The most important words I heard at yesterday’s opinion-gathering sessions hosted by Governor Dennis Daugaard’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students may have been the statement panel co-chair Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) made about the parameters of the task force discussion.
I heard Senator Soholt’s introduction three times, at the 2:00 p.m. educator meeting, the 4:00 p.m. business leaders meeting, and the 6:30 p.m. general public meeting. The first time through, Senator Soholt focused on listing “what we’re not going to be talking about”: standards, Common Core, assessment, and teacher quality. Senator Soholt explained that when the conversation is “too diverse and too deep, we can’t get anything done.” I understand the focusing rationale, but I can also understand why Common Core activists like Rep. Elizabeth May could hear Senator Soholt’s remarks as an effort to shut down conversation.
The second and third time Senator Soholt gave her remarks, she rephrased her point about discussion parameters in a way that she should reiterate at the opening of every Blue Ribbon panel meeting [I paraphrase]:
We are assuming that teacher training is good. We are assuming that teachers are doing a good job. We are assuming that kids are getting out of the system in good shape.
These three assumptions, if accepted by all members of the task force, will profoundly influence the policy discussions that Senator Soholt said begin July 7.
The task force will not spend time investigating whether our teacher education programs are working hard enough to recruit and prepare prospective teachers to enter our K-12 workforce. The task force takes as given that the teachers who are crazy enough to give up a house to teach our kids are coming to us ready to teach.
The task force will not spend time debating whether we need more accountability measures to make sure our teachers are doing their jobs. The task force takes as given that our teachers work hard. (And in case anyone tries to run down that rabbit hole, we can point to O’s valuable comment here that South Dakota has already cranked up teacher accountability.)
The task force will not spend time poring over student test data or graduation rates or other stats looking for ways our teachers are failing students and new tasks to require of teachers. The task force takes as given that our students are getting what they need from our teachers.
Taking good teacher training, good teacher effort, and good student outcomes as givens narrows the task force’s discussion in an important way. On those rare occasions where South Dakota’s ruling legislators and governors have proposed increasing teacher pay, they have dangled those raises as treats for which lazy-dog teachers must do new tricks. You teachers need to get more training. You need to put in more hours. You need to bring those test scores up.
Senator Soholt’s assumptions throw those tricks—and they are tricks on us, distractions from action—out the window. The task force now looks at South Dakota’s teacher corps, 9,200 teachers doing their jobs right but increasingly retiring or leaving the profession because they can’t live on what we’re paying them, and can no longer say, “Well, we’d pay you more if you did X, Y, and Z.”
Teachers are doing X, Y, and Z. They are getting paid for X and maybe part of Y. Task force, legislators, Governor, you have little excuse left not to pay them for the rest of Y and Z.
The assumptions Senator Soholt laid out impose this succinct demand on the Blue Ribbon K-12 task force: Ask not what more our teachers can do for us. Ask what more we can do for our teachers.