South Dakota In Middle of Tweaking Education Standards

The Daily Republic in Mitchell, SD, reports that the South Dakota Board of Education is in the middle of the hearing process for proposed education standards.

On Monday, they held their second of four required public hearings.

State government’s Board of Education Standards must hold two more hearings next year before members decide whether to further change what South Dakota teachers are presenting to students, its departing leader said Monday.

Board president Don Kirkegaard, of Sturgis, made the remarks after the board conducted the second public hearing in Sioux Falls. Board members are considering proposed revisions to state standards for 10 sets of subjects, including math, English and the history and culture of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribal peoples.

The Legislature passed a state law in 2012 requiring the board to hold at least one public hearing in each of Aberdeen, Pierre, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The board first considered the changes at a Sept. 18 meeting in Aberdeen at Northern State University.

State government’s Department of Education plans to present the proposals for public comments at board meetings Jan. 26 in Rapid City and March 19 in Pierre. Kirkegaard said Monday board members could decide immediately after the Pierre hearing whether to accept changes yet that day or wait until May 8 in Vermillion.

“We’d be done with our four hearings,” he said.

Kirkegaard is in his final weeks as superintendent for the Meade School District. He starts Jan. 1 as state education secretary, replacing Melody Schopp. Kirkegaard served eleven years on the state board, including the last six as president.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced Oct. 13 that Schopp would retire Dec. 15 after seven years in the department’s top post.

You can find the current and proposed standards here, as well as, links for public comments.

The next two public hearings are on January 26 in Rapid City and in March 19 in Pierre. Times and locations. Frankly, I’m not optimistic any comment or testimony at a public hearing will make much of a difference as the incoming Secretary of Education indicated they could decide right after the last hearing. So it seems like they are just checking off the minimum boxes required by state law to pass the standards they want.

I have not yet looked at the proposed ELA and math standards so I don’t know how different they are from Common Core. If other states can be used as an indicator I’m not optimistic it won’t be just another rebrand.

South Dakota to Review Common Core

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Last week The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reports that the South Dakota Board of Education plans to review the Common Core State Standards.

They write:

The South Dakota Board of Education plans to re-evaluate the controversial math and reading curriculum this summer following a massive federal overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law.

The new law gives local school leaders more flexibility to set curriculum and testing standards. “We can stand back and say this is what we want for our state,” said Melody Schopp, the state’s education chief.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December, but it won’t hit classrooms until the 2017-18 school year. South Dakota education officials will start the revision process this summer for the Common Core.

The state reviews curriculum standards on a seven-year cycle. Reading standards were due for review this summer, but math standards weren’t scheduled for review until the summer of 2017. State education board members agreed unanimously to speed up the process, moving up the timeline for math.

“We’re basically going to review the Common Core and review that process this summer,” Schopp said.

Four thoughts about this.

First, it seems to me that Secretary Schopp is blaming the adoption of the Common Core on the feds. That wasn’t the tune she was singing when she and I spoke at a forum together in Sioux Falls a few years ago.

Second, giving Secretary Schopp the benefit of the doubt perhaps the Sioux Falls Board of Education felt boxed in due to their Race to the Top application or ESEA flexibility waiver.

Third, “flexibility” is misleading. We warned that Every Student Succeeds Act doesn’t change Common Core’s grip on a state, and a former Arne Duncan staffer said it locks states in.

Finally, I never get very excited about the concept of a review as they have yet to lead to a substantial change in a state’s standards.

South Dakota House Narrowly Rejects Common Core Resolution

PierreSD_CapitolThe South Dakota House of Representatives narrowly rejected HCR 1008.  This is unbelievable.  All this bill did was to urge the South Dakota Board of Education to refrain from expanding the Common Core State Standards or any other multi-state standards (like the Next Generation Science Standards) into the state.  It did not direct the board to do so.

And some state representatives couldn’t agree to even doing that?  I think South Dakotans deserve answers from those who voted no (which includes the Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader): State Representatives Julie Bartling (D-Gregory), Lance Carson (R-Mitchell), Kristin Conzet (R-Rapid City), Dan Dryden (R-Rapid City), Mary Duvall (R-Pierre), Marc Feinstein (D-Sioux Falls), Peggy Gibson (D-Huron) Brian Gosch (R-Rapid City), Anne Hajek (R-Sioux Falls), Paula Hawks (D-Hartford), Spencer Hawley (D-Brookings), Troy Heinert (D-Mission), Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton), Timothy Johns (R-Lead), Kevin Killer (D-Pine Ridge), Patrick Kirschman, David Lust (R-Rapid City), David Novstrup (R-Aberdeen), Herman Otten (R-Tea), Scott Parsley (D-Madison), Jim Peterson (D-Revillo), Ray Ring (D-Vermillion), Fred Romkema (R-Spearfish), Tim Rounds (R-Pierre), Tona Rozum (R-Mitchell), Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland), Dean Schrempp (D-Lantry), Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City), Karen Soli (D-Sioux Falls), Mike Stevens (R-Yankton), Burt Tulson (R-Lake Norden), Kathy Tyler (D-Big Stone City), Dick Werner (R-Huron) and Susan Wismer (D-Britton).

The Rapid City Journal reports that the South Dakota Senate last week failed to pass a resolution that would implement a two year study of the Common Core State Standards.  It failed to pick up the required 2/3 majority.  On a positive note they did pass bills that would prevent expanding the Common Core standards to other subjects until July 2016.  This should bar the South Dakota Board of Education from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards if they were inclined to take that up for the time being.  Also the South Dakota Senate passed a bill that seeks to protect the privacy of student records.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Allen (CC-By-SA 3.0)

South Dakota Q&A: South Dakota’s History for Common Core

south dakota flagI participated in a forum last week in Sioux Falls, SD.  Questions were complied for two months prior and the panelists were given the questions (summarized) a couple of days prior to the event.  Unfortunately since forum was not moderated and rules put in place regarding time limits South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp and former South Dakota Education Secretary Rick Melmer were able to set the tone of the forum early.  Dr. Schopp was able to go first.  Hardly any of the questions were answered, and I know many of the attendees were frustrated.  I was as well since I only was able to touch the mike twice and was actually skipped over at one point.  You can read a recap here.

I made a commitment to those in attendance that I would do my best to answer the questions that Dr. Schopp and Dr. Melmer didn’t.  I’m going to break these up into several articles (there were a lot of questions!).  The first installment is on South Dakota’s History for the Common Core.  I’d like to preface this article with encouragement to check out the local experts – South Dakotans Against Common Core is an excellent resource.

Questions will be in bold, my answers italicized….

Who is responsible for bringing the Common Core standards into South Dakota?  The President or the Governor?

The President indirectly and the Governor directly.  Ultimately it was the decision of the South Dakota State Board of Education.  They voted to adopt the Common Core Math and ELA standards on November 29, 2010.  Governor Mike Rounds was aware of the process as it began several months prior and I assume signed the original memorandum of understanding with the Common Core State Standards Initiative and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  The reason I’m fuzzy on that is because they were adopted with less than two months to go in his last term and I’m not sure when those were signed as I don’t have copies of the documents.  The process definitely started in his administration.

That said Governor Daugaard is complicit as well as he has continued to allow the implementation of the Common Core in South Dakota.

President Obama is complicit indirectly through the Race to the Top grant program (which was an executive earmark within the Stimulus package passed in 2009) which South Dakota did apply for.  The application did state that “high points” would be given if the applicant adopted a set of “college and career-ready standards” developed by a consortium consisting of a majority of states. The Common Core was the only game in town.  How much the Race to the Top funding (which South Dakota did not receive) played in adopting the Common Core in South Dakota is up for debate, but one can’t dismiss it’s role.

Since Governor Rounds is running for U.S. Senate it would certainly be worthwhile to have him explain his role in the adoption of the Common Core and his position today.

When did the South Dakota Legislature vote to accept the Common Core?  Did they pass it unanimously?

First how often do any state legislatures pass anything unanimously?  Second, they didn’t because they didn’t vote at all.  No state legislature voted to adopt the Common Core, this was entirely driven by the executive branch.

Why didn’t anyone know about these standards before they were implemented?

Primarily because the state legislature didn’t vet them and the State Department of Education was primarily focused on obtaining feedback from the education community.  Unless you were involved in crafting education policy at that time there was little opportunity for you to know about this.  It wasn’t on most of the media’s radar at the time.  So unless you read Education Week or trolled the South Dakota Department of Education’s website (which we now know is not a bad practice!) you probably wouldn’t hear about it anywhere else.  Had the State Legislature been given the chance to weigh in it could have brought more attention to the Common Core, and good state legislators should be soliciting feedback from their constituents.

State Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-Sioux Falls) made the argument that the State Legislature has never set standards.  I share here why I believe that is not a good practice.

When Governor Daugaard brought the Common Core into our state, who among you were serving in the legislature or the South Dakota Department of Education?  Did any of you have the opportunity to read through the standards?  Where the standards fully written in a final format at the time we adopted the Common Core?

Of the panelists (myself being an Iowan excluded) State Representative Jim Bolin (R-Canton) was in the South Dakota House of Representatives and serving on the House Education Committee.  State Senator Ernie Otten (R-Tea) was not elected until 2012.  State Senator Phyllis Heineman was not elected to the South Dakota State Senate until November of 2010.  She served in the State House from 1999-2008.  She was a member of the South Dakota State Board of Education during this process however.  Dr. Schopp was employed by the South Dakota Department of Education at the time even though she was not appointed as Education Secretary until 2011.  Dr. Rick Melmer served as Education Secretary until 2008 (development didn’t start until 2009). 

State Representative Bolin said he did not have an opportunity and heard very little from the Department regarding the Common Core.  State Senator Heineman at the forum said she read them.  I will assume Dr. Schopp did since she worked for the Department.  I know State Representative Otten did not at the time.  With Dr. Melmer I’m not sure if he read them before adoption.  I personally read them after the fact when this finally hit my radar – by that time 46 states had adopted them in full or in part (Minnesota only adopted the ELA standards).

Where the standards fully written? Yes the final draft of the Common Core was released in May of 2010.  South Dakota did not approve the standards until November.

Did the State Board of Education have open meetings to discuss the Common Core, looking for the opinion of others?  Where there public meetings?  Who was involved, when, and where were they held?

Yes, all state board meetings are open to the public.  The process, as Dr. Schopp described it, didn’t seem to focus on the opinion of anyone beyond classroom teachers the Department hired to review them in their draft and final forms.  I could not find minutes for these teacher Common Core workgroups.

Did the public know the importance of attending at the time?  Probably not.

Here is what I could find on the department website, I am not sure if the months I’m missing means they didn’t meet, neglected to have minutes recorded or they were in executive session.

According to the Department website the Board of Education didn’t first discuss the Common Core until the September meeting.

Here is how the official minutes described the adoption of the Common Core (November 2010)

10.0 Public Hearing – Adoption of Common Core Standards for English language arts, and math 1:03 p.m.

President Duncan asked for any Proponents to the adoption. Written comments that were submitted through e-mail were provided to board members. Becky Nelson from Dept. spoke in favor of adopting the common core and Fred Aderhold from the Sioux Falls school district shared his approval for the adoption on behalf of the Sioux Falls school district. Having no other proponents come forward Duncan asked for opponents. Steve S_____ from Mitchell came forward to express his disapproval of adopting the Common Core Standards and why. No other proponents came forward at this time and President Duncan asked for a motion.

Motion: Motion by Richard Gowen and seconded by Phyllis Heineman to approve the proposed adoption of Common Core Standards.

Conclusion: The motion carried

Real descriptive eh?  A public hearing that had only two members of the public speak?  No idea how many attended.

Two meetings… a short public forum during the second meeting and they’re adopted!  How many of the board of education members read the standards prior to voting?  Who knows?

What steps were taken to include the opinions & expertise of any local school boards, teachers, parents and/or state legislators before adopting Common Core?

Dr. Schopp said school districts were communicated with, a public forum was held, and teachers had feedback (I could not find teacher workgroup minutes, and she didn’t describe how school districts were kept informed.  They started offering a series of webinars in December 2010, but that was after the adoption of the Common Core.  You can see above what the “public forum” entailed.  Considering the board of education only had two months itself to consider the Common Core State Standards I find it very hard to believe there was a concerted effort to solicit feedback from the public.

Is it true that several educators from the state of South Dakota had the opportunity to approve of the common core standards?  Who were these educators?  When and where were the meetings held?

According to the Department yes.  I don’t know; minutes for these meetings are available (unless I’m just not using the right search terms).  I would recommend a South Dakota resident submit a Freedom of Information request (or whatever South Dakota calls it) to see if you can get that information from the Department.

According to the South Dakota Department of Education website, the South Dakota Board of Education moved to adopt the Common Core Standards on November 29, 2010.  Does this mean the Legislature had no knowledge and no debate about the Common Core?

I can’t speak authoritatively about how many legislators knew, how much they knew or when, but I can say the State Legislature did not debate or vote on these standards.

Next in this series will be answers on Data Mining & Sharing & Federal Involvement.

Why State Legislatures Should Decide Standards

At a Common Core forum I participated in on Tuesday in Sioux Falls, SD, State Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-Sioux Falls), said that the South Dakota Legislature “never set content standards.”  She noted that has always been up to the State Board of Education.

She said that was done to keep politics out of standards.  That’s a nice sentiment.  It sounds good, but what ends up happening is you typically have a one-sided conversation.  This is illustrated by the process that Dr. Melody Schopp, the South Dakota Secretary of Education, outlined for the packed room:

  1. They attended webinars in order to learn more.
  2. In January 2010 the South Dakota Department of Education hired teachers to review standards.
  3. They crosswalked the standards then (comparing the Common Core to their current standards).
  4. February 2010 the sent that feedback to the school districts, and I believe she said they also received feedback from the school districts.
  5. In June and July of 2010 they hired teachers to review again.

This sounds great again if you are part of the education establishment.  The teachers who reviewed were hired by the Department.  How were they chosen?  School districts were made aware.  Who, the Superintendents?  The school boards?  Did they communicate with the community and parents?  Was both positive and negative feedback shared?

Dr. Rick Melmer, former South Dakota Secretary of Education, said that these meetings were open to the public.  He also said based on his experience that parents and community members typically don’t attend at the school district level or at the state level.

I am sure that is typically the case, but then again people typically don’t attend these meetings unless they know there is a reason to.  Did the average parent in South Dakota (or in any state) know this was going on?  State Representative Jim Bolin (R-Canton) said he served on the House Education Committee at the time and was not kept informed.  If members of the House Education Committee were unaware of the alignment to the Common Core how is your average citizen supposed to know?

Also, not addressing South Dakota specifically, most state boards of education, meet in a central location at a time not conducive to when people work.  South Dakota is a little better in that regard.  I have been told that their board meetings are held in different locations in the state (the next one is October 1 at 3:30p – central time – in Oacoma, SD).

But again I bring up the point if parents were not made aware of the process beyond posted notices on the Department website why would they show up?

Obviously we all from here on out should be proactive and make sure we check those sites and read the agendas.  Lesson learned.

Going back to State Senator Heineman’s point however.  The problem with having an unelected board make policy decisions like these is that it leaves “we the people” out of the process.  Legislators meet with their constituents, good ones solicit feedback from their constituents, and they are ultimately held accountable by their constituents for the decisions they make.

Where is the accountability for the State Board of Education?  There is none.  Legislators, if they want to keep being a legislator, have to be responsive to their constituency.  An unelected board does not, especially if they’re surrounded by an echo chamber. 

There are some states that do elect their State Board of Education like Kansas and Texas.  Members of the Kansas State Board of Education will have to answer to why they voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards despite a massive amount of negative feedback.  They approved those standards the day before a Fordham Institute report card on science standards came out giving Kansas science standards a higher grade than the Next Generation Science Standards.

Not to mention the process was not transparent enough and that was said by one of the board members.  Kansas State Board of Education they will need to answer for how they voted at the polls.  That isn’t the case in most states.

Kentucky’s State Board of Education also adopted the Next Generation Science Standards despite criticism.  A legislative committee voted against it 5-1.  Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said they would be adopting regardless.   They simply do not listen.

We’re seeing a similar process in Iowa.  We have an appointed task force to discuss the Next Generation Science Standards.  They have met twice already and will meet one more time to give their feedback to the State Board of Education.  The first task force meeting was, according to State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) (who is part of the task force) an infomercial for the Next Generation Science Standards given by members of the Iowa Department of Education. 

The last task force meeting I was told by a parent who attended, “the entire meeting was about Iowa Core with interjections of why NGSS is better. Little to no mention about content or cost.”

How in the world are they supposed to come to a decision if they don’t discuss content or cost?  Next meeting they are supposed to “come to a consensus” on whether or not to stay with Iowa’s current standards or adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.

No third option?  If Iowa’s standards stink how can we improve them ourselves?  How can they be strengthened without adopting the Next Generation Science Standards?

This task force appears to me to be a farce, but we’ll know for certain in October.

Perhaps State Legislatures don’t set content standards in most states.  The process of adoption for the Next Generation Science Standards offers a peek under the veil of how the Common Core State Standards were adopted in most states.  Seeing that it’s clear to me that the State Legislature should be the body that has the final say on what standards are set by their state.