A majority of South Dakotans live in counties with a college or university. South Dakota state government is spending $770 million this year on public universities. Think about those universities in your neighborhood, universities supported by your money, schools that many of us attended and to which we may be sending our kids. If you are among that 58% of Republicans or 19% of Democrats, tell me what harm those institutions do that outweighs their benefits. Tell me how SDSU, USD, DSU, Northern, Black Hills State, and Mines hurt South Dakota.
Statewide, there are a total of 20,224 students reported in 2016 with various learning disabilities, while 2015 reported 19,423 students, according to the South Dakota Department of Education.
The highest number of students had a specific learning disability at 6,846, while the second highest was a speech and language disorder with 4,293 students. The district with the most students requiring special needs was Sioux Falls with 3,788 students [Sara Bertsch, “Mitchell, State See Increase in Special Education Students,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.07.08].
DOE stats say that our public schools served 4.12% more special ed students last school year. From 2004 through 2011, that rate was less than 1%, with 2007 and 2008 special ed counts actually dropping a bit. Since 2012, yearly increases in special ed students have exceeded 1%. Last year’s increase is the highest in the eighteen years counted on DOE’s spreadsheet.
The number of special ed students is increasing a little faster than total public pre-K–12 enrollment. In 2000, the farthest back year for which DOE has enrollment figures on its main enrollment webpage, 12.94% of public school students were in special ed. That percentage peaked at 14.64% in 2006; dropped back to a hair below 14% in 2011, 2012, and 2013, then bounced back into the fourteens to a new high of 14.89% in 2016.
In ten of the last sixteen years, the change in special education enrollment has been higher than the change in overall enrollment:
Since 2000, public pre-K–12 enrollment has grown at an average annual rate of 0.37%, while special ed enrollment has grown at an average rate of 1.26%.
Thus, we are seeing special education students make up a slightly larger percentage of our public school enrollment. Since special education requires more specialized services and one-on-one attention, that means costs will increase faster than straight enrollment would suggest.
The Board of Regents will spend a little time Thursday discussing technology in the classroom, specifically electronic textbooks. Students in five classes on five campuses tried out e-text platforms from two vendors, RedShelf and VitalSource, during the spring 2017 semester. Agenda Item 9-J summarizes the results, which have led the e-Materials Committee and the Academic Affairs Council to recommend contracting VitalSource to be the sole provider of e-text services in the Regental system.
The Regents aren’t adopting VitalSource because students in the pilot went ga-ga for their e-books. In the initial survey three weeks into classes, majorities found the e-texts easy to access and use (and RedShelf got significantly more positive responses for ease of use), but over 60% of e-text users said they’d still prefer to use printed textbooks. Fourteen weeks later in a follow-up survey, that preference for print ticked up less than a point for RedShelf and dropped five points for VitalSource users, but that still left majorities of users saying they’d rather stick with print.
Just as a majority of students in the pilot program still think paper is better, a majority say they would not recommend e-texts to their peers. That result fits previous surveys showing student resistance to adopting e-texts. For perspective, the 2015 EDUCAUSE Student & IT Survey shows that more students wish their faculty made more use of recorded lectures archived online than wish their profs used more e-books:
But if a majority of students perceive e-texts negatively, the agenda memo says the Regents will just have to change that perception by emphasizing to students the significant price discounts. However, as the Regents’ memo to students in the pilot program this spring notes, the cost savings are muted:
E-texts are typically only available for a defined duration (e.g. 180 or 365 days), though some allow perpetual access. This varies depending on the platform or publisher.
E-texts cannot be sold back like used books [Student e-Text Pilot Welcome Letter, Attachment III to Agenda Item 9-J].
Can’t keep some, can’t sell any, plus, can’t share with a friend! According to the memo, our universities will attach e-texts to their courses, add a mark-up for the bookstores, and bill every enrolled student automatically.
I certainly see the merits of electronic texts. I try not to accumulate any blog documents in paper form. I like reading and marking up PDFs on my tablet. I like documents with more fluid text for my phone. But information does not stick in my head as well when it comes to me in electronic form. Books offer certain physical and visual cues—key information at the bottom of a lefthand page, toward the front or toward the back that my computers do not replicate.
But the transition is coming, kids. Watch for more e-textbooks coming to a Regental campus near you.
Digital Humanities is an interdisciplinary academic field that brings digital technology to bear on the study of anthropology, classics, history, geography, language and literature, law and politics, the performing arts, philosophy, religion, and the visual arts. Dakota State University’s Certificate in DH aims to support the university mission, within the larger BOR system, to stay at the forefront of digital and technological humanities teaching and research, and to increase connections with the community, business, and government agencies. The digital humanities certificate will challenge students to learn new skills and engage in professionalizing activities, concentrate digital expertise in the English for New Media degree program and connect humanities studies and teaching across Arts and Sciences programs in the South Dakota BOR system [Dakota State University, request for new graduate certificate program, Board of Regents Agenda Item 7-A(1), June 2017].
Digital Humanities—I’m trying to figure out of that’s an oxymoron, a lost Isaac Asimov novel, or maybe just a fancy term for blogging.
Bob Mercer notes that the Regents have now spent $90,000 on a consultant from New Hampshire to tell them what they need to hear to carry out that conversion of the Sioux Falls University Center into a community college, or essentially, a slightly more academic version of Southeast Technical Institute.
The report the Regents will consider this week recommends that the University Center add more associate-level programs and award two-year degrees and certificates through USD in addition to its bachelor’s and master’s degrees through USD, SDSU, and DSU. The new programs should focus on producing workers in health care, financial and business services, manufacturing, and information technology:
To keep the UC focused on filling gaps in the “talent pipeline” (remember: workers are but one more substance poured into the industrial machine), the report recommends a new board to “guide” the new UC community college (SFUCCC, right?). The “Community Strategy and Steering Board” would include employers, industry associations, community-civic organizations, development organizations, city officials, and K-12 education who would make the new UC “an institution responsive to Sioux Falls.”
Several of my non-metro readers might raise an eyebrow at the notion of creating a Regental institution that’s responsive to the needs of one city rather than the entire state. However, as the consultant points out, Sioux Falls has “thirty percent of the state’s population and thirty-four percent of its employment base.” About a third of Sioux Falls high school graduates don’t enroll in college within 16 months of graduation, and a big chunk of Sioux Falls workers don’t have any kind of degree. If the Regents want to meet their goal of getting degrees of some sort in the hands of 65% of South Dakotans, they can’t ignore the traditionally underserved Sioux Falls market.
The focus on Sioux Falls coincides with a focus on USD:
While the current Memorandum of Understanding between USD, DSU and SDSU identifies USD as the lead managerial entity for the UC, we recommend that this agreement be strengthened to clarify USD’s role as the sole governing authority for the New UC.2 USD, under the purview of the South Dakota Board of Regents, should oversee the operations of the New UC and develop an array of needed certificate and associate degree programming at the New UC aligned with Sioux Falls’ needs. This is a necessary step to provide USD a clear mandate and responsibility to re-shape and refocus the New UC. Other regental institutions will continue to offer programs and award degrees in partnership with the New UC. These partners should be the institutions of first choice for program design and delivery if they can meet the intent of the mission, vision and values to serve Sioux Falls students and employers [FutureWorks, 2017.06.01, pp. viii–ix].
The report notes that undergraduate plus graduate headcount at the SFUC dropped from 2,041 in fall 2010 to 1,200 in fall 2016. Convert to a community college, focus on Sioux Falls industry needs, put USD in charge, and the new UC can enroll 400 students in its new programs in its first year, 1,800 by year six, and ultimately a sustained headcount of 4,000 students corresponding to full-time-equivalent enrollment of 2,500. Those new students will require 30 new full-time instructors and 56 part-time instructors. That expansion will cost just about $13,000 per student, or ultimately $32 million per year.
The report gently suggests that “The development of adequate operational funding for the New UC will be a challenge in the absence of additional statewide funding for education,” which is code for, Legislature! If you want workforce development in Sioux Falls, get ready to pay for it! (Hmm… do you suppose Speaker Mickelson will be willing to share some of his vo-tech tobacco tax with the new UC community college?)
The report doesn’t line-item its expectation of the Legislature, but it does suggest that “State and Local Appropriations” should cover 47% of the cost while students carry 30% through tuition:
“Local” appropriations—Sioux Falls City Council? Sioux Falls School District? Are you ready to chip in for your city’s community college?
Instead of finding them interning in an office or behind a fast food counter, these days, you’ll find many teens in some sort of summer school. Forty-two percent of teenagers were enrolled in classes last summer — almost four times the number of students enrolled in summer school in July 1985. By 2024, teenage workers will make up just 26% percent of the workforce, a reduction of almost half since 1948 when the same age group accounted for more than 52% of workers.
Increased competition, older workers returning to the workforce and weak economic growth are all contributing to the decline of teenagers in the workforce. But as schoolwork grows increasingly intense and homework eats up more time, data suggest the biggest reason some teens won’t be working this summer is that they simply don’t have time.
“Students are paying more attention to course work and spending more time on school activities,” said Teresa Morisi, branch chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the BLS [Kellie Ell, “More Teenagers Choosing Summer Studies over Jobs,” USA Today, 2017.06.21].
This decline in teen workers shows that the trend I noted in April—teen workforce participation dropping significantly in the last two recessions—extends further back in time, with nationwide teen workforce participation down from its 1978 peak of 71.8% to last year’s 43.2%:
The USA Today article mentions the rising minimum wage as a factor that encourages employers to hire older workers, but that wage/age pressure appears minor compared to the much larger trend of young people hitting the books rather than working as cooks to handle tougher classes and prepare for college.
So settle down, David Novstrup. The minimum wage isn’t driving kids out of the workforce; kids themselves are, as they find certain pursuits more important than the almighty dollar.
South Dakota’s $6,320 average annual in-state tuition and fees for two-year institutions are the third-most expensive in the nation, behind only New Hampshire and Vermont. California somehow manages to deliver two-year programs for a mere $1,430 a year in tuition and fees.
The LRC report calculates that making our vo-tech tuition competitive with Iowa’s $4,920 would require $8.03 million from the state. Matching the regional average of $3,995 would require $13.33 million.
LRC makes no funding projections for our universities, but they do find that our public universities are relatively costly as well. The LRC reports that over the last ten years, our university tuition has risen from third most costly to second most costly in the region:
While inflation (as measured by CPI) over the last decade has been 14%, South Dakota university tuition and fees have gone up 43% for residents and 61% for non-residents.
The scores clearly cluster along a diagonal showing that good scores on the English test correlate with good scores on the math test. However, run a diagonal from (0,0) to (100,100) and you’ll see that most of the dots fall up and left from that diagonal. That shows that students are generally scoring better on the English test than on the math test.
Aberdeen Central High School provides one seemingly drastic example: 72% of Central’s juniors in 2015–2016 scored proficient in English but only 33% scored proficient in math. (Juniors! SOHCAHTOA!) Supreintendent Becky Guffin explains away that gap as lag time in teaching catching up with the tests:
Guffin said the low scores are because it takes longer for the new standards to catch up with older students. Younger kids have been using the standards adopted in 2010 their whole school careers, while older students lived through the switch of standards.
“The high school has the most difficult time catching up with that,” Guffin said. “There may be more gaps with that because of the instruction they received previously because the standards were different at that particular grade level” [Katherine Grandstrand, “School Districts—Not Just Students—Get Report Cards,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.06.10].
You can mouse over the outliers in that upper-left area and find more high schools and middle schools than elementary schools, with noteworthy exceptions like Todd County’s Klein Elementary (English proficiency 75%, math 17%) and the Montrose Colony Elementary (English 55%, math 9%).
According to this chart, based on scores on the ACT an Accuplacer tests, the distribution of schools in percentage of students ready for college skews notably higher on both English and math than proficiency on the state tests. Aberdeen Central’s college readiness rates in 2015–2016 were 79% in English and 66% in math. That’s still a fifth of test takers not ready for college English and a third not ready for college math.
Aberdeen’s school board candidates were less shy about speaking with Dakota Free Press than our city council candidates. While only three in ten city candidates agreed to podcast interviews, four of our five school board candidates took the mighty DFP mic. You can click the following links to review DFP Podcast interviews with Renée Wise, Brian Sharp, Aaron Schultz, and Ken Santema before tomorrow’s vote.
Aberdeen voters get to pick three of the five candidates. I will cast votes for two: Aaron Schultz and incumbent Brian Sharp.
Aaron Schultz made the best impression on me. He has made his career in public service, interning on Capitol Hill, working for an indigenous rights group in D.C., and now working as director of Aberdeen’s United Way. His non-profit work will inform his fiscal decision-making and his understanding of local social issues affecting the services the school district must provide. Schultz’s work with indigenous peoples around the country and his own status as an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate will add to the board a useful perspective on the increasing racial and cultural diversity among our students.
Brian Sharp [photo by Spencer Dobson]Incumbent Brian Sharp brings his own bit of diversity to the school board. When he made time to field my questions in his tractor barn during planting time, he pointed out that he’s the only active farmer on the school board, the only member and candidate he knows of paying agricultural property tax (which isn’t really property tax but a weird mutant hybrid of property and income tax). He doesn’t talk a lot—his answers were the most succinct of all the candidates we interviewed—and he’s the sort of flashy warrior I like to see running for office… but his mellow, confident approach may have something to do with why his neighbors have elected him to the school board four times already and will probably do so again tomorrow. I’ll show up and help them do so.
Renée Wise offered an intelligent and sincere conversation about what she wants as a school board member and as a parent from the school district. Her commitment to seeing the district provide more individualized instruction for dyslexic students like her daughter is honest and admirable.
However, as a teacher and parent, I think her focus on expanding individualized instruction through technology is ill-advised and impractical. The ideal individualized instruction is one-on-one interaction between a student and a teacher. Conventional schools can’t afford that student-teacher ratio. To individualize instruction for 20 students in a 90-minute class means each student gets 4.5 minutes of genuine individualized instruction… or more likely no such attention more days than not, as the teacher becomes a mere monitor and tech trouble-shooter as the kids do different lessons on computers.
Wise was able to speak to other issues, but I sense that her focus on her family’s specific issues might lead her to feel frustrated with the 95% of board meeting time that would not deal with those issues. Wise could grow into school board duties to deal with broader issues, but at this time, I’m not prepared to give her my vote.
Ken Santema has an inclination similar to Wise’s to bring more technology to the classroom, to make kids want to do their homework. In our podcast interview, he acknowledged more technology costs money and said the way to pay for it is to get rid of some teaching staff.
Don’t get me wrong: I like machines and spend a great deal of time with them learning and communicating. But I also recognize that every machine we incorporate into our schools should be supporting the work teachers do, not replacing teachers. Every teacher we cut from a school is one less role model or mentor who can make school memorable, or survivable, in a way that no machine can. Kids need more adults in their lives, not fewer, and not just to show them how to use machines, but how to use their brains and hearts.
I appreciate Santema’s conservative political philosophy. I appreciate his willingness in our interview to advocate higher local taxes to relieve us of the scourge of federal intrusion in our local schools. Santema is as capable of having serious policy discussions as any other candidate I’ve met this year. But he appears to view teachers and federal resources as burdens rather than opportunities. Such views don’t help schools solve the practical problems of teaching our kids.
The odd candidate out is incumbent Kevin Burckhard, whom I contacted on April 27 through the e-mail address listed on the Aberdeen board webpage. I received no response. My critique of non-responsive city council candidates applies to school board candidates as well.
I thus am voting for two of my allotted three school board candidates: newcomer Aaron Schultz and incumbent Brian Sharp. I am content to let my neighbors pick the third.