Sanford and St. Paul Public Schools
Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A gift from South Dakota philanthropist-in-chief T. Denny Sanford is stirring conversation in St. Paul, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Strapped for cash and needing to upgrade the gym floor, a booster club for St. Paul's Central High School asked Sanford for $100,000 to upgrade the facility. As a gesture of gratitude, the group offered to name the floor after Sanford.
With construction slated to start this summer, the community is starting to have a conversation about whether it's appropriate to name the floor after Sanford, who is a graduate of Central High.
From the Pioneer Press:
The school board and superintendent have yet to figure out whether the project - which got the go-ahead this month - sets a lasting precedent, but it has opened the door for the state's second-largest district to join the ranks of school systems nationwide that offer naming rights in return for gifts.
As long as the money doesn't come with strings attached or require schools to compromise their mission, school board member Tom Goldstein said, he wouldn't oppose to it.
"I guess I don't see it as that controversial a thing if we went that direction," he said, especially when districts are scrambling for new revenue sources. "We have real needs."
But board chair Kazoua Kong-Thao said she would oppose offering naming rights to big donors.
"Our schools are public schools. It is for the public usage," she said.
What happened at Central was an anomaly, Kong-Thao said, and she points out that new district procedures for naming areas within buildings - which the board is asking the superintendent to write but aren't complete - should focus on soliciting community input, not courting wealthy benefactors.
Like so many decisions that come in front of school boards, the situation involves competing public values. On one side of the fence is the group that worked to secure the donation. On the other side sits those who want to maintain a commercial-free student environment.
They're not talking about a black-and-white issue. No matter what the board decides, there will be critics.
School board members are elected to make these kinds of decisions. They're elected to carry the values of the community into the public school setting. It's not easy, but it is part of the job.
When faced with difficult decisions, board members should focus on putting the public in public education.
They should involve the major stakeholders and include some voices that have yet to be heard. When a decision is made, the board should justify its position, making sure to frame the entire debate for the community and taking special care to communicate that the board considered all angles before deciding.
When the outcome can't possibly please everyone, sometimes the best a school board can do is show the community that they listened carefully before acting.
Honoring academic excellence
Posted Monday, April 28, 2008
Open Forum is all smiles today.
Later this morning, we'll head over to the annual ASBSD Academic Excellence Luncheon - a yearly event that affords ASBSD the opportunity to congratulate South Dakota's top students.
This year, more than 220 high school students will receive a well-deserved pat on the back for their academic accomplishments at the high school level. We've asked them to bring their parents and their high school principals to share in the celebration.
Gov. Rounds will be on hand to address the youngsters and to help hand out the awards.
Since 1990, ASBSD has worked with the governor's office to coordinate the luncheon, which serves as the only statewide academic recognition ceremony in South Dakota.
Of course, it wouldn't be possible without the generous support of our sports - Citibank and the South Dakota Community Foundation.
For more on the event, heck out the media advisory here, and the student list here.
NCLB Changes: Accountablity, transparency are focus
Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced proposed changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act yesterday - a slate of administrative reforms that she said will strengthen accountability and provide parents more information on how to get their children help.
Read ED fact sheets on the changes here and here, and the press release here.
Secretary Spellings announced the changes, which include a uniform way to calculate graduation rates, from Detroit - home of one of the nation's most dramatic high school drop out rates.
The new graduation rate calculation stems from a National Governor's Association agreement signed by 45 states in July 2005. South Dakota originally signed on, but backed out of the compact shortly after.
The problem with the NGA method, South Dakota Education Secretary Dr. Rick Melmer said at the time South Dakota opted-out, is that it counts students who graduate in five years a drop-outs.
The proposed regulations will provide some needed flexibility - like allowing schools to count individual student progress and helping to recognize the difference between low-performing schools and schools that barely miss the mark.
The new requirements also mean states have to publish National Report Card data alongside state student assessment results. According to ED's fact sheets, the move will bring transparency to the assessment process (Open Forum translation: States that set the bar too low will be exposed).
No word on whether South Dakota's NAEP data will have to be reported by ethnicity, though - a move that could shed some light on why South Dakota's NAEP results aren't as good as South Dakota's citizens are led to believe.
While there's some progress in the new regulations, that doesn't mean everyone is happy about it.
From the New York Times:
Some education experts and lobbyists said the proposed regulations were so sweeping that they amounted to an effort by Ms. Spellings to amend the law through regulation.
"This is the boldest sidestep around the Congress that I've ever seen," said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators. "She's trying to rewrite the law without benefit of Congressional action. I'd be surprised if lawmakers let this go."
Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at Berkeley, said the graduation rate proposal and others amounted to "an imperious new set of mandates," while others seemed aimed at giving states the flexibility they have demanded in enacting the law. "The Bush administration is like an ambivalent big sister who doesn't know whether to scold or to nurture her younger siblings," Dr. Fuller said.
They're going to do it anyway (sort of)
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008
According to the Washington Post, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will unveil on Tuesday a host of changes to No Child Left Behind - modifications that come via administrative regulations and not through the lawmaking process.
Perhaps today's news sheds some light on why the National School Boards Association is pushing lawmakers to revise NCLB this year.
Congress has struggled to reauthorize NCLB, the Bush Administration's chief domestic policy initiative. Presidential posturing and growing anti-NCLB sentiment has stalled progress, leaving some to wonder whether NCLB will be improved or simply scrapped.
Absent the political capital to push through changes to the law, Secretary Spellings seems poised to use administrative authority to usher in change anyway. Proposed changes are being opened for public input and are set for implementation in the fall.
The most publicized change calls on all states to calculate graduation rates the same way. Open Forum will update this post once the regulations are announced.
For one school board member's take on NCLB reform, check out Watertown School Board Member Fred Deutsch's School-of-Thought blog.
Teacher pay: Two invalid arguments
Posted Thursday, April 17, 2008
Outgoing Senate Education Chair Ed Olson offers some commentary on teacher salaries in today's Mitchell Daily Republic, challenging two pervasive arguments against raising teacher pay in South Dakota.
From the Daily Republic:
"I've been watching teacher salaries for 20 years, and I've watched our market position erode," said Sen. Ed Olson, R- Mitchell, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Olson said the argument is no longer valid that low teacher salaries simply reflect the reality of low salaries statewide.
"That's not the issue," said Olson. "Teachers are a competitive market. They have to be certified, licensed and they have to have a degree. We're not only competing for teachers with other states but with teachers for other industries. Why should a student teach science, math or physics when they can make six figures in the private sector?"
The argument that teachers should be paid less because they work a nine-month year is equally invalid, said Olson.
"It's not their fault," he said. "That's how the calendar is set."
As South Dakota Schools struggle to recruit and retain teachers, it's refreshing to see a lawmaker so openly advocate a position that some public perceptions of teacher pay miss the mark. Sen. Olson goes where few legislators are willing to go - he challenges the status quo.
Neville vs. Rounds - Ding! Ding! Ding!
Posted Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Gov. Mike Rounds has fired off another letter to the editor to defend the state's position on education funding. This time, our governor took exception to Northern State University Professor and Aberdeen American columnist Alan Neville.
Neville, an assistant professor of education at NSU, thinks the state isn't adequately funding K-12 education. He proposes some solutions - or at least some ideas that may lead to a solution.
From the American News:
Let's ask our school superintendents, school boards, teachers, students and parents if they share the top-down model that says our school districts have too much money in the bank, or let's ask if we are proud of our paltry teacher pay.
... and ...
Rather than say we are sorry but we just don't have the money, let's do what it takes to fix the problem and find the money to adequately fund K-12 education in South Dakota. It might require a shifting of priorities, a new look at taxation or other radical ideas, but our children deserve better.
Gov. Rounds - who is making responding via letter to the editor a regular habit - doesn't agree. He says the legislature is doing all it can for education, and that anyone that wants the state to invest more in K-12 needs to identify a funding source.
From the American News:
As for other solutions, he offers, "The group of talented and innovative individuals we have elected to represent us in Pierre can find a solution." I do not think it is responsible to demand more spending and expect someone else to find the revenue to support increased spending.
Gov. Rounds' comments aren't too far from the warnings he gave during session, when he told lawmakers not to increase education funding without identifying a funding source.
Open Forum thinks the debate centers around priorities, not whether resources are available.
Spending on state government is growing at twice the rate education funding is being allowed to grow. South Dakota has one of the largest budget reserves in the nation (see page 64), stashing away about 12 percent of the budget in reserve, about twice the national average - and that doesn't even count the $900 million locked away in trust fund accounts.
The money is there. Lawmakers are choosing not to invest in K-12 education.
Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves adds his thoughts on education's role in the presidential primaries via the Mitchell Daily Republic, conveying a similar sentiment shared by Education Secretary Dr. Rick Melmer (read more here).
Graves points out that presidential candidates have been comparatively silent on K-12 issues, including their positions to revise, repeal or renew President George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.
Like Graves, Open Forum follows politics pretty closely. We may not be politicos, but we'll gladly accept the eduwonk handle. Frankly, we haven't heard much publicly from any of the candidates regarding their plans for the nation's education system.
But... they do have web sites.
John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, thinks public education is in need of a major overhaul and is willing to introduce competition into the system in order to spur improvement.
Here's what McCain has to say:
John McCain believes our schools can and should compete to be the most innovative, flexible and student-centered - not safe havens for the uninspired and unaccountable. He believes we should let them compete for the most effective, character-building teachers, hire them, and reward them.
... and ...
As president, John McCain will pursue reforms that address the underlying cultural problems in our education system - a system that still seeks to avoid genuine accountability and responsibility for producing well-educated children.
Barack Obama, one of two seeking the Democratic Party nomination, provides a little more insight on his campaign web site, offering specific proposals to solve specific problems.
Obama will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.
Hillary Clinton takes a more confrontational approach to NCLB - she says she'll end it. She also promises to make quality preschool programs available, but not mandatory.
From Clinton's web site:
Hillary also knows that we have to improve our K-12 system in order to ensure that every child is prepared to compete in an increasingly global economy. As president, she will:
- End the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind.
- Meet the funding promises of IDEA to ensure that children with special needs get the attention and support they deserve.
- Recruit and retain thousands more outstanding teachers and principals, especially in urban and rural areas.
- Cut the minority dropout rate in half.
So, there you have it, Forum readers. Which candidate has the better positions? Which position is best for kids?
Are candidates ignoring education?
Posted Monday, April 14, 2008
Anyone interested in the teacher pay debate in South Dakota should check out the latest column from South Dakota Education Secretary Dr. Rick Melmer.
In the most recent edition of Education Online, the education department's monthly newsletter, Dr. Melmer notes that education has yet to be a pivotal issue in the presidential elections.
Dr. Melmer, a well-respected educator who holds an influential leadership position with the Council of State School Officials, offers three theories for why some may feel education issues have largely been ignored in this presidential race.
Though he's talking about federal education policy, Open Forum thinks Dr. Melmer's words may also shed some light on why there is little traction on several issues critical to South Dakota's public education system.
Read Dr. Melmer's thoughts here. To make the exercise more relevant, every time a commentary is made about progress at the federal level, substitute state level.
In particular, Open Forum found Dr. Melmer's "No Money Honey" theory interesting.
Dr. Melmer says "there is little doubt that initiatives such as pre-kindergarten, intensive support for needy schools and teacher pay can be solved without additional resources devoted at the federal level."
Before we close - we'll chip in with Open Forum's theory regarding why the presidential candidates aren't talking education issues yet.
Simply, we're still at the primary stage. Once each party has a candidate, education policies debates will heat up and we'll have more information on how each candidate plans to support the nation's public education system.
The merit pay conundrum
Posted Monday, April 14, 2008
It's time for an Open Forum shout-out to American School Board Journal, the high-profile periodical from the National School Boards Association.
This month, the award-winning pub takes a look at teacher unions, and more specifically at merit pay...or differentiated pay...or performance pay - or whatever they're calling it these days.
Here's a few tid-bits from ASBJ's look at merit pay:
"In an era where there's a strong push for results and improving student achievement, by leaving the pay system out, you're saying, ‘We want you to work hard but not pay you for it,'" says Allan Odden, codirector of the University of Wisconsin's Strategic Management of Human Capital in Public Education project. "But once you start shifting how you pay people, you start sending signals that the old pay game is changing and we're going to be more strategic about the future."
The article then goes to review current large-scale merit pay initiatives, like one in place in Denver. Their model, called ProComp, features multiple performance-based incentives that have attracted nearly half the district's teachers. District officials note, however, that implementing the program hasn't been easy.
The new compensation system isn't without its flaws.
"You have to look at these things when they are implemented systemwide," Odden notes. "They have to manage this incredibly difficult-to-manage system."
For example, methods of measuring progress have to be selected or developed and clear benchmarks need to be established. Frequent observations of teacher practice must occur, resources need to focus on helping teachers perform better, and ongoing evaluations must be conducted. Results are recorded and tied to paychecks, and everything must be stored in databases and cross-referenced against each the other.
That's just the short list. "The chances of screwing up are really high," Odden says. "When you start laying out all this stuff, a lot of school districts just walk away."
ASBJ points out that the merit pay concept has been around for a long time, but movement to pay-for-performance plans have gained momentum in recent years.
That's true in South Dakota, too. Back when Gov. Mike Rounds was State Senator Mike Rounds, he co-sponsored merit pay legislation. As governor, he championed a Teacher Compensation Assistance Program to reward select teachers - but definitely not all teachers - for doing additional work or for working in hard-to-staff areas.
Last legislative session, lawmakers and the Department of Education pushed a stronger merit-based plan, found in HB 1124. While that bill didn't make it very far, the concept was kept alive with a summer study. Open Forum is certain the issue will come back next session, fresh with some official backing from those selected to serve on the summer study.
Oh, and let's not forget the Teacher Incentive Fund program - a federally-funded merit pay initiative that started taking hold in South Dakota last year. Despite the program's rocky start, the five-year grant may very well indeed provide South Dakotans with some verifiable answers to whether merit-pay will be effective in boosting student achievement.
Open Forum has said it before, the jury is still out on whether performance pay will improve student achievement. There's no real reason to support it, nor a good reason to denounce it.
So far, the most pervasive argument for merit-pay has come from business-minded individuals who believe that employees should be financially compensated for results, not for simply being employed.
While it may be natural to try and apply private-sector business models to public schools, there are also good arguments against it. Most notably from highly credible business consultant Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and the accompanying Good to Great and the Social Sectors.
Collins says: "We must reject the idea - well intentioned, but dead wrong - that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business'."
So - where does that leave the issue of merit pay? Right where it's always been - an unproven idea that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.
Lawmakers keep hedging their policy decisions on high student achievement numbers in South Dakota - if they were actually rewarding teachers for their efforts, South Dakota teachers wouldn't be sitting at last in the nation in average teacher salary.
Should public policy be attached to a private-sector model that may or may not be applicable to public schools? What about implementation issues? Will the public understand the need for higher expenditures in the administration area to implement performance pay? Most importantly - how will the system be designed?
What say you, faithful Open Forum participants?
On school reserves, state funding and teacher salaries
Posted Thursday, April 10, 2008
Darned if you do, darned if you don't.
That's the message school board members and administrators in Rapid City are getting from lawmakers after school officials announced that the district is looking at several options to counter an impending budget shortfall.
According to the Rapid City Journal, the district is looking at program cuts, salary freezes and asking local voters to approve an opt-out of state-imposed property tax limitations.
While the district and community grapple with tough budget decisions, Open Forum's sideline view sees the situation as the convergence of three forces: the struggle to recruit and retain teachers, low state funding and the continued bashing of school reserves by Gov. Mike Rounds.
In a connect-the-dots fashion, here's how the storyline plays out.
Districts are cursed for saving money, and chastised when they spend it.
It's the kind of double talk that stems from a broken school finance system and a group of lawmakers who are unwilling to change - or to even acknowledge the need for change.
Meanwhile, while state lawmakers bicker over how much schools should or shouldn't save, other states are making historic investments in K-12 education and positioning themselves to better compete for teachers.
Charter Schools: No public oversight, no public accountability
Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Last legislative session, South Dakota felt the first real ripple of the national school choice movement when Senator Tom Katus, D-Rapid City, unsuccessfully campaigned for a publicly funded charter school pilot program.
ASBSD opposed the legislation, citing, among other issues, the lack of public accountability in the proposed charter school design, which allowed for public funds to be collected and spent by a private entity.
Taxpayer dollars in the hands of unelected, unaccountable bodies is bad public policy - and the latest news from Texas helps explain why.
According to the Dallas Morning News, nearly half of Texas' 211 charter schools are being asked to give back $26 million in state funds because the private operations inflated enrollment numbers to boost budgets.
From the Dallas Morning News:
When legislators first approved charters in 1996, many supporters argued that relaxing regulations for schools would spark innovation in the classroom. The competition was supposed to make regular schools better.
The state started racking up attendance problems from the beginning.
Lynacre Academy, a South Dallas charter school that abruptly closed its doors two months ago, provides the most recent example.
A TEA audit released in 2006 discovered $750,000 worth of overpayments to the school because of attendance inflation over two years. Lynacre also owes $49,000 for other reporting errors.
Auditors had trouble piecing together school records to perform their review, but they have not accused Lynacre officials of intentionally misreporting student attendance.
After Lynacre closed, 73 students scrambled to find new schools in the middle of the school year. The school had met minimum requirements and been ranked academically acceptable by the state in the years before it closed.
The report goes on to say that the Texas Department of Education is working to provide more oversight to the schools. They're starting by training charter employees on school accounting procedures.
For all that charter schools promise in the way of deregulation, it takes a watchful eye to ensure public funds are being spent appropriately. In additional to oversight provided by a locally elected school board, public schools open their financials to any curious citizen.
Innovation in public education is important. Open Forum thinks that the deregulation of public schools would allow freedom to explore the unconventional. It there's a chance that charters allow for improved student achievement, then let's give it a try.
But that doesn't mean they should lack oversight of a locally elected board accountable to the community and the voters.
That's why, in most cases, lawmakers around the country give local school boards the authority to approve charters.
Sen. Katus' legislation gave a new state charter school board or the state board of education the authority to approve a charter and operate a new school anywhere in the state.
By turning back the law, Senators kept the public in public education.
Reality check: South Dakota dead last in state per-student funding
Posted Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Open Forum is coming out of hibernation after a long post-legislative session break - just in time for an all-important discussion on school funding.
According to the latest Census Bureau statistics, South Dakota once ranks last in per-student funding provided by the state. The report, released last week, fuels South Dakota's ongoing education funding debate (just like it did last year).
Read reports from the Associated Press here, a discussion on the South Dakota War College here, and a stirring editorial from the Rapid City Journal here.
The numbers are clear. When it comes to providing resources to South Dakota's K-12 school districts, the state is sitting on its hands while local property tax payers and the federal government are making comparatively large investments in our education system.
True to form, Education Secretary Dr. Rick Melmer defends the state's dismal ranking, saying South Dakota's lowest-in-the-nation investment is more a product of our state's economic picture rather than our state's commitment to K-12 schools.
That's the line from anyone seeking to preserve the status quo.
In the spirit of public debate though, Open Forum will point to ASBSD's original research on school finance, a project called School Funding Realities.
Moving through the presentation (for a complete rundown, view the slides alongside the video), you'll learn, among other things, that the state's investment in K-12 education has slipped from about 38 percent of the state budget in 1998 to 31 percent of the state budget in 2008.
If the state would have simply maintained their commitment to K-12 - if we still devoted 38 percent of the state's budget to school districts - there would be nearly $100 million more in the K-12 system today.
South Dakota's school funding crisis didn't pop up overnight. It's the product of a decade's worth of decisions to fund new state programs or expand existing entitlements - all of which have come at the expense of K-12 funding.
For the longest time, though, lawmakers have been content to rest on the idea that South Dakota's test scores still compare fairly well. Little investment, great results - that's a recipe for value, they'd say.
Problem is...our test scores are leveling off and other states are sailing past South Dakota.
Sad as it is to admit, the debate on school funding could very soon shift from "You're doing fine with what we give you, why do you need more?" to "You can't even manage to improve with what we give you, why would we give you more?"
That is, of course, unless lawmakers decide to take a dramatically different approach to investing in K-12 education.
Here's an idea to start the discussion.
Take a look at what the state expects South Dakota districts to accomplish. Review state standards and the rising performance benchmarks currently in place.
Then, take a group of districts that are meeting and exceeding those standards. Examine how much those districts spend per-student. Find out how they've structured their schools for success. Ask them, based on their professional experience, how they would design a school system that would enable every student to achieve at high levels.
Once you're done with that, use all the information to come up with an estimate of how much it might cost to accomplish the state's goal of 100 percent proficiency for every student in South Dakota.
Then, use that information to enact a legislative plan to get us there.
Oh. And if you think that sounds like a good, practical idea for South Dakota, consider yourself lucky because... most of the work is done for you.