We're just saying...
Posted Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Legislators are making the case for a pay raise (see the Mitchell Daily Republic article here). Currently, South Dakota has the 45th highest paid state lawmakers.
Some say it's not enough. That low pay discourages people from running for office. That candidate pools are smaller because people aren't properly compensated for the work they do.
Open Forum doesn't have a position on how much lawmakers are paid. We think it's intersting that they'd be asking for a raise, though, while being content with teacher salaries being 51st in the nation.
We're just saying.
Consolidation update from the Aberdeen American News
Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The Aberdeen American News had a nice piece on the impact of South Dakota’s mandatory reorganization law last Sunday. Reporters talked with districts facing the two-year deadline to consolidate, chronicling the difficulties of losing a school and being forced to merge.
From the American News:
Although Sanderson is personally upset by the impending closure, as a member of the school board, he is pledged and dedicated to keeping an open mind and finding the best solution for Conde as long as the law says it must reorganize.
“It's a tough position to be in,” Sanderson said. “Most people are pretty much understanding, but they're nervous, confused, hurt, sad, angry, scared.”
That sentiment is likely echoed everywhere consolidation is being forced upon local citizens. ASBSD Assistant Executive Director Hank Kosters, who is quickly called upon by districts facing reorganization, has seen the process unfold since the late 1960s. He relays to Open Forum that each reorganization is unique, and that sometimes consolidations can stall over deeply held local beliefs.
And that’s where Open Form will continue to make our stand: we believe, quite simply, that local citizens should hold the authority over decisions that impact their families.
And here's the rub. According to the same American News report:
Senate Republican majority leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls has said that the Legislature's action came down to quality of education, not budget savings.
So if it’s not about budgets (and Open Forum agrees that consolidation saves little, if any, money), then we wonder why a state decisions to close a school would trump a parents decision to send their child to the school of choice.
Open Forum believes parents have a good handle on what’s best for their children. And currently, parents are choosing to send their students to our smallest, rural schools. It doesn’t matter to us why parents are making that choice, and we believe it shouldn’t matter to our state government officials either.
Increasing teacher pay: Idaho's plan
Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2007
There's an interesting and evolving dialogue on teacher pay in South Dakota.
As the state school board association, our members talk of the troubles districts face recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. They talk about dwindling application pools and positions that go unfilled. They speak of experiences at teacher fairs, where South Dakota districts watch as students stroll by, attracted by big banners put up by districts in neighboring states - banners that prominently feature comparatively high starting salaries and large signing bonuses.
It's a large challenge faced by South Dakota school districts, and the situation needs a resolution.
It's a difficult problem to address. Some state stakeholders that operate outside the education community see no reason for change. They see South Dakota as a low-wage state, and that low teacher pay is a matter of circumstance in South Dakota.
Jon Schaff, of the influential South Dakota Politics blog, has rationally researched and responded to some of those issues (read those here and here).
Even if South Dakota gets to the point of mustering the political will to change the state's teacher pay reputation, the next step will be coming to an agreement on how best to do it.
Merit pay, pushed as a part No Child Left Behind and often backed business leaders, is often labeled as a silver-bullet solution to low teacher pay. (See Open Forum's take on merit pay here).
As the national dialogue on merit pay evolves, Idaho's proposed iSTARS plan is attracting a lot of attention. It offers several avenues to increase pay for teachers - with one plank offering additional pay for individual teachers that forgo tenured contracts.
The $60 million effort also delivers additional teacher pay increases based on market circumstance, teacher leadership, teacher expertise and increased student performance. The last area, student performance, is tied not to individual teacher performance, but progress of the entire district toward improving student achievement.
The plan has yet to be tested by the Idaho Legislature, but Gov. Butch Otter has backed the recommendations.
Last year, South Dakota enacted a Teacher Compensation Assistance Program (T-Cap) as a first, and meager, step toward addressing the issue. With only $4 million to be spread around the state and no guarantee the plan will be in place from year-to-year, South Dakota's program won't address the issue of teacher pay in South Dakota. Unlike the Idaho plan, funds in South Dakota can not be used to benefit all teachers.
Open Forum is still steadfast in our claims that research is silent on whether merit pay will be a success or a failure in public schools. But plans popping up in other states are at least engaging the education community and attempting to offer a meaningful level of resources to address the issue.
There's not likely to be a perfect plan that fits all situations and all school districts. Low teacher pay is causing real problems in South Dakota school districts, though, and addressing the issue will likely mean offering compromises and flexibility.
Lessons from the wood shed: Vouchers in Utah
Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2007
More than 60 percent of Utah voters rejected the nation's most comprehensive voucher program, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Education advocates referred legislation supported by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a majority of the Utah State Legislature that would have given tax-supported subsidies of $500 to $3,000 for any student to attend private school.
Advocates on both sides of the voucher debate were watching the Utah referendum closely.
From the Salt Lake Tribune:
"Tonight, with the eyes of the nation upon us, Utah has rejected this flawed voucher law," said state School Board Chairman Kim Burningham. "We believe this sends a clear message. It sends a message that Utahns believe in, and support, public schools."
... and ...
It would have been the country's broadest voucher program because it would have had no income ceiling - all Utah students would be eligible as the program phased in over 13 years. By the end of the phase in, the program was projected to cost taxpayers $430 million.
Having suffered a decisive defeat at the polls, groups pushing the Utah voucher program responded... somewhat strangely. Consider the reaction from Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, an ardent voucher supporter and the driving force behind the national "65 percent solution" solution:
Voucher supporter Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne - who bankrolled the voucher effort - called the referendum a "statewide IQ test" that Utahns failed.
"They don't care enough about their kids. They care an awful lot about this system, this bureaucracy, but they don't care enough about their kids to think outside the box," Byrne said.
Open Forum is stunned at Byrne's comments, which essentially called Utah voters stupid and stated directly that Utah parents don't care about their kids. We'll take the opposite view: that the voters didn't buy into the diversion that vouchers offer.
It's a victory for public education, but Open Forum thinks taxpayers also have something to celebrate. Shuffling taxpayer dollars into systems with no public accountability is bad public policy. If you want more info on that topic, check out this publication from the National School Boards Association.
OK. That's enough voucher talk for today. We'll wrap it up with a selection from NSBA's statement about the vote in Utah.
The Utah vote marks the 11th time in 11 referenda in recent decades that voters have decisively rejected school vouchers or tuition tax credits. Lawmakers nationwide should listen to the message being sent over and over by voters and not be swayed by the small, vocal lobby that continues to press for vouchers in states across the country. The public wants its elected representatives to avoid the distraction and diversion of vouchers and focus on supporting effective strategies for improving our public schools.
School consolidation isn't the answer
Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2007
... Or so says our neighbors to the North.
Faced with declining enrollments and large distances to cover, North Dakota education officials are starting to say that consolidation is not the answer to declining enrollment, according to the Fargo Forum.
An excerpt from the Forum:
"I've changed my mind totally on the consolidation issue," [state director of school finance and reorganization Tom] Decker said Monday. "There was a point in our history when it seemed as if we could achieve economies of scale through consolidation."
He believes school officials have to get creative in sharing services through regional centers and using distance learning. Even the one-room school model may have some advantages, he said.
State school Superintendent Wayne Sanstead estimated about $10 million was spent in years past to get schools to consolidate.
"Twenty years ago, there was actual legislative appropriations to bring districts together. It wasn't that there wasn't some success in the program. But that's not the way it's going to be done now," he said.
... and ...
"Clearly, at least up to grade 6, I think there's a new and healthy appreciation for the neighborhood schools - and bringing back some of the strength that those schools had," Sanstead said.
Technology, flexible schedules and sharing services may be the keys for schools, Decker and Sanstead said.
"We've somehow felt that even a small district needs to provides the same set of services (as larger schools)," Decker said. The "one-size fits all" model no longer works, he said.
Seems North Dakota has given up the fights surrounding school consolidation. Instead, they're focusing on ways to work with schools and improve services for students.
They've also dismissed the notion that consolidation saves money - which is a concept that the public, and some public officials, have yet to acknowledge in South Dakota.
Good for North Dakota.
No to reauthorization?
Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2007
According to the Washington Post, reauthorization of No Child Left Behind seems unlikely this year and may end up becoming an issue for the next President.
An excerpt from WaPo:
Despite dozens of hearings, months of public debate and hundreds of hours of Congressional negotiation, neither the House nor the Senate has produced a bill that would formally start the reauthorization process.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate education committee, has postponed introducing a new version of the law until next year, Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy, said yesterday.
"Senator Kennedy is committed to putting together a responsible reauthorization package early in 2008," Ms. Wagoner said. "But we're running up against the clock for this year."
The education committee in the House has worked for months on negotiations to produce legislation to renew the law.
Rumors have been flying for some time that Congress wouldn't be able to muster the momentum to reauthorize NCLB. Several inertial forces have stalled progress - including the amount of changes education Congress believes are necessary and how that compares to U.S. Education Secretary's stance that the law is "nearly perfect."
Regardless, it's looking more like NCLB's fate will be in the hands of the next President.