The cosmos is off kilter when the most instructive and interesting reportage on the Rapid City meeting of Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students (BluRTFTS) comes from right wingnut Bob Ellis. But there it is, 1,875 words telling us more about the Governor’s effort to delay action on South Dakota’s K-12 teacher shortage and perennially abysmal teacher pay than any of the mainstream media.
BluRTFTS hosted meetings with Black Hills teachers, businesspeople, and the general public on Wednesday, the day after 19.5% of Rapid City voters killed an opt-out tax increase to fund their schools. The Governor’s office has asked the media to restrain itself in reporting citizen comments at these meetings, so maybe that’s why KOTA-TV tells us nothing of the ideas proposed at Wednesday’s meeting. KOTA does report that we can follow the “progress” of BluRTFTS online, but we can’t really, not yet, since I see no report of either Wednesday’s Rapid City meeting or Tuesday’s Chamberlain meeting on the Blue Ribbon website.
The Rapid City Journal did better, reporting Rochelle Schultz’s specific concerns about funding STEM education for girls:
“I also want to come up with solutions to take some of the burden off of individuals who are paying higher property taxes,” said Schultz, who wanted to attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in 1995, but ended up going to Minnesota for her education after feeling a lack of support for women in the science and engineering field.
“The support for girls taking science and math courses is growing, though,” Schultz added. “But you have to show up (to these meetings) to make a difference” [Emily Niebrugge, “Community Members Suggest Potential Solutions for K-12 Funding,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.06.04].
Niebrugge summarizes the educator and business meetings’ input as concerns and suggestions about “teacher salaries and benefits, classroom support, transparency, holding leadership accountable and corporate support for funding classrooms.” (Corporate support for classrooms should be a concern, not a suggestion: my classroom will not be brought to you by Pepsico or TransCanada.) My commenter Ray Tysdal, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, heard other suggestions:
…tax increases such as 3-month increase in summer sales tax to target tourist, income tax , tax on billboards, more community involvement, more emphasis on art and music especially in grade school (No art in elementary schools in Rapid City, now). But there was nothing new” [Ray Tysdal, comment, Dakota Free Press, 2015.06.04].
No art in elementary?! Now that’s the sign of an education system gone terribly wrong!
Niebrugge also mentions that BluRTFTS got my warning and boxed out folks who showed up to beat the Common Core horse.
That Common Core snub provoked Bob Ellis to provide the most detailed summary and critique of Wednesday’s BluRTFTS meeting. Ellis gives us some of his crazy stuff—the panel is a Leftist plot using the Delphi technique to promote socialist groupthink, yadda yadda—but he also details how the Blue Ribbon meetings manage the conversation at these public meetings:
The way the Delphi technique took place at the meeting last night was that the people gathered at the round tables in the room were given a predetermined “question” to address, were instructed to throw out ideas, put them on yellow sticky notes, then decide at each table which of those ideas were the “best.” After about 15 minutes were allowed for addressing this “question,” each table was allowed to read one if its “best” ideas. Then each table picked its best three sticky notes and took them to a big board on the wall. Then the group moved on to the next question.
Instructions to those in attendance included: Be fully present at the meeting, make room for everybody’s voice, and listen to understand. Those in attendance were asked to address three questions:
- What possibilities are there for meaningfully funding K-12 education for our kids and our communities?
- When you think about funding schools in your local community, what is important to you?
- What ideas or new approaches might make those priorities more possible for schools in your community?
It was made clear at the beginning of the meeting that things like Common Core–which will cost the state millions to implement for dubious results–would not be discussed at all in the meeting [Bob Ellis, “South Dakota Task Farce on Education,” American Clarion, 2015.06.04].
I understand the anti-Common Core crusaders’ disappointment at not being able to take the mic and command the room with their call to arms against Mongolian Soviet education standards. But I’m disappointed at their apparent lack of creativity. I can think of plenty of ways to work Common Core into the three questions framing Wednesday’s discussion:
- We can meaningfully fund K-12 education by ending Common Core and other centrally imposed standards and tests and diverting the savings to teacher pay (and art supplies for elementary kids!).
- It is important that our local school spend less time testing kids and more time teaching kids (and doing art!).
- We can make these priorities possible by ditching Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests trusting our teachers to decide curriculum and assess student performance (and help kids make art!).
Ellis notes that some conservative legislators who attended Wednesday’s meeting, including three who urged defeat of the Rapid City opt-out Monday, were told they were unwelcome at the meeting and were expected to “keep their mouths shut.” I can understand how such a directive might arise—a meeting designed to gain input from the public should be dominated by elected officials, who get enough exclusive floor time during Session. However, in Wednesday’s small-group setting, I suspect regular citizens could keep individual legislators from monopolizing the conversation and pose them some tough questions, while the legislators themselves could provide some enlightening information to promote better solutions.
Ellis cites an unnamed “experienced legislator” who writes on Facebook that BluRTFTS is a “sham” designed to promote the Governor’s as-yet-unstated agenda. Ellis doesn’t put a name to this statement or the legislator-muzzling allegation… but then that’s a fundamental flaw of the brainstorming format of the meeting as well. The meeting format, which commenter Tysdal says was professionally done but gimmicky, involves individuals in groups writing down ideas, picking their groups’ top ideas, and tacking them to a wall. There’s no personal accountability for statements or proposals, as there will be in the committee hearings and floor debates when legislators amend and vote on whatever legislation the task force births.
Ellis complains that Wednesday’s attendees (mostly liberal fanatics and members of the education establishment, he insinuates) talked mostly about raising taxes and not cuts:
I don’t recall any mention of cutting wasteful spending, cutting programs that don’t deal directly with educating students on real knowledge, getting by with less than the latest in computers and other equipment, and there was relatively little discussion of consolidation.
…Cutting overhead would be a great way to save money and get more money into the pockets of teachers–and that includes the education bureaucracy itself. But of course, our “leaders” aren’t interested in cutting that, because they might be cutting their own jobs, and the jobs of some of their good campaign contributors [Ellis, 2015.06.04].
As usual, Ellis is mostly wrong on policy—twenty years of Janklow-Rounds-Daugaard austerity have starved our schools to the point where there’s little fat left to burn, including in administration. He recommends cuts because he is part of the conservative clique who want to destroy public education so his homeschoolers and rich private academicians can inherit the earth. But at least Ellis details the focus and format of the Blue Ribbon meetings so we can be ready for the East River events June 16–23.