The Blue Ribbon K-12 task force starts its first meeting in Pierre this morning at 9:30 Central. The Governor’s handpicked panel will be talking K-12 funding, not student achievement, because as task force co-chair Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) emphasized at the June listening meetings, the task force is taking as axiomatic that South Dakota’s students are getting a good education.
Well, most of them are. Patrick Anderson reports that South Dakota’s elementary and middle schools have the worst math and reading performance gaps in the nation. The majority of our schools post math and reading proficiency scores that beat the national average, but our lowest-performing 5% of schools lag the comparable low-performing subset nationwide.
Anderson gets his data from a new White House report, “Giving Every Child a Fair Shot,” which shows we aren’t at the very bottom in a third metric, high school graduation. Our gap there is still bad: the graduation rate at our lowest-performing schools is 37%, while the rest of our schools graduate 89% of their students. Nationally, those numbers are 40% and 87%. Our 52-point grad-rate gap matches Kansas and Texas, but beats Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Ohio, Minnesota (!), Washington, and the worst, Florida (64-point gap: 19% grad rate at the lowest-performing schools, 83% at the rest).
The following table shows how we stack up with our neighbors:
|Average Math Proficiency||Average English Proficiency||Average Graduation Rate|
|Lowest 5%||Other 95%||Gap||Lowest 5%||Other 95%||Gap||Lowest 5%||Other 95%||Gap|
The report doesn’t talk much about funding; it mentions “targeting additional supports” to low-performing schools, investing in more pre-school programs, and “supporting teachers, principals, and paraprofessionals with better information, preparation, development, support and recognition, including additional resources, and opportunities to advance in their roles.” The White House mentions reducing testing (although the New York plan they mention, capping state-mandated testing to 2% of total classroom time, still seems like an awful lot of testing) and promoting a “balanced curriculum that includes arts, history, foreign languages, financial literacy, music, physical education, and after school enrichment”… curriculum items shoved aside by No Child Left Behind’s and Common Core’s focus on more easily testable math and English questions.
The White House is releasing this report to spur Congress to replace No Child Left Behind with something good, not to tinker with our Blue Ribbon panel’s assumptions. But if the Blue Ribboneers are after “meaningful funding,” they may need to add this White House report to the agenda and direct some meaningful funding toward our lowest-achieving schools to make sure every South Dakota student can access a strong education.