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South Dakota Schools: What's the Problem?
Feb 23, 2012
Basic management principles say that before you implement a solution, you should define the problem you're trying to solve.
In the State of the State Address on January 10, Governor Daugaard proposed a package of policy solutions for South Dakota's public schools. In that speech, the Governor offered this assessment of our K-12 system:
I am proud of South Dakota’s schools. Our students’ test scores — our ACT scores and NAEP scores — routinely exceed national averages. Our high school graduation rate is strong. And our high school graduates go on to post-secondary education at one of the highest rates in the nation [Governor Dennis Daugaard, State of the State Address, Pierre, SD, 2012.01.10].
Beating national averages, graduating, going to college... am I the only one having difficulty seeing the problem here?
Now remember, I spend every workday in a classroom, surrounded by kids who are a couple-three years away from college. If there is a problem, I want to know about it so I can fix it.
So tell me: what is the problem with South Dakota's public schools? Don't slip into vague complaints about unions or bureaucrats or lazy teachers. Get specific. Talk about me.
Check out my lesson plans online. Tell me what French vocabulary, grammar, and culture I should do more of, or less of. Tell me if I'm giving too much homework, or too little. Be specific.
Come to my classroom. It's a public classroom; you pay my salary and the light bill. Come watch me teach. Come watch the kids learn. Stay for at least one full 90-minute block. Come for several lessons in a row, just so you know I'm not putting on a big show the day you come and then handing out worksheets and snoozing the next couple days. Tell me how I'm letting you and these kids down. Be specific.
Or visit your own school district. Read the textbooks and lesson plans. Watch the teachers and the students closely. Identify things your teachers are doing well and things they need to do better. Be specific.
Public education is not some ideological chess game. It is real, daily work, happening in your town, on your dime. Go see it happen. Go look for failure. If you see failure, then by gum, let's fix it.
But if you see success, if you see teachers and students busting their chops, why would you gamble that “success” on “solutions” from Pierre?
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.