MERCER: SD’s schools face giant uncertaintiesDon’t take this to mean sincere people aren’t working hard. But the state Department of Education is in a deep and complicated mess.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
Don’t take this to mean sincere people aren’t working hard. But the state Department of Education is in a deep and complicated mess.
Here’s one small example that helps explain the bigger difficulties.
Schools come up for accreditation every five years. DOE leadership wants to start conducting “desk reviews” rather than sending evaluators into the field to actually visit schools.
DOE officials cite lack of money and personnel.
A few days ago the state Board of Education endorsed this change in practice. A board member asked a good question: Is a school’s “climate” considered in the accreditation process?
The answer was no. That seemed to settle the matter, until a few hours later.
DOE officials began explaining to the board the waiver allowing South Dakota to stop complying with the federal No Child Left Behind system.
School climate is one of the five performance indicators in DOE’s proposed 100-point system for rating schools rather than solely relying on results of NCLB’s student tests.
This gets confusing.
Right now we don’t have enough resources at the state Department of Education to perform site visits to schools every five years for accreditation. Yet we are planning a new system that rates schools annually, and school climate represents 20 percent of the rating.
Here in one sentence about it from the 187-page waiver document:
“It would include a comprehensive assessment of the major spheres of school life such as safety, relationships, teaching and learning, and healthy environment.”
This gets more confusing, however.
Mary Stadick Smith, the No. 2 person in the state department behind Education Secretary Melody Schopp, told the state board that school climate might be dropped from the 100-point rating system.
“Again, this is one where we have a lot of work to do,” she said. “Maybe come 2014-2015 we decide it’s not a piece.”
What became clear during the department’s presentation to the board is the department doesn’t really know yet what its system will be.
On four of the five indicators, she said there is “a lot of work to do.”
That’s despite a formal agreement reached between the department and federal officials granting the NCLB waiver. That document specifically details the rating system, including school climate as one of the indicators.
Secretary Schopp weighed in on school climate. She told the board that school climate has potential as an indicator “if we find the right tool.” This gets worse, unfortunately. The state board, at the request of the department’s leaders, plans a public hearing on Aug. 22 to adopt the proposed rules for the NCLB waiver. Some of the new system would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year.
Many of the key pieces are scheduled to take effect for 2014-2015, including school climate, academic growth and effective performance of teachers and administrators. The department needs sign-off by the Legislature’s rules review committee in September.
That raises another question. What if at least three or four of the six senators and representatives on the review panel decide the department needs to step back and do more work on the rules?
That very well could happen. The department is installing an entirely new rating system for South Dakota schools, and there’s been no real discussion by the Legislature or before the general public.
The department has been seeking the waiver for a year. It received final approval just last month. To get rules into place for the coming school year requires the board to hold a special meeting next month.
There are many, many loose ends and questions about how the department plans to accomplish the new system.
The waiver became “very different” as the department worked with the U.S. Department of Education, according to Stadick Smith.
One thing remains the same. Students will still be taking the same standardized tests each year that they took under No Child Left Behind.
The two big changes are that the students’ performances on those tests will become a much smaller factor in rating schools’ performances, and schools won’t be penalized.
Overwhelmed might be the best word to describe where our state Department of Education officials find themselves this summer.
While they scramble to come up how to make a post-NCLB plan actually work, they have to wait until after the November general election to see whether they should comply with a new smorgasbord of state laws.
The South Dakota Education Association gathered enough signatures from registered voters to force a statewide vote this fall on House Bill 1234.
That sprawling piece of legislation came from the Daugaard administration and received much tinkering from members of the Legislature.
It received final approval by a single vote in the state House of Representatives. It attempts to make many, many dozens of changes affecting our public schools.
In some cases the department is proceeding with the work to comply with HB 1234, even though the legislation is in suspension until voters decide its fate.
The NCLB waiver, for example, contains numerous references to a teacher performance-pay system contained in HB 1234. It’s unclear what happens to the waiver if 1234 is defeated.
The board voted to delay implementation of the new system for evaluating teachers until 2014-2015.
The Legislature in the 2010 session had directed the department to develop rules for the new system by July 1, 2010.
Dean Christensen, the Deuel School District’s superintendent at Clear Lake, made an interesting observation about education changes in general at a meeting last week.
“Nothing sticks,” he said.