OPINION: Janklow key to reading, language skills in stateNew governor could learn from ex-governor’s approach to improving reading in South Dakota schools.
By: Rod Hall, Guest columnist
The Daily Republic published Bob Mercer’s view of the Bill Janklow years. Near the end, Mercer wrote a most accurate view of Janklow’s philosophy.
“He believed that if people learned to read well, they could teach themselves if necessary, and if people could learn to work, they could earn a living, and that if they had an opportunity to learn and work they could find freedom, and that freedom has never been free.”
Twelve years ago, reading and language scores were lower than science and math, according to statewide testing. Mitchell scored near the bottom: 141st out of 174 schools.
Janklow established a new state program to improve the teaching of reading. It was named AREA, Advanced Reading Enhancement Approach, and he funded it with millions of dollars. When signing the bill for this program, Gov. Janklow said, “If you can teach a child to read, they can learn for their entire life, and this program is recognized as one of the best ways to teach reading.”
Twelve of the very best reading teachers in South Dakota were selected as AREA trainers to teach this program. Two of the 12 were Mitchell teachers: Deanna Hall and Diane Olson. Janklow did not award a $5,000 bonus to these AREA trainers as Gov. Daugaard suggests. No, they continued with their regular salaries. They did give up their familiar classrooms and worked in some 20 other classrooms in distant schools, which required thousands of miles of driving on all kinds of roads. Did a few of the teachers being trained get a $3,500 bonus while the others being trained got nothing? Again, no was the answer. What they did get and develop was a new feeling of cooperation, understanding and encouragement. Janklow’s reading program awarded each of those teachers being trained $700.
One third of the schools took part the first year. Those schools that participated in the first year were so pleased and the improvement was so visible that the program continued on for years in many more schools. That the program continued on is immaterial; the fact that children learned to read was the outcome Janklow desired.
Now, 12 years later, we read that math and science scores are lower than reading scores. That is a complete turnaround from 12 years before. Should we let novice ideas from an unproven new governor disregard the success of a distinguished governor? Perhaps it would be wise to have Gov. Daugaard and his allies present some research to prove their case. Nearly every school superintendent except one sees many problems with this new direction suggested for public education.
The test scores prove that Janklow’s method of educational improvement really worked. Those methods really worked because superior teachers were involved. There was adequate research to support the new ideas being suggested then. There was a real understanding of practicality by Gov. Janklow.
There were ineffective teachers in the classrooms. They were there because superintendents hired them. They were still there because those superintendents and principals did not teach them better ways. While Gov. Janklow may not have personally improved the tracking of the ineffective teacher, he created an effective method to let those who could, actually do it.
Janklow probably commented a time or two on the many successes of his reading teacher improvement program and the improvement brought about by the Office of Educational Technology. Other more spectacular actions by Janklow got many notices in the news. I for one thank Bob Mercer for stating so timely a permanent legacy of Gov. Janklow.
Rod Hall, of Mitchell, is a former legislator and school board member.