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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.


05:41 pm - Thu, February 23 2012
dave tunge said:
I agree wholeheartedly with you. I think our state is blessed with competent teachers who love their profession. I don't see a failure with our education system. Quite the contrary. Teachers and students are busting their chops.
Moulding young minds is a huge and noble undertaking.

The problem we have is not something you or other teachers can fix. It is our economic times and a shorfall of cash for the schools. Administrators need to run a budget that addresses your needs and, at the same time, be responsible to the taxpayers who pay the bills. It's not a fun place to be but if we can survive the current crunch I think better times will follow.
05:53 am - Fri, February 24 2012
Ed Goss said:
Cory help me to understand why the request for more dollars to the school system will make it better and then maybe the specifics you speak of can be found. I gotta tell you way back when, I served on the County school board and then on the common school district board after that and you can't believe what can be done by folks just telling it like it is face to face and in some cases publicly. I know things have changed but people are still people even though they speak through some form of communication where they aren't standing or sitting next to each other and if you can do that with out getting angry you come up with many solutions.
03:24 pm - Thu, March 1 2012
Mary Hays said:
I too am so disheartened by the passage of HB1234. What a slap in the face for generations of selfless teachers who have eeked out a living teaching our children. Teachers teach because they love it (most days)..not to get rich...but come on, people.
The merit pay portion of the legislation will do harm. It will not be innocuous. It will pit teacher against teacher and cause staff to reduce collaboration efforts. Administrators who are ineffective already will not have the ability to separate their subjective attitudes from real data to ensure fairness in the merit system.
It's a sad time for education.
07:35 pm - Tue, March 6 2012
Hi, Ed! Sorry not to reply sooner. Understand that, at least in this discussion, I'm not advocating more money (although we can do so once we resolve questions here). I'm asking what the problem is that warranted the interventions the Governor proposed. How am I failing? What am I doing wrong? What is your local school doing wrong? We need to know that problem first, no matter what solution we are proposing.

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