Opinion: Don’t let economy hinder educationWithin the last few weeks, two major bodies of work emanated from Washington, D.C. (Three, if you count the health-care bill.) The first was the release of the new, national educational standards in English and mathematics. In fact, these were released some time ago but they finally reached the state level for local input.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
Within the last few weeks, two major bodies of work emanated from Washington, D.C. (Three, if you count the health-care bill.) The first was the release of the new, national educational standards in English and mathematics. In fact, these were released some time ago but they finally reached the state level for local input.
Allow me to admit up front that I have only skimmed the standards. I have not taken the time and effort necessary to really delve into, say, the kindergarten mathematics standards in order to evaluate whether they are too tame, sufficiently rigorous, or too difficult for the average 6-year-old’s brain development. Nor have I done so for the seventh-grade writing standards. I have not because, frankly, it doesn’t really matter what I think. And it doesn’t really matter what (name your favorite Mitchell School District teacher here) thinks, either.
These are national standards developed by a group of experts from Washington, D.C., for crying out loud! How could it possibly matter what we think, or what a teacher from Bison, S.D., or Hope, Ark., or Chicago, Ill., or anyplace else thinks? The standards are the standards. They may pick around the edges a bit and they will definitely take all that input, aggregate it, analyze it, synthesize it, evaluate it and talk endlessly about how unbelievably much they received of it. Then they’ll change a few commas, delete one or two standards, add three of four, revise five or six, finalize it and congratulate themselves on completing the job. They will be especially complimentary on just how much they listened.
Except they won’t have listened at all. What they’ll have done is impose on every state, school district, administrator, teacher and student in the land a set of educational criteria that they decided upon. And as soon as that is done, they’ll begin the process of developing the curriculum, teaching strategies, and assessments that every student will be taught with, and, after months of intense soliciting of input all of which will be scrupulously ignored through lip-service, they will impose these as well.
Nevertheless, I will take this opportunity to provide my input on the national mathematics and language arts standards to state officials: Reject them. Reject them all.
South Dakota has perfectly serviceable and sensible educational standards. They are not perfect, but they work, and to rerepeat myself, since education is a state function, all educational standards should be state standards, not national ones.
To those of you who believe I am being unfair to the process of input on national standards, I offer the second educational emanation from Washington, D.C., the awarding of the Race to the Top grant dollars to Delaware ($100 million) and Tennessee ($600 million). Having reviewed South Dakota’s grant application, I have to admit I was impressed with my home state’s submission. It identified the most significant problem of education in South Dakota — lagging Native American student achievement — and provided a proven solution developed by gifted and creative Native American educators. Frankly, I am appalled that a president who headlined a Native American summit with the quote “I am on your side” could have an education department so unwilling to look at a gutsy, meaningful proposal.
Except the application process wasn’t about meaningful proposals to solve real educational problems. It was about making every state in the union toe a new line on how education should work in America. To receive serious consideration for Race to the Top (which would be more aptly name Race to Subservience) dollars, states had to promise, among other things, to:
• Adopt national standards;
• Adopt the national assessments to go with these standards;
• Craft a statewide longitudinal student achievement data system;
• Implement merit pay;
• Hire and fire teachers and administrators based upon merit;
• Enact “turnaround” policies including the ability to fire every educator working a school which isn’t showing acceptable levels of success regardless of that particular educator’s effectiveness;
• Substantially weaken or eliminate tenure rules for teachers;
• Enact laws allowing charter and other specialty schools.
The odd thing is that I actually like some of these ideas. OK, I even like most of these ideas. But are these issues really appropriate for federal action? Is South Dakota really willing to surrender the state’s No. 1 constitutional function, education, for a shot at Race to the Top dollars? Had South Dakota’s grant application been approved, it would have provided about $70 million for education. And for that one-time expenditure of $70 million, it would have purchased South Dakota’s K-12 school system, for which the state and taxpayers spend well over a half a billion dollars each year.
South Dakota educators by and large do a great job educating the children of this state. We should not let a temporary economic downturn lead to the surrender of our educational system to odious federal mandates and uninformed federal bureaucrats in the pursuit of deceptive federal largesse.
Reject them. Reject them all.