2012.12.11].

We should be surprised that Governor Daugaard has benignly chosen to follow the basic requirements of the K-12 funding formula? We should give Governor Daugaard the credit for any and all future improvements in education because he's above the "poor behavior" Graves imputes to those who disagree with him? What rot! We teachers were the ones offering evidence-based policy alternatives, while the Governor and his war-whooping advisors were preaching ideological agenda utterly divorced from research.

Superintendent Graves runs a decent school system in Mitchell. But he is gravely wrong about the merits of Referred Law 16 and the values of the teachers who make his schools great.


District 8 Senate candidate Charlie Johnson says he hasn't heard one educator express support for Referred Law 16, Governor Daugaard's ideological school-wrecking plan.

Here's one: Nicole Keegan of Rapid City East Middle School:

Nicole Keegan (not to be confused with Staci Keenan, who played "Nicole" on My Two Dads) teaches English at East. Good thing she doesn't teach math. She claims the scholarship portion of RL16 will "keep our new teachers right here in South Dakota." Let's suppose there are a huge cadre of good new teachers whose decision whether or not to stay in South Dakota hinges on money. Those prospective teachers will add that scholarship to the maximum possible merit bonuses they might get. They'll multiply that premium by the five years they'll have to commit to stay in South Dakota. And they'll realize they can still get bigger and more reliable earning power by teaching anywhere but South Dakota.

Plus, they'll have fewer hoops to jump through than they will under the regime of Referred Law 16. Governor Daugaard's plan doesn't recognize teachers for the work they are already doing. It creates a whole new superstructure of state-mandated evaluations, standardized testing, and merit pay plans that will add more work to every teacher and administrator's day.

Keegan also signed the RL16 "pro" statement on the official ballot information pamphlet with Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves, who continues to get lots of free space in the Mitchell Daily Republic to promote RL16 and his campaign for a cushy job in the state Department of Education. Graves is one of the 3% of school administrators who backed RL 16 when it was House Bill 1234 last winter. Keegan is likely in a similar minority among her colleagues.

Bonus Graphic Critique: Nice hand reaching out of the ground in that logo on the Yes on 16 video. That's RL16: bad policy, disproven by research, but reaching up like an ideological zombie to wreak havoc on our successful K-12 system.


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.


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