PIERRE — Yesterday we considered some ideas regarding the tax-increase plan that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot and key components of our emerging economy in South Dakota.
Today we’ll continue our countdown of 13 ideas for 2012 by looking at suggestions 5, 6 and 7 regarding K-12 and post-high school education.
No. 5: Countering underachievement
The state Department of Education has decided to abandon No Child Left Behind and switch to a different model of student testing that is less punitive, especially in regard to the performances of minority students. What’s been missing, as the NCLB results have shown year after year, is a plan for addressing underachievement.
The Indian education summit started by the Rounds administration and continued under the Daugaard administration is a nice, small step. What we really need is a year-round emphasis.
That’s why regional centers for classroom performance should be started at Northern State University, Black Hills State University and one or more of the three state universities — Dakota State, South Dakota State or the University of South Dakota — in the southeastern region.
Their missions would be to search the nation for examples of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in other states and school districts, for improving the academic performance of students who have been less than proficient in reading and math.
From those examples programs and plans can be built for South Dakota teachers and schools to use. K-12 teachers could head to the university campuses in the summer, and video-conferencing could be used to link the university centers and schools throughout the school year for additional assistance and dialogue.
This might be an excellent way for school districts to invest some of the additional $90 million or more they’ll be receiving from taxpayers in 2013 and after if the 2012 ballot measure increasing the state sales tax to 5 percent from 4 percent on most items is approved by voters statewide.
No. 6: Public involvement
The greatest failing in South Dakota’s approach to No Child Left Behind was the lack of public involvement. School districts generally didn’t hide the annual results but they also generally didn’t tell the public much about what was planned to improve students’ performance.
As the state Department of Education shifts from NCLB to the Common Core model, a component needs to be added that requires school districts to more directly involve their residents.
Doing so could involve a requirement that school districts publish the summaries of the annual testing, showing the local results and the district administration’s analysis. That could be followed by publication of a summary of the district administration’s improvement plan for the coming year, accompanied by a public hearing on the plan, as well as a summary of what was done with the previous year’s plan.
The goal would be to show the public what the district is doing, whether the plans are succeeding, what the plans cost in money and teachers’ time, and what more is needed.
No school district in South Dakota likely can afford to take every step its board would want, and giving the public an opportunity to express preferences is an opportunity to strengthen community commitment to improvement.
No. 7: Higher education
The state Board of Regents governs the state universities, while the state Board of Education oversees the public technical institutes. Both sets of campuses serve students who have left high school.
In a good year, the two state boards sit down together once, for part of a day. In a rare year, the governor might sit down with one of the boards, although this reporter can’t remember being on hand when a governor attended a regular business meeting of either state board.
The regents routinely hold breakfast meetings with legislators when the board has meetings at university campuses. The state Board of Education doesn’t.
Some legislators seemed genuinely surprised to learn of the fee increases and new construction approved by the Board of Education in recent years.
The regents have been sending a senior administrative officer to Board of Education meetings. If the state Board of Education or the state Department of Education has been sending a representative to regents meetings, the person hasn’t been apparent.
How either board coordinates its activities with the state Department of Labor isn’t clear either regarding workforce development.
South Dakota’s population is changing, but none of the boards or state agencies has come forth with a report about the shifts in demographics and what they’ll mean for enrollments, student performance, employability and spending on public schools, technical institutes and public universities.
Coming Monday: Transparency for Game, Fish and Parks, and for rule-making in general.