Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Democrats Can Be Real Leaders In Education Pay Reform

The SD Democrats are saying that they are willing to put forth their own proposal in trying to get SD in line with the rest of the region when it comes to teacher pay.  At least that is what the Argus Leader of today is telling me.
South Dakota Democratic lawmakers pointed out holes in the Blue Ribbon Task Force's recommendations Tuesday and said they aimed to put forth a plan of their own to counter them. 
State Rep. Paula Hawks, D-Hartford, and Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, at a press conference in Sioux Falls said they saw shortcomings in the governor-appointed task force's suggestions for updating the state’s 20-year-old funding formula and increasing teacher salaries. 
"The biggest items were left undecided or incomplete," Hawks said.  
From the article I wonder if they are missing out on one of those key items: Going beyond sales tax to pay for the needed income.  As I have mentioned earlier, the Blue Ribbon Panel seemed to have ignored the idea of paying for the education funding increase.  We need to not put this just on sales tax, but instead include all those that benefit from education in this state (sales, income, corporate tax).  When we spread it out to include everyone, then there is more vested interest in the situation and less pain for any one group.  You can set up the income tax for those earning more than $350,000 for single or $700,000 for married at 3% (just random numbers), a corporate tax of 3% for corporations making more than $500,000 (more random numbers), sales tax of .5% increase with an exemption on food and cloths sales (like Minnesota).

Mr. Sutton is correct when he says the Blue Ribbon Panel failed its job.  (From the above Argus Leader article)
“The plan that we are currently looking at is just a layout and that was not our call," Sutton said. "If we’re just going to paint with a broad brush, I don’t think we did our job." 
Hawks and Sutton said they planned to draft their own plan along with Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, on how the state should fund its teachers' salaries. They said it would provide more specific directives and they hoped others legislators, along with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, would support it.
The Democrats can not, I repeat, can not pick a funding mechanism based on what the Governor wants, but should develop one that comes across as fair and balanced for all citizens of the state and then let the GOP stand up against a common sense approach. 

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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Increase Teacher Pay Won't Solve Shortages, But It Is a Vital Place to Start

There is no question that South Dakota is facing a serious teaching shortage.  This was pointed out in a KELOLAND report showing that Sioux Falls, one of the highest paying districts in the state, is having more and more problems getting highly qualified applicants:
It's not much different in the Sioux Falls School District where there are currently 14 open positions - double from this same time last year. 
"We had a math teacher position at one of our high schools where we had two applicants," Sioux Falls School District Human Resources Supervisor Becky Dorman said. "We have a science position open at a high school, and that's probably going to be about the same. We've had special ed. teaching positions open for awhile where we had no applicants." (Aug. 7, 2015)
One of the key issues behind the shortage is the lack of pay for the profession.  This is one of the key areas of focus for the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel.  

For some it appears that they think that increased pay will solve the issue and using logic of a fourth grader, if other states that pay more are also seeing shortages, then we should not worry about compensation.

Cory Heidelberger shares a back and forth with Representative Lana Greenfield who raises the idea of shortages in other places hinting that compensation is the least of the causes.  Pat Powers seems to feed this thinking when he points to a New York Times article about nationwide issues with teacher shortages.  
The story cites that the teacher shortage is “a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.”  That doesn’t alleviate the shortage, but it flies in the face of what some would have you believe about South Dakota. (Dakota War College Aug. 10, 2015)
How do New York shortages fly in the face that South Dakota grossly under pays compared to all surrounding states and that the experts in South Dakota are pointing directly at the salary issue as being on of the key issues for the lack of teachers?

The teacher shortage issue will not be solved by passing an  increase in education funding for one year or even two.  It will take a while to convince young people that teaching in South Dakota is a worthy and sustainable career.  Funding alone won't solve the problem either, but it is a vital place to start.  It may begin to convince some teachers not to leave.  It will show younger people that teaching is a viable option for their future.  It will say that we do care about the work educators do and would like to begin to show some respect to the profession.  Something that is severely lacking in Pierre.

In related news:  Lana Greenfield is mother to Brock Greenfield.  Brock is one of eighteen representatives that voted against HCR 1002.  You know the one that said that South Dakota is facing a teacher shortage and it is becoming a crisis.  District 6 legislative members Rep.Isaac Latterell and Sen. Ernie Otten also voted against the resolution.

In other related news:  I encourage you to read Diane Ravitch's blog post that explores the problems with the New York Time's article discussed in the Dakota War College blog and also mentioned in The Dakota Free Press.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Don't Call Us Stupid." Okay, How About a Little Slow on the Uptake

In today's education news, it seems that the legislative leaders of the Blue Ribbon Task Force are getting a little irritated by the worries and concerns of those that care about the state of education funding in South Dakota.  Deb Soholt is quoted in today's Argus Leader saying:
“Don’t call us stupid,” state Sen. Deb Soholt said Friday, addressing a crowd of hundreds of K-12 leaders from across the state.
Okay, how about just slow on the uptake.  Maybe the reason that so many people are tired about this issue is because it has been talked about over and over and over for well more than a decade.  As educators, we are tired about hearing about the concern of education and how we wish there was more funding, but then see educators called out for being lazy, greedy, and oh, just incompetent by the leaders in Pierre.  Finally to be told that gee, golly, we just can't seem to find the money, but we have plenty to put into a rainy day fund!

To be fair to Soholt and Sly, did not avoid the last study and vote against HCR 1002 in 2014 like Ernie Otten and Isaac Latterell (You thought I forgot, didn't you?).  Although Representative's Sly's comments printed in the Argus Leader are not helping to give us confidence:
“Their advice to us has been, be bold, be courageous, do something, but we can’t do it alone,” Sly said. “We have to have them also being bold, being courageous.” (Argus Leader Aug. 8, 2015) 
What the heck does that mean?  Are you saying that education officials are the ones sticking their head in the sand and avoiding the problem?  They are the ones trying to do the best they can in a situation that gets tougher and tougher.  

When you have legislative members jumping into opt-out vote for the second largest school district to convince voters not to provide more funding to help them meet their needs, it is things like this that have many in education getting a little fed up with Pierre.  Remember Sen. Soholt, your party has had the strangle on Pierre for a long time now, so whom are we to be upset with?  Senator Soholt, I don't think that you are stupid, but I reserve judgement for a large portion of your fellow members in Pierre.

In Related Coverage:
Educators in this state does not have the time to "play nice" as Cory points out at the Dakota Free Press .  
And if the Blue Ribbon panel delivers a bad plan, educators can give Soholt, Sly, and the panel an F and fight that plan. 
It would be sad if, as Senator Soholt says, we squander the six months ahead of us. But teachers won’t squander that time with their conscientious public statements. Legislators will squander it if they don’t take the teacher shortage seriously and focus on solving that problem.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mike Rounds Choice for President

Mike Rounds has come out and endorsed the man he think should be the next President of the United States: Mike Huckabee.
Rounds and Huckabee have a long relationship dating back to when the two were both governors. Rounds served as Huckabee's national chairman during Huckabee's 2008 presidential bid. And Huckabee campaigned for Rounds last fall when it appeared that Rounds' Senate bid might be in jeopardy. 
"I am supporting Mike," Rounds said during a press call. "I think he is a great American and I have the utmost respect for him." (Argus Leader 8/6/15)
 As you can see that this comes at no surprise, but what does Huckabee stand for that has earned Rounds devotion?  

Maybe it is the idea that the military is simply a tool for destruction and killing.
"The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things. It's not to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people think would make us a different country and more diverse," Huckabee said at the first Republican presidential debate. (NBC 8/6/15)
I suppose that Huckabee and possibly Rounds would be opposed to allowing women to serve in the military or for that fact allowing "colored" men fight side by side in the military.  Just a few cases that the military transformed the culture of our country.

Or maybe it is his views on women?
"If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it." (Arkansas Times June 26, 2014)
Maybe it is his views on gun control?
I almost wish that there would be, like, a simultaneous telecast, and all Americans would be forced — forced at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it'd happen. (Wikiquote)
Or just maybe it is his views on making America a Theocracy:
I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family. (ThinkProgress Jan. 15, 2008)
In the end I would put it at Mike Rounds owes someone a favor.  I think that he will jump on whatever ship is going to help his political career. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Paula Hawks is ALL IN against Noem

Paula Hawks has announced her candidacy for the US House against Kristi Noem.  I knew her back when she was coaching the West Central oral interp team.  She was teaching in the district at the time, teaching high school science.  You can check out her background at her website: http://www.hawksforhouse.com/.  

The problem will be getting people to get excited for someone with a (D) behind her name.  She has some name recognition due to serving in the South Dakota legislature since 2012.  I think part of building her recognition will be pushing her experience out there.  She has a strong background in farming, so the ag sector is covered.  She has a background in education, the banking sector, and legislative experience.  This strong background will give her one leg up over Noem.  

The biggest advantage she has is that she is a person that will stand with her convictions and not change based on the political winds.  During her interview with Rick Knobe today on KSOO View Point University, Paula was asked if she was all in?  Her answer was that she was definitely ALL IN!

That is what it will take to bring Noem down.  Paula Hawks is a person that will stand up and fight against the special interests, be a strong independent thinker that is not tied to the party, and will bring a hard-working attitude to Washington, something that her opponent can't say. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Dangers of Over-focusing on STEM

STEM has become a very powerful buzz word in association with education.  If you are not familiar with the acronym, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  

I think that STEM is important for students, but I have worried for a long time that we are putting too much focus on those subjects to the determent of the humanities and arts.  When we shift our focus solely on one concept, we risk damaging all the others.  

This summer I attended a training session for librarians and the focus of the four days was on STEM. I asked where was the arts, the fictional reading, the study of where we came from?  The answer that developed from one of the sessions was that they must all be intertwined.  When we ignore the other components of education, we run the risk of under-preparing students for life in the world after school.  How do they interact with others?  How do they push their creativity to create the next big idea?  How do we as a society continue to flourish and grow as human beings.

Fareed Zakari wrote in the Washington Post on March 26, 2015 this warning:
The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” (Side note: I have to love a quotation that uses the word defenestrate.  It is one of my all time favorite words.)
Unfortunately Daugaard has fallen into this narrow paradigm of thinking.  Most recently it was noted that at a meeting at the Gifted Education Summit.  During the meeting it was pointed out that education must be well-rounded, but not by the Governor.  It was pointed out by one of the student speakers.  

A parent of one of the campers and a community member that supports STEM activities had this reaction on a Facebook post:
Governor Daugaard owes each and every camper and staff member at the SD Governor's Camp for the Gifted (no relation to politics) an apology. The same man that refuses to support gifted education just told an audience of almost 300 kids - the brightest, most creative world changers you'd ever have the honor of meeting - that creativity is economically worthless. They should avoid "intellectually worthy", but otherwise (what he views as) worthless college degrees and focus on STEM. 
STEM has it's merits of course (speaking as a robotics coach), but it's not the be-all and end-all. (Megan Dahle, July 31, 2015).
A newer acronym is beginning to make the rounds and that is called STEAM.  The letter A stands for the arts.  We need to recognize the importance of all forms of education and not just focus on the STEM.  As Larry Edmunds stated on the International Society for Technology in Education on May 30, 2014:
This means that neither STEM nor the humanities alone can be the answer. We need to share funding across these crucial disciplines to create a teaching mélange in which STEM skills are supplemented by citizenship, effective communication and practical life skills. 
In other words, as always, one basket does not fit all the eggs. Today's students certainly need STEM courses to understand the physical and theoretical world, but they also need courses that will help them to better understand the people they will meet along the road of life. We must create funding schemata that will allow our students to succeed in the world, not just in the laboratory or the class room.
Daugaard, Obama (Obama is also too over-focused on STEM), and other leaders that try to "fix" education need to remember that a STEM can only hold something up, but STEAM can power the world!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Education and the Schoenbeck Report

Lee Schoenbeck must have felt slighted not to have made it to the Blue Ribbon Panel, but instead of offering up fake concern over funding for a call to a special session, he actually stays on topic (for the most part) and talks about the funding inadequacies.  I believe that his paper begins to show us where there is hope for a change and where there is concern for sticking to failed ideas.  I do want to say off the top, however, that I appreciate what seems to be the first real attempt at addressing the funding shortfall in education published by a South Dakota legislative member.  With that, lets begin to look at some of the ideas presented in the offering.

Step one: Read the report.  
Do not just rely on my picking out of sections here and there to comment on or anyone else's until you have read the whole thing.  It is about eight pages long and it is a little clunky in the writing style (Schoenbeck is a lawyer and not an English teacher, so that can be forgiven.)  He starts off with a bit of history about SD education and then moves into the issues of lack of funding with a lens of the free market approach.  He lays out several warrants mixed with pieces of data that do not always connect/relate, but he does provide some weak citation (Mr. Schoenbeck, I would encourage you to include a citations page to allow others to look at the sources used since you can't hyperlink a word documented that is printed.  That is just the teacher/librarian in me coming out.)  

After his 28 points, he then moves onto providing a suggestion of revenue: a one penny sales tax from May 1 through October 31.  He breaks down how much this could bring in to the schools (both K-12 and Post-secondary schools) and shares some clarification to his seven points on how to spend the money.  Some of these are a little confusing, but that is because of the note style he presents them.

He then closes on four general areas related to the funding and approach of handling the schools.  These four points focus on school administrators, making contracts longer for teachers, student performance and  punishments for lagging schools, and a form of performance pay boosters.

Step Two: Separate the issues:

There are a couple of main things I noticed in the report.  Those issues include-
1. Low teacher pay is one of the main contributors to the teacher shortage which is very real.  The state has been kicking this can down the road for long enough.  This lack of pay degrades the profession of teaching as it tells the general public that it is not worth funding.

2. Looking at how to pay for it:  As mentioned earlier, he offers a one penny sales tax increase during the summer months.  He rightly states that opting out property tax freeze is not the path to go.  This directly contradicts Daugaard's way of thinking:
The opt-out is the only alternative that local school districts can use to raise additional money to cover shortages. Sixty-six other school districts in South Dakota have resorted to opt-outs to get around the state’s restrictions. 
Daugaard has said that the opt-out is a tool local communities have that gives them control over their programs and teachers’ salaries, Hansen said. (Rapid City Journal May 31, 2015)
3. He sneaks in vouchers and using state tax dollars for private schools.  This is based on SB 189 and would funnel 5 million.  This is a diversion from helping increase and attract new teachers and keeping teachers here.  This is something that we talked about back in February.  LET IT GO! 

4. All teachers will be highly qualified by 2018 is one of the caveats he places on schools to get his additional funding.  A worthy goal, but highly unlikely in this short of a time frame.  Why?  It will take a while to build up the lower end of the teacher pipeline.  Even then, some schools at the outskirts of the state will need more time to pull in teachers.  

5. Are there other means to pay for it?  I would like to see the statistics on what a small corporate tax could bring to the state.  We don't need to do a 40% tax or anything like that.  The issue with the sales tax is that it is regressive.  If you want to target the visitors of the state, then make the tax built around that idea (hotel tax, sales tax on everything but clothes and food, a restaurant sales tax).  

6. His school administration sections seems a bit uninformed.  I am very concerned with the emergency response administrative team.  Really concerned that this could be used to over-rule local control. Support to allow school boards to bring in outside help or ask questions in the hiring process.  Our district used Dr. Melmer's group to help us find a new superintendent.  As someone that served on a previous committee to hire the superintendent that came before, there were moments of being unsure, but it was appreciative to be able to bring your concerns to the table.  The best method would be a combination of local school with a support system that could be paid for by the state, but not dictated from Pierre to avoid the perception that schools only get people that bow at the feet of the Governor or legislative members in Pierre.

There are several other talking points that could be dissected from the Schoenbeck report (you could expect that in an eight page statement).  Remember that step one must be to first read the report and then sift through the ideas.  I hope that Schoenbeck and anyone else that brainstorms ideas will be willing to listen to the good and the bad of their idea to draw to the best possible solution.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mike Rounds Claims to Care About Education NOW

Mike Rounds was no real friend of education when he was governor.  He recently released a press release to celebrate work done with the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).  In the release he states about No Child Left Behind:
While standards are important, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ directive from the federal government has proven to be the wrong approach and has led teachers to “teach to the test.” Returning education decisions to its rightful place – in the hands of local governments – is a needed replacement to the No Child Left Behind law, which expired in 2007.  Since that time, 42 states have been operating under waivers from No Child Left Behind– proof of just how much reforms have been needed. [Mike Rounds, Friday, July 17, 2015]
Notice that he talks about the failure of NCLB and the idea of teaching to the test.  I guess he hopes we forget that he was the governor that was praised for implementing NCLB in South Dakota.  In 2003 he sang a different tune about the law-
The No Child Left Behind Act focuses on helping each student, not on building a state system or institution, Rounds told school superintendents from across South Dakota.
"The support of education is the support of our children, and that message has to be sent loud and clear," the governor told the superintendents. "The basics mean educating our children one child at a time."...
Officials announced Tuesday that South Dakota is the 31st state to have its accountability plan approved by the U.S. Education Department. The accountability plan sets academic standards, requires additional tests to determine how students are performing and provides assistance to schools that need to improve. 
Rounds said South Dakota should take advantage of the No Child Left Behind Act to improve the way it educates each student, rather then just meet the law's minimum requirements. [Archives from Department of Education June 4, 2003]
In fact the National Governor's Association had this in its description of Rounds:
Working together with the legislature and citizens of South Dakota, he balanced the state budget, reduced the structural deficit, and created a sales tax relief program on food for individuals within 150 percent of the poverty level. Rounds also reorganized the Department of Education to better embrace the concepts of "No Child Left Behind." Rounds served as chairman of the Western Governors Association and as a member of the Executive Committee of the National Governors Association.  (Copyright 2011)
The Senate version of the ECAA is better than the House version in my opinion, and I am glad we can start walking away from NCLB.  I was also glad to see some action being taken about access for schools in "Indian Country" (although the biggest thing that can be done to improve education there is the reduction of poverty, but I doubt he or the GOP want to deal with that issue).

My beef with his statement is that he is running from his record on education and all of the sudden feels bad about something that he claimed was a good idea.  Just like he hates Common Core now, but supported it when he was beginning to run for office.  In 2014 Mitchell Republic they reminded us about his position on Common Core:
Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and several other former governors continue to support Common Core educational benchmarks that they helped develop...Governors and chief state school officers created the Common Core standards, according to BPC. These standards are state-driven and state-implemented and will hold all students to the same academic rigor while forestalling the need for federal intervention in an area traditionally left to the states. (Mitchell Republic Feb. 3, 2014)
I am glad to see the talk about not over-focusing on  testing and some other talk, but it would be better if the person saying it didn't drift in the political winds.  If Rounds truly sees the errs of his ways, then he should admit the mistakes and explain why things are really different now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Farmer's Union Constitutional Amendment Is Right Thing To Do

You may have heard that the South Dakota Farmer's Union has begun the process of changing the Constitution to make sure the districts are designed by an independent group of people instead of partisan politicians.  This is an issue whose time has come pretty much everywhere and that includes South Dakota.

Gerrymandering (or even the potential) is dangerous in many ways:

1. Gerrymandering creates voter apathy when "safe" districts are used.  As Mary Sanchez, a nationally syndicated columnist, stated:
Clearly, gerrymandering is a political tool of both parties. It is used to strip competition from elections, which contributes to voter apathy.

Why vote when there is nothing you can do about it?  The same person wins over and over despite being in the minority of the state's beliefs, how can I change it.  This becomes a direct threat to the idea of democracy.

2. Gerrymandering creates more polarization in government.  Nathan S. Catanese wrote in the 2014 Notre Dame Law, Ethics, and Public Policy Review:
With more members elected from districts in which there is no threat from an opposing party, there is less incentive for members of Congress to moderate or to make bipartisan deals. This is because the only likelihood of their losing an election is from losing to a more ideologically extreme candidate in a primary election. Ultimately, this polarization leads to less policy-making and more gridlock in Washington.
 3. It makes the elected representatives less concerned about the will of the general constituents and more worried about the primary voter in his or her party only.  From the above cited Notre Dame paper:
...“Influenced by law and economics, public choice theory makes the . . . assumption that individuals are motivated exclusively by self-interest. Thus, legislators are motivated primarily by the desire to be reelected . . . .”127 But if reelection in gerrymandered districts is assured, then legislators lose the motivation to act in a manner that would help to ensure their electoral success. 
Essentially, members of Congress from heavily gerrymandered districts, because of the preordained electoral outcomes in those districts, take it for granted that they will be reelected. Consequently, members of Congress may not listen to the opinions of the entire electorate in their district—they may only care about the opinions of primary voters.128
The next question is "Does South Dakota participate in this practice?"  The answer is yes.  Bob Mercer in a post going after the actions of the amendment wrote:
There’s no question Republicans have drawn the lines to their advantage in recent decades. But how much advantage should be examined. They jammed Democrat Paul Dennert into a difficult position, and he lost to another incumbent, Republican Al Novstrup, in 2012. 
Mercer points out in the article that playing with the boundaries will have little impact on the number of members it elects to Pierre.  In that situation, he is correct.  That, however, is not the issue of the amendment.  It is about doing what is right.  It is about not giving one party (either party) the opportunity to dictate elections.  The South Dakota Farmers Union writes on its website explaining the move:
South Dakota Farmers Union has united with a number of organizations to form the #SDRtThing2Do Coalition. This coalition looks to be a positive force in South Dakota and will begin collecting petition signatures for a Constitutional Amendment on Redistricting very soon. Before voters have the opportunity to vote this Constitutional Amendment into law, the group will need to collect 27,741 signatures to get it on the Nov. 2016 ballot. 
 "For too long we have had misrepresentation as a result of poor redistricting practices," said Wayne Soren, South Dakota Farmers Union Vice President. "South Dakota Farmers Union, along with the other organizations, chose to amend the state's Constitution as it pertains to redistricting because it is the right thing to do." 
Mr. Mercer, that is why you should not pish-posh this idea.  It is not about the parties, it must be about the people.  The implications of gerrymandering is wrong in so many ways, but simply because it is an affront to the basic tenants of representative democracy, that we must work to prevent gerrymandering from happening.

From the South Dakota Farmer's Union website:

 To learn more about #SDRtThing2Do Coalition and learn how you can sign the petition or volunteer to collect petitions, contact Mark Remily, #SDRtThing2Do Coalition Campaign Coordinator at 605-352-6761 ext: 117 or mremily@sdfu.org. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Noem's Wrong Thinking on TANF (but...)

Kristi Noem is recently announced a new bill that she has put forth to change the role of TANF (Temporary Aid to Families).  Before I go into detail about what Noem's legislation would do, it is important to have a basic understanding of what TANF is and some other alphabet soup issues.

TANF is a block grant program that was established in 1996 to provide cash assistance to families in poverty.  The program has been deeply neglected over the years and therefore has lost a lot of it ability to help reduce poverty.  At least that is according to the Hill writer in March of 2014:
There are now more than 20 million people living in deep poverty— below half of the poverty line—including more than 15 million women and children.  That’s an increase of more than 60 percentsince 2000 and a lack of cash assistance is a contributing factor. 
The TANF block grant has lost nearly 30 percent of its value since 1996 because it was never indexed to inflation.   In no state are benefits greater than 50 percent of the poverty line, and in most they are below 30 percent of the poverty line.  
Is this really a model for “successful reform”?  One that leads to fewer people in need receiving assistance, greater deprivation, and diminishing resources at the state level?
To get the grant, states have to show a maintenance of effort requirement (MOE).  The Congressional Budget Office explains the requirement in January 2015 report:
...The most important federal rule is the maintenanceof-effort (MOE) requirement, which is designed to limit the extent to which federal funding displaces money that state governments would otherwise have spent on services for low-income families. Specifically, for each dollar that nonfederal spending on TANF is less than 75 percent of nonfederal spending in 1994 on the programs that preceded TANF, the state loses a dollar of federal funding through the SFAG. (No state has ever been penalized in that way, however.) Related to that rule is an incentive for states to spend more than the MOE requirement: The federal government rewards each state that does so by reducing the number of families that must participate in work-related activities for the state to receive its full allotment of federal funding. 
MOE spending—that is, nonfederal spending that can be counted toward the MOE requirement—must be for services that try to achieve one of TANF’s four goals. And for services that were not part of the programs that TANF replaced, only state spending in excess of 1995 levels can be included in MOE spending. A state can include spending by local governments and nongovernmental entities, such as private charities, that is directed at one of TANF’s goals; however, spending by nongovernmental entities accounted for only 2 percent of MOE spending in 2011.
It is the spending of third parties that states can count towards their MOE that Kristi is targeting:
Some states are counting third-party spending as “state spending” and driving their apparent investments to artificially high levels.  As a result, those states don’t need as many TANF recipients to be engaged in work-related activities in order to continue receiving full federal funding.  Under H.R.2959, states could no longer count spending by third parties as state spending, meaning states would need to engage more adults in work-related activities in exchange for federal benefits, as the program was originally intended. 
Of note, South Dakota does not count third-party spending as state spending in order to reduce the portion of TANF recipients engaged in work-related activities. 
“We need to ensure other states follow South Dakota’s example,” continued Noem.  “By continuing to engage participants in work activities at the level intended, the state has upheld the integrity of the program and ensured the support we provide through TANF is support that really helps struggling families.”
What does the CBO have to say about the impact of this plan in their January 2015 report?
The prohibition would reduce the extent to which some states met the work standard by spending in excess of the MOE requirement; to meet the standard, a number of those states would probably make up for what they had lost by tightening time limits and work requirements. Such measures would be likely to shorten the average duration of assistance and could also reduce the number of families that received that assistance (see Table 4). However, other states might continue to rely on MOE spending to meet the work standard; they could do so by increasing their own spending on TANF, which could fund additional aid for low-income families.
There are two ways to meet the requirements if this goes through and the grant doesn't change in other ways.  One way is that states will come up with more money to fund and increase the case load (South Dakota would definitely come up with more money, right?).  The other way is to reduce the case load to meet the requirements.   

Noem holds South Dakota up as a shining beacon of the proper way to use TANF funds, however, South Dakota's poverty rate has seen increases, it has helped reduce homelessness in South Dakota or helped the poorest counties in the nation; two things she talks about in her press release:
More than 1,000 South Dakotans, including nearly 300 children, were homeless at some point last year, according to a recent report by the South Dakota Housing for the Homeless. What is perhaps more shocking is that three of the five lowest-income counties in the country are located in our state. For many impacted by poverty, it’s been a challenge that has been passed from one generation to the next. I want to help end that cycle. 
In the end, Mrs. Noem's actions I think would do nothing to improve TANF or help people get employment.  In some cases, you can't get employment if there are no jobs to be had.  I actually don't have a problem not allowing states to use third-party spending for the MOE.  Some states are not using it to help more people but to simply reduce their own spending needs.  However, and reduction needs other very significant changes.  In a hearing on this exact issue in 2012, the third-party issue was discussed, but most people seem to think that the problem was really how the work equation was used was the real problem.  The other problem is the lack of funding of the program.  These issues should be included in the reform, otherwise your idea of improving TANF will not increase employment and only hurt those in the greatest need.