Teachers’ rep, SD education chief debate Referred Law 16 in MitchellSouth Dakota Education Association President Sandy Arseneault called Referred Law 16 a top-down state mandate that lacks sufficient teacher input while South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp said the law is a commitment to better statewide education.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
South Dakota Education Association President Sandy Arseneault called Referred Law 16 a top-down state mandate that lacks sufficient teacher input while South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp said the law is a commitment to better statewide education Thursday during a debate hosted by the Mitchell Rotary Club at the Ramada.
Schopp said she is participating in a series of statewide debates to combat the “emotion, union rhetoric and half-truths” being circulated against Referred Law 16.
The debate was moderated by Daily Republic Publisher Korrie Wenzel, who fed the debaters questions submitted by an engaged audience.
The short description of Referred Law 16 posted on the Secretary of State’s website states: “Referred Law 16 is an education reform act to establish a teacher scholarship program; create a program for math and science teacher bonuses; mandate a uniform teacher and principal evaluation system; and eliminate state requirements for teacher tenure.”
Schopp said opponents are using emotional arguments to obscure the beneficial components of the law.
They “make it sound like a system in which we’re going to do the same thing with every student, instead of standardized evaluations,” she said, noting that the state has a system in place that takes care of teacher evaluations and tenure.
Arseneault asked the audience, “What are we really trying to fix?” South Dakota schools are doing a good job, she said. The state is in sixth place nationally in graduation rates and in eighth place in college entrance exams.
She said RL16 focuses on issues already addressed by the Legislature and the state’s teachers.
In 2010, she said, the SDEA and the Department of Education together created a model evaluation tool that the state’s school districts could opt into if they chose to do so.
It was a good collaboration, she said, “and that law says what we should be doing.”
Arseneault said the state’s teachers are “not against accountability.”
Arseneault said the state has a “continuing contract” system in place that gives teachers due process after three years of teaching, which means bad teachers can be fired for cause. That’s the system sometimes referred to as “tenure.”
Schopp said the purpose of the legislation is not to get rid of teachers, but to develop a uniform system for teacher evaluation.
The proposed evaluation system would “give strong validity to the making of determinations for employment.”
Arseneault said it’s uncertain how much local control schools would have under the proposed evaluation plan, as well a plan for teacher merit, or bonus pay, but those plans must be approved by a state advisory committee that is yet to be appointed.
Teacher evaluation criteria are also still in the formulation stages, she said, asking “is that local control?”
“The devil is in the details,” Arseneault said, and claimed those details are lacking.
Schopp countered that local control will be considerable under Referred Law 16.
Schopp said the law does not give teachers merit pay, which was a provision of the original House Bill 1234 backed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, but instead gives “bonus pay,” which local school districts can use to attract needed teachers and to reward teachers for extra leadership roles, and for student achievement.
The purpose of the oversight committee is to make sure those funds are expended for the right purposes, she explained. Schopp said Daugaard will commit $15 million for those purposes.
That wasn’t good enough for Arseneault, who said teachers are being asked to trust that the funding will be there.
Arseneault said teachers want public support, not an extra $1,000.
“What they want is for you to be part of the system, not to be a part of a critical system that says our teachers are mediocre and our test scores are flatlined.”
Schoppp, in her summary, said a vote for Referred Law 16 is a vote against the status quo.
“I want to support teachers and I want to make sure we’re acknowledging the great work they do for us. “I think this bill is the right answer. It recruits, it retains and it respects and rewards great teachers.”
Arseneault said the proposed law is trying to do too much at one time; its details are confusing and its funding source is lacking.
She charged that teacher input was ignored when the law was being developed, a charge that Schopp denied.
“We shouldn’t be voting something into law that isn’t accurate and complete,” Arseneault said. “If you want to move schools forward, that must be done at the local level.”