Thursday, October 1, 2015

And the crickets chirped in Pierre

The Blue Ribbon Panel meet in Pierre today...and it felt like they accomplished next to nothing.  It was painful to listen to at times.  Cory had wondered at Dakota Free Press:
 But maybe as the Blue Ribboneers gaze out the windows at Pierre’s leisure class enjoying their expensive ball-chasing (Thursday’s weather: 70°F, partly sunny, windy), they’ll think about the wealth this state has available to raise teacher salaries. They’ll think about the teachers who are in their classrooms (except for the two K-12 teachers who serve with the 24 non-teachers on this panel deciding the fate of our state K-12 funding policy) earning the lowest salaries in the nation for the thirtieth year in a row. And maybe, just maybe, the Blue Ribboneers will put two and two together and realize they need to redistribute some wealth to support the teachers who make it possible for everyone in this state to acquire wealth.
The answer was a clear NOPE!  A lot was discussed about simplifying formulas and shifting capital outlay funds from one place to another, but the true thorny issues of increasing funds to pay for increases was basically ignored.

After the small groups met, you seemed to have a lot of discussion about new revenue from things like wind farms and banks being equalized, Allowing for some capital outlay funds to be used for general funds and getting rid of the current flexibility structure we have until 2018 and putting a cap on reserves like Nebraska, but no one really wanted to talk about how we raise revenue.  The reason?  They simply were not prepared!  Rep. Sly is quoated in the Oct 2 Argus Leader as reminding everyone that they have no idea what to do about funding and teacher salaries...
“We don’t have a good grasp on the whole model that was presented to us,” Sly said. “We don’t even know what the number would be at this point.”  
While quotation is on changing the funding formula and not revenue needed to increase salaries, it belies a big point about this meeting that was supposed to be the last (they do have a back up planned for the end of October): they talk about shifting things around and making funding look good to the voter.  As Paula Hawks asked toward the end: "Where is the money?"

They did have Andy Gerlach speak for a little bit of time about sales tax, but no other type of revenue was dared discussed.  At one point Billie Sutton tentatively asked why income tax was not being talked about, and either Sly or Soholt (I couldn't tell which) jokingly threatened to put it down that Sutton brought it up, and he backed away and basically apologized for the idea.  Then it was stated that only sales tax was brought up at the meeting.  I remember one group specifically mentioning that we need to look at a income tax or corporate tax.  I also remember the panel itself had a copy of polling data that says the tax payers would support come forms of income taxes and corporate taxes, but what the hell do the voters know....

They now have one last chance: October 29.  I think it is time to try and reach out to the panel and share some of our ideas, so they can come prepared and not be stuck spinning their wheels.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When a Shooting Happens Near You

Today was a very surreal day.  Our staff spent the morning in teacher in-service.  The topic: how to respond when there is a shooter (active killer) in your school.  During the training in the morning, we were informed that there was a shooting at Harrisburg High School.  The room was in shock.  For many I think the first reaction was one of disbelief: "Is this part of the training?"  I am sure that was followed up by fear and worry.  Many have family, friends, and other connections in the school district.  Many probably remembered what happened in our town last year.

I am very happy that there were no serious physical injuries.  I also know that the reaction of the Harrisburg administration are to be held up as how to react to a shooter.  Assistant Principal Ryan Rollinger and AD Joe Struwe showed impressive courage and quick thinking in reacting to the shooting.  It is amazing the Principal Lein would get on the intercom to inform and try to calm his students.  The actions of Rollinger and Struwe fell right in line with what we were being trained to do in our school.

I also know that this is not justification to put armed guards in our hallways.  It is definitely not justification for arming teachers.  Our trainer (a police officer from Iowa) pointed out that police officers only hit their target 20% of the time.  

This is a time to think about what to do when you think it can't happen in your school; what to do when it happens in your town.  Putting more guns in the school is still not the solution, but that doesn't mean that I would have to lie down and not fight back.

I also know one more thing...tell those close to you that you love them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Undervaluing Is Not a Way to Draw New Teachers

"They felt undervalued."  This simple sentence from the September 26, 2015 Argus Leader seems to sum up the reason why we are seeing more and more problems with maintaining quality teachers in this state.  Teacher's feel undervalued.  Their opinions seem to have little value, we don't want to pay them because "they only work for 9 months," and it is easier to blame them for failures of behavior, poverty, and the future of democracy.  We try to design tools that prove that they are failures after handicapping them and not even being sure if those measuring tools have any validity.  We have non-professionals that work very hard to tell teachers exactly what to do, without getting input from teachers.  

This feeling is not just in the South Dakota.  Last year the O.E.C.D. surveyed teachers from around the world and found roughly a third of the US teachers felt appreciated.  My thinking is that this number is actually a little lower in South Dakota.  Mr. Davidson of the O.E.C.D stated in the New York Times
If teachers felt undervalued, Mr. Davidson said at a media briefing, the best candidates would be less likely to enter the profession or stay in the job.
Cut back to the Argus Leader article and notice that Patrick Anderson actually talked to the people about why they left the field instead of relying on vague statistical figures.  

One such teacher was Rogene Brown who used to teach at Whittier Middle School.  Anderson sums up her reasoning as
There is no single reason why Brown left behind her job in the public schools, but she had problems with what she perceived as a changing philosophy in education and public perceptions of teachers. 
“And then you’re not getting paid what your worth,” Brown said. “No teachers are, no matter what they’re getting paid.” 
Another middle school teacher from Sioux Falls left teaching to drive truck for Harms Oil.  He explained the decision 
“I love teaching, working with kids and coaching,” Weinstein said. “I hate saying it, but at some point I got to take care of my own.”
Unfortunately, South Dakota has failed to take care of its own: teachers and students.   Lawmakers are more worried about the pressures of getting elected and making a few people happy instead of stepping up and being brave to do what is right and needed.  If the Blue Ribbon Panel wants to make any real change, then they can not limit themselves to make this minority of South Dakota happy just because they sit in Pierre.  Show that you value education and start fighting for it instead of hoping for crumbs.

I await Thursday and the next Blue Ribbon panel meeting.

PS. Patrick Anderson, I would recommend that you try talking to teachers to get their view on education by not holding coffee sessions during the times when many people (teachers included) have to work.  You are sort of limiting your pool of information.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Will the Blue Ribbon Panel be Bold?

BE BOLD!  That was one of the biggest things people have told this Blue Ribbon Panel over and over.  This is not a time to approach things as what usually happens to education funding in Pierre.  Can we expect the Blue Ribbon panel to take that charge and shoot for something big to allow them some negotiating room when it comes time to pass a bill?  It does not look good.

Listening to the last meeting on September 9 in Pierre, the Blue Ribbon Panel heard even more data that continued to be pointed out as not quite a clear picture of what is actually happening with education in our state.  They then met to talk about actual goals of this panel.  They concluded by getting together in three smaller groups and talking about the next steps.  For many this may seem like a lot of spinning ones wheels and getting no where.  You probably won't get much disagreement.  

The groups came back and brought out their recommendations.  All the groups like the idea of the penny sales tax, but we should include some property tax relief.  Why the property tax relief?  Because these "bold" individuals claim that we should only do something that the Governor and the rest of the GOP leaders would pass.  THIS IS BOLD?  

The panel seems to be coming to the legislative table like they are scared of what everyone else wants in Pierre and not what the citizens are willing to do and support.  They need to remember that this is the same group of people that rejected the idea that we are approaching a teacher crisis in this state simply because the idea of funding increases.  This is the same governor that has shown his disdain for the education profession and public education in this state over and over again.  

What would be bold?  My suggestion is a requirement that puts skin in for everyone involved in the education game.  A 1/2 cent sales tax with removing of sales tax on food goods,  A small corporate income tax with a little more for corporations not headquartered in the state, and an income tax on people making more than $500,000 could be established and provide some property tax relief.  The corporate tax would help acknowledge that businesses are making an investment in the future of the workforce.  

Where do I get these ideas?  Are they something I picked that would be poison to the citizens of this state?  Nope.  The Blue Ribbon Panel had them from a Harstad Poll that was sponsored by several different groups.  Here was a finding that I don't think got mentioned once on air:
When presented with various tax options as possibilities to fund increases for public schools, voter responded positively. When asked whether or not they would support a corporate profits tax to help fund public schools, 53 percent of the respondents said definitely yes or probably yes. An option that received the most positive response was increasing state taxes on corporations heard quartered in other states at 70 percent followed by taxing the income on people making over $500,000 a year at 59 percent, increasing the summer sales tax by one penny at 56 percent, the corporate profits tax again at 53 percent, and lastly at state tax on car rentals, hotels and motels at 51 percent. 
My advice to the Blue Ribbon Panel is to be bold and do something that doesn't happen much in Pierre: consider the thoughts of the public over the wishes of party elites.  Do not start from a position of weakness, but instead show your GOP colleagues that this is in their best interest because not supporting education will be a pivotal moment and probably could cost them their seat.  Remind them that they are there for good of the state and the districts that contain a school (or probably more).  Remind them that they also need to be bold.  

That would be the BOLD move, but based on what I heard, even from one of the co-chairs, bold needs to take a back seat to giving something Daugaard and other GOP will support.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Next Blue Ribbon Panel Meeting

I have taken a nice long break from blogging.  Plenty of excuses for the break, but the best two are preparing to take on a new role in school that has just started and recharging the brain to focus on teaching and being a parent.  When I start talking about politics in South Dakota and the general treatment of education by Pierre, I get a tad depressed and the cynicism grows and grows.  I hate to have that destroy the last bastions of summer and the beginning of school.

In the last Blue Ribbon panel that meet August 19, they brought in expert Richard Ingersoll to explain that salary is not the main cause for teacher shortages around the country.  The Argus Leader summed up his generic talking points this way:
Richard Ingersoll, an education professor for the University of Pennsylvania, presented his research Wednesday to members of South Dakota’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students. 
School leaders in the state have reported dwindling candidate pools and a spike in unfilled teacher openings. They blame South Dakota’s low teacher salaries, which rank last in the nation. 
At least nationally, however, pay isn’t the main reason for teacher dissatisfaction, Ingersoll said. 
“It is a factor, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not the main one,” Ingersoll said. (Argus Leader Aug 22, 2015)
I say generic, not because I dispute Dr. Ingersoll's research (which is a bit dated), but that his findings are on a national scope and do not look specifically at South Dakota's issues.  This is something that the Argus and, I fear, many others overlooked when actually listening to the testimony.  For example, one of the reasons for lower wages in school districts and problem staffing is a "greening" effect that is occurring.  He explains the "greening" as districts getting more new teachers and fewer experienced teachers.  However this is not occurring in South Dakota since according to Dr. Schopp's data, over 31% of South Dakota workforce is 51+ years of age and only 19% is 20-30 years old.

At about 7:39 into the second session, Supt. Pearson asks if the South Dakota numbers an ages matched the nation.  The answer from Ingersoll was simply "No."  Then Ingersoll goes on to explain how South Dakota is not showing the greening like the rest of the nation.  Pearson comes back at about 9:40 into the second session to point out that this means that the majority of our teachers would be on the higher end of the pay-scale, but we still rank 51st in the nation.  

The majority of the panel seemed to have been talking about how there is not really a crisis in staffing (despite what everyone is saying in the school districts on the ground) or there are a lot of ways to cover shortages with other things like computers.  There has been little talk about actually dealing with the problems.  Problems like that pointed out by Dr. Ingersoll that only 51% of teacher graduates actually stay in the state teaching (25 minutes into the second session).  A "striking data point from a researcher's view point."  Problems like that we do not have the greening impact to off-set the number of retiree's.  In fact there has been little to nothing about the real issue of education funding in South Dakota.

Don't expect much of anything to come from the September 9 meeting.  They will be talking about extending student teaching to a full year across the state as a way to better prepare beginning teachers to all the stuff that is not teaching in a classroom that a teacher has to do.  I don't see how this will impact education funding for schools?  Maybe, the Blue Ribbon Panel's main goal was how to actually staff schools for as cheap as possible?  The only indicator that we may get is the small group discussions (I will be interested in how they will broadcast this) and the framing scope of work and the tenets and goals portion.  

There is only one meeting left after the September 9 date (unless they go to overtime at the end of October).  The number one concern from educators about the panel was that they actually do something and not waste our time.  So far, things are not looking too good.

Monday, August 17, 2015

This Could Be the Excitement Paula Hawks Needs for Her Campaign Videos

Some people have felt that Paula Hawks campaign videos have lacked some punch to them.  Canada provides the answer.  Seriously, if you have not seen this, you have too!  AWESOME is all I can say.

Wyatt Scott, he is running for Parliament.

Change the goose to a pheasant, keep the dragon (but make it a Chinese dragon to make conservatives happy), and have your hands turn into assault rifles.  That should pull in enough voters to win!  Seriously, I love the video for a great smile.

Daugaard and GOP Have Let All Students Down

School is just around corner for many students.  Recently, there was a lot made about the lack of support from the state for "gifted" students programs.  The Argus Leader on August 8, 2015 wrote about the leadership provided under Daugaard:
For the first time in years, the South Dakota’s Governor’s Camp at USD was also graced by the presence of its namesake. 
Gov. Dennis Daugaard offered his support, but left before the end of the ceremony. Gifted education hasn’t been a priority of his administration, but the state has added resources for advanced students under Daugaard’s watch, including a dual credit program so high school students can earn college credits before they graduate. 
After, students expressed disappointment with his comments. Impassioned children and teens demanded more. [emphasis mine]
The general attitude towards education can be summed up by a couple of phrases in the commentary: "For the first time in years," and "left beffore the end of the ceremony."

As Cory Heidelberger points out in the Dakota Free Press on the eighth of August:
As with teacher pay, South Dakota lawmakers hide behind the mantra of “local control” to justify not taking action to support gifted education. But to say, “The state doesn’t have to fund gifted education; local schools can raise and spend all the money they want” is to ignore the practical reality demonstrated by the end of state funding for gifted education in 1995. Take away state support for a K-12 program, and fewer schools will offer that program. In the case of gifted education, the 1995 cuts meant seven out of eight schools lost their programs. 
“Local control” is a sham excuse if local districts don’t have resources to control. The South Dakota Legislature and the Governor should stop making excuses and restore funding for gifted education. 
This mantra impacts not only gifted programs, but all aspects of our children's education.  This became articulated in the Black Hill Pioneer on August 14, 2015.  In the article the Spearfish district states exactly what has been lost (This is a little long, but the depth of the impact to programs is important:)
According to budget reduction information provided by Peters, from 1999 to 2005, the Spearfish School District cut its teaching staff by 15. At the elementary schools, six of those staff cuts were regular teaching positions, resulting in larger average class sizes, increasing from 19 to 25 in K-5. Two librarians were replaced with an aide and classified staff reductions included four full-time employees  
Programs that were eliminated or reduced at the elementary level include: the gifted and talented program, the swimming program, the parallel block scheduling, and planning time and staff development.   
At Spearfish Middle School, seven teaching positions have been eliminated and the assistant principal replaced with a part-time Dean of Students. Two teacher aides have been eliminated, as well as 14 coaching positions, and core classes are at a 30-student average. 
Middle school programs that have been eliminated or reduced include: foreign language, home economics, conflict resolution/peer mediation, industrial technology, alternative education, creative expressions (drama, art, writing), library, band lessons, staff development, and all sixth-grade extracurricular activities. 
At Spearfish High School, eight teachers and two full-time equivalents in classified staff have been cut since 1999. Programs and departments that have been eliminated or have suffered a reduced number of staff since the 1999-2000 school year include: family and consumer science, industrial tech, art, physical education, auto shop, band/choir, social studies, math, English, business/computer and foreign language. 
Since then, nearly 30 high school courses have been eliminated, including: advanced speech, American cultural studies, auto mechanics I, auto mechanics II, auto mechanics III, child development, clothing and textiles, creative writing II, drama II, electronics, family living, foods I, housing, independent living, industrial technology, jazz band, life skills, multi media art history, marriage and family, mixed mediums, music theory, mythology, nutrition and foods, power mechanics, survival cooking, swing choir, and journalism.
Nearly a dozen high school activities have been eliminated, and several others have been impacted by cuts in salaries, supplies, meals, travel, dues/fees, and professional services.
This is happening to schools all over the state.  As the Blue Ribbon Panel looks into the funding issue, I hope that this is something that they consider as part of the equation.  It is time for our legislators to do more than give lip service to making education first.