Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Daugaard Gets an "F" in Understanding Today's Students

Daugaard just doesn't get it.  Despite that his GOED paying money for Lawrence and Schiller to find out what people care about and think about when it comes to choosing to stay and live in our state, he sends out a message of the usual low taxes, and low cost of living drivel to our graduates looking forward to getting out of the state; I mean, getting out into the "real world."

He states:
Most of you probably already have a good idea of what you’ll be doing next – what additional education you’ll seek or what career you’ll pursue. Whether you’ve decided to stay in South Dakota or pursue a career or education elsewhere, I hope you’ll ultimately consider a future here in our state. There are a number of reasons to consider living and working here.

First, we have the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.5 percent, compared to the national rate of 5.5 percent. Job opportunities are better here than in most places.

Secondly, the tax burden in South Dakota is low. We are among only a few states without an income tax, meaning you can keep more of the money you earn. Money that can repay student debt, buy a house someday or replace that car you drove into the ground in school.

Third, not only do people keep more of the money they earn in South Dakota, but that money will buy more here than in other places. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, South Dakotans experience a very low cost of living in the United States. We don’t spend as much money on housing, insurance, food and the other everyday needs. In fact, we have some of the lowest costs in the nation.  In New York, California, Washington, D.C., or many other places, you will find costs that are 10 percent, 12 percent, even 18 percent higher than the national average.  In South Dakota those costs are only 88 percent of the national average.
Today's youth are not focused on "getting by."  They are not persuaded with talk about low cost of living if that means that you have nothing to do while living here.  His own economic advisor said as much:

"One of our mantras for business is no state income tax," Costello said. "That didn't resonate with individuals. Individuals viewed that as maybe the state doesn't have good education or fire protection or crime might be high or the park system not adequate. That was almost a quality of life deterrent."
The Governor ignores this and shows no sign of being able to think past the tired, old justifications that are not working.  Today's graduating students are concerned about things like getting a job with a decent pay, being able to see a future for themselves, but they are also looking for purpose and opportunity beyond a paycheck.  That may come in the form of opportunity of entertainment, it may come in the form of service in the community, it may come in the opportunity to explode on the scene in a profession.  

Dr. Tim Elmore posted this insight into graduating students in 2012:
Nine out of ten of them think about the future several times a week. They desire a “life of purpose” and want to engage in work that has a higher meaning than to merely draw a paycheck. They’re trying to make sense of it all, but life gives them an anxious eagerness about the future.

While that was in 2012, I believe that is true today.  Mr. Daugaard, if you want to succeed at encouraging more of our youth to stay in South Dakota, you must show them that it is not the almighty dollar that matters.  They can go and get good paying jobs in almost every other state.  You must show them that South Dakota provides an opportunity for life to really matter.  You must go beyond the idea that one can simply live in South Dakota and try and make this a place where people WANT to live in South Dakota.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

In Search of Teachers

Much has been said about the teacher shortage that is happening in South Dakota, and not just by me.  This shortage has some in Pierre worried; unfortunately, the Governor is one of those that doesn't seem to concerned.  Yes, he has set up another panel to study the problem, despite that there was one already done by a bi-partisan group of legislative members last year.  

This problem will not be solved overnight or with some television's ads trying to convince teachers to move here because at least they will get paid more here than on Mars (maybe).  Cindy Long with NEA Today reported that students all across the United States are turning away from teaching as a career option.
The report shows that only 5 percent (89,347 students) of the nearly 1.85 million 2014 U.S. high school graduates who took the ACT® test said they intended to pursue a career as an educator—either as a teacher, counselor or administrator. Both the percentage and number have steadily dropped each year since 2010, when 7 percent of graduates (106,659 students) planned an education major.
Now before Daugaard and others can say, "See, this is not a South Dakota problem.  Other states are having a tough time too.  There is no reason to increase funding!"  It is time for the state to proactive.  Something that this is not always known for.

At Black Hills State, they are a bit concerned too about the shortage.  Jake Nordbye writes on the BHSU site, 
For example, in the Todd County school district there are currently 38 open teaching positions. Thirty-eight is an astronomical number. Traditionally, South Dakota schools have most of their teaching positions filled by the end of May....
The article points to a need to get caught up and we are failing while other states jump way ahead of us.
“Without a major effort we’ll never get caught up,” Monson said, adding that a recent study showed that a South Dakota teacher’s salary has the same buying power as it did in 1969. Low salaries for teachers were one of the main issues cited for the shrinking teacher pool. Monson noted since the 1999-2000 school year Wyoming raised teacher pay by 24 percent, North Dakota 15 percent and Nebraska seven percent. During that same time period South Dakota decreased salaries by 0.6 percent. South Dakota also ranks last in the nation in average teacher pay. 
The article then reminds us the importance of good teachers in the classroom.  
Children living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. If our students are lacking competent, well-trained professionals in South Dakota’s classrooms, we are denying them that right, and that’s more than just a national embarrassment, it’s negligence. 
We will be seeing you, Education Blue Ribbon Panel, in June. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

State Screams of "NOT MY JOB" Puts Pressure on Property Taxes for Schools

The Rutland School is faced with the difficult task of going to the polls to opt-out to get funding that will allow them to be some-what competitive with other districts when it comes to paying their teachers.    The issue is that districts are not able to keep up with the costs thanks to the lack of vision from the state.  

The state loves to use vague statements about how they do so much for education.  That it is all on the school boards and local schools to deal with the problems.  Why should the state be the one to make sure that all students can receive a sound educational opportunity?

The Superintendent of Rutland explains the need for the opt-out on KELO TV:

"Something does need to be done because we have teachers who are leaving who can't make ends meet with the salary that we have and that's sad," Merager said. 
A renewal amount needs to be higher than the original $100,000 opt out to have any impact on teachers’ salaries. The district is proposing an additional $350,000. 
"What we are looking at doing with that is looking at an increase of $4,000 to $5,000 for our teachers over the next several years; it will keep us from falling further behind is what it will do," Fahrenwald said.

The problem that Rutland is forced to deal with is that they have been $6,000 behind other schools their size according to Rutland experienced teacher Jill Merager.  So, why not just rely on the opt-out to solve the problem?  Clearly they are slacking on paying their fair-share.  Not so fast say Superintendent Fahrenwald:

South Dakota has the lowest contribution of state dollars toward public education in the nation. 
"We are very comparable when we look at local tax dollars that go to education we are very comparable to other states. But the state funding piece of that is missing and we are hopeful that the governor's task force will address that issue," Fahrenwald said. 
Let us all hope that will be the case, but Daugaard's administration must also be willing to listen to the recommendations and not use excuses to ignore the problems like they did after last year's panel on education in South Dakota. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Daugaard Must Look Past Blaming Schools For Not Providing the Funding

The Education Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education has set dates and times for the public meetings on education.  These are available on the sparse website dedicated to the task force.  

June 2 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingChamberlain (location TBD)
June 3 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingRapid City (location TBD)
June 16 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingSioux Falls (location TBD)
June 17 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingYankton (location TBD)
June 22 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingWatertown (location TBD)
June 23 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingAberdeen (location TBD)

While it is good to see that they have already had some meetings.  One problem with the group is that Daugaard attempts to set a tone that it must be the schools fault for the low teacher salaries.
We need to understand where teacher shortages are occurring and what can be done to address them. We need to ask why 12 states can spend less per student than South Dakota, yet pay their teachers more. We need to ask why, even as we hear growing concerns about teacher salaries, many schools' reserve funds are increasing. These questions need to be answered with hard data, not anecdotes or opinion surveys. 
The problem is that you cannot have a conversation, when you say that we need data and you cherry pick data that makes the state look wonderful.  The Governor wants hard data, so here is some hard data from the federal government reported by the census department.  The numbers are set for 2012 funding levels.

In 2012 the funding from the state was at $395,054,000 from the state for 142,783 K-12 students.  This puts the states rank of contribution per student at 49th.  The only state that we are ahead of is Arizona.  This put the states level of education contribution at 30.5% and this puts us dead last out of 50.  DEAD LAST.  

This is not an anecdote.  This is not an opinion survey.  This is hard data that the state can't ignore.  Traditionally, salaries are impacted by the total state aid offered.  The local property taxes are used mostly for the reoccurring expenses like heating, transportation, and capital outlay.  The other major source is federal money which is 16.4% and that puts as first for relying on federal monies.  

I can only hope the panel will bring this back to the Governor and tell him that he should stop claiming that the state government does SO much and it must be on the backs of the local districts.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Humble Suggestions for the Blue Ribbon Education Panel

Daugaard is going to rely on a panel to investigate how to deal with problems in getting and hanging onto quality teachers in South Dakota.  This panel has already been shown to have several members that are not necessarily fans of teachers or public education in general.  The evidence keeps piling up, but to possibly cover all possible excuses offered by the GOP on why they do not need to look for additional revenue to improve the funding for education, I offer the following points to consider.

1. The reason that some schools have drawing and keeping teachers is complicated.

It is difficult to encourage young, new teachers to move out to the middle of the state like Winner or Ipswich.  I suppose we could run commercials that compare those cities to the moons of Jupiter, or we could recognize that complaining about the small, rural schools location will not do anything to get teachers there.  My experience has shown that we need to make the teaching field look admirable and you can get people that grew up in the area to come back to teach.  

Another issue forcing teachers to look for alternative occupations, despite a desire to shape young minds is the mind-numbing hoops established by the state and other institutions.  As described on the website Conversationed.com explains it:

But what about professional development and adequate training cited by so many educational leaders as the reason for the mass exodus? 
Not one teacher I asked mentioned college of education programs or lack of professional development. In fact, many teachers feel over-saturated with professional development and are frustrated that PD has become a vessel for an onslaught of unsupported district and state mandates.
With things like SLOs, Smarter Balanced, Write to Learn, ICU, and a number of new methods/concepts for teachers to adjust too without additional time to really try and understand it properly, teachers are feeling overwhelmed.  

A third issue to continuing to teaching is a general lack of respect.  Teachers continue to work very hard to educate students, but more and more often are being seen as a villain when an arbitrary test score on a test that has no consequence for students says the student is not proficient.  NPR reported last month:

The job also has a PR problem, McDiarmid says, with teachers too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media. 
"It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country. There is a sense now that, 'If I went into this job and it doesn't pay a lot and it's a lot of hard work, it may be that I'd lose it.' And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession."
 Why would a young person continue in teaching when they are to blame for everything and are considered lazy and should be happy with what they get paid.  

2. What can a state government do about these issues?  They could reduce the amount of new, quick fix tricks to improve education and rely on tried and tested concepts of education.  The state can stop buying into a program and then pull the funding after 4 years forcing everyone to go to something new.  The state politicians could stop trying to compare teachers in unequal competition models, and role up their sleeves to honor all the hard work teachers invest each day.  The state could stop trying to pass bills that are based on criticizing and hurting public education because it is a "failure."

They could do all those things, but they would be minor to one action that the state could do that would have a real impact:  Increase funding for our schools.  

The state taking steps to increase funding for education and tackle means of increasing revenue says that education is vital.  It is a very, very important profession and they are willing to take the steps to address those needs.  The state would also provide for schools to have more flexibility to reduce the stress on teachers to do more because they are unable to hire the positions to educate students.  

Richard Ingersoll, a former high school teacher and now professor that studies teacher retention, was quoted in an Atlantic article in 2013:

“Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have shortages,” Ingersoll says. He adds that he is happy with his new career, but he would still be a high school history teacher had it not been for the lack of respect and low salary he experienced. For a lot of teachers I spoke with, this seems to be the common sentiment: If the overall attractiveness of teaching as a profession gets better, the best teachers will enter the profession, stay, and help increase the effectiveness of schools. 
“To improve the quality of teaching,” Ingersoll says, you need to “improve the quality of the teaching job.” And, “If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”
Please leave the excuses for not increasing funding for education outside the panel meetings.  They will do nothing but make the problem worse.  

Leave the blaming of greedy public teachers outside the room when exploring the problem.  You can take some helpful steps, if only you are willing to find the courage to do so. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Opting-Out for Funding Can Not Be the State's Solution for Education

Today in education funding news, Cory Heidelberger reports on the serious problem that some northeast schools are having in keeping music teachers.  One of biggest hinderance to keeping teachers in the field is pay.  This is nothing new to anyone.  Some people still like to stick their head in the sand and say that this is not the only reason (its not, but it is a big one), and some like to put all the blame on the local districts (the vast majority of districts watch every penny they can spend very carefully).  Rep. Lee Schoenbeck offers his suggestion for dealing with the problem: schools should opt-out if they want to have teachers.  He writes in one post:
Cory –I’m an advocate of the legislature acting on this issue, and I believe we will this next session, but there is an interesting and obvious question you aren’t exploring. Under the current law, EVERY Supt has the ability – with his or her school board, to propose an opt out for the purpose of raising educator salary to a competitive point — yet none have! You should ask: Why not? Do they not see the need (the article seems to belay that concern)? Do they not think they can convince the patrons in their district of the need (the same voters legislators have to convince on a more remote basis)? Are they scared? Are they unconcerned? What other options are there for this dereliction to their duty to aide in the education of the young people in their districts?Its worth asking — and don’t take excuses — why do they play their fiddle while education in their district burns?
One of the problems with this issue is that many schools have already gone the route of the opt-out.  In an April 16, 2013 article the Associated School Boards of South Dakota posted the following graph:

As you can see, the level of opt-outs has already substantially increased.  This is despite the fact that if the opt-out requires a public vote, a super-majority of 60% of voters must agree with it.  Many of those voting may not have children enrolled in the school.  

Remember that Tea Area needed four separate votes to pass building construction for its district despite having to rely on outbuildings for classrooms.  Even when taking out an auditorium, 27% of the people that voted said, "Nope, those kids don't need a real classroom."  Relying on the opt-out just allows the state to avoid its basic responsibilities for meeting the needs of students.  For another example, one can look at Rapid City and the fact that they will also need to face a vote that risks many of the offerings that students can use for an enriched education.

It is up to the state government to make some of the tough decisions about helping fund our education and not kicking the can down the road to local property tax payers.  Mr. Schoenbeck, ask yourself what would happen if you had to put any of your hourly rates up to a public vote, first through a board of 7 publicly-elected individuals who may or may not understand how the law works, and then to a public vote of 60% of the public who may or may not directly use your services.  Just a thought.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Only the GOP Could Make Life on Mars Look Better than South Dakota

What do South Dakota and Mars have in common?  Little aliens running around with Pu-36, a giant land mass that looks like a face on it, or a barren wasteland that promises little more than hardships and death.

If you picked the second one, you were probably thinking about Mount Rushmore, but that several faces and not one mysterious face placed by aliens.  The correct answer is a barren wasteland.  At least that is how many people not living in this state see it and our Governor.  

South Dakota continues to struggle to figure out why they can't get more people to come to South Dakota for the low wages and great faces.  Despite the fact that they could ask pretty much anyone not in the GOP political machine or a business owner that contributes to the political machine, they decided to have Lawrence and Schiller do some focus group studies.  Some of the responses reported in the Argus Leader today include:
"My friends would think I'm crazy to go to either of the Dakotas, because they probably just think it's a barren wasteland, that there's not much to do, not much job opportunities. It gets cold there. Really cold there."...
"South Dakota is mainly cattle, sheep, horses, livestock … living off the ranch, taking care of the ranch. It's not as industrial, not as technical."... 
"If you're not in that tourism industry, I don't think the opportunities are there."
They also thought there weren't as many opportunities to change employers, and that there were limited opportunities for movement within the company, small family-owned businesses, suburban office parks and lower salaries.
So what is the solution, rebrand yourself without changing yourself!  We don't need to offer more wages, we should stay a right to work state that focuses on the needs of the employer over the needs of the worker, we don't need to offer access to more health with expanded Medicare, we don't need to show that education is important in our state.  We spend a bunch of money on tourism, but all we get out of that is Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, motorcycles, and prairies.  

The most interesting comment is a statement by Pat Costello on the lack of a state income tax:
"One of our mantras for business is no state income tax," Costello said. "That didn't resonate with individuals. Individuals viewed that as maybe the state doesn't have good education or fire protection or crime might be high or the park system not adequate. That was almost a quality of life deterrent."
I am sure this will be remembered when trying to find ways to get more funding for education in our state.  Until we start doing things differently in this state, living will be the only benefit over Mars for most people that do not live in this state.