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Soholt: Task Force Assumes South Dakota Teachers Working Hard Enough

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.

Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) sets the parameters for the K-12 task force discussion.
Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) sets the parameters for the K-12 task force discussion, Aberdeen, SD 2015.06.23

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.


  1. owen 2015-06-24 17:29

    I think the Common Core discussion should be shot down in this setting Cory.
    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be talks about Common Core. There should be-just not here.
    The focus has to be with teacher pay. Whether anything gets done or not remains to be seen.
    But Common Core has to be left for another time.

  2. MC 2015-06-24 17:38

    What do South Dakota teachers NEED (besides more money) to ensure every student graduating high school has the basic life skills to enter the world, and are college ready?

  3. grudznick 2015-06-24 18:00

    Everybody knows there are few larger fans of SD teachers than ol’ grudznick so I could not think more like young Ms. Soholt. I think that the best of the teachers should get the best of the raises, the good teachers should get good raises, and other teachers should get other raises.

  4. Joan Brown 2015-06-24 18:28

    I don’t know if any of the discussions pertained to elementary school teachers, but I don know that elementary school teachers don’t teach near the subjects that they used. It used to be that elementary school teachers taught art, music, and gym, besides the reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, along with whatever other classes there were. Now the elementary school teachers have separate art, music and gym teachers. Thank heavens for me, being I was teaching primary grades, gym consisted of organized games on the playground at recess. These were games like the Farmer in the Dell, Drop the Handkerchief, etc. I definitely wasn’t a real gym teacher.

  5. owen 2015-06-24 18:51

    You have to raise the base wages to attract young people to teaching. Then if a fair way to judge who gets the raises after that then fine.
    But it’ll be very find that fair way to judge.

  6. Travis Wicks 2015-06-24 20:06

    Joan, I don’t think you can place responsibility of the “departmentalization” of elementary teaching areas on the teachers themselves. It’s not like we get to demand what we teach and what we don’t teach. We instruct what is in our contracts to instruct, and sometimes more, if there is a need that is identified and assigned by the principal/superintendent.

    Also, some of us still teach everything from Math, Science, and Reading to P.E., Art, and Music. You have to teach everything when you teach on the colony!!!

  7. SuperSweet 2015-06-24 20:18

    There should be a pay differential for colony teachers. That is tough duty.

  8. Travis Wicks 2015-06-24 20:21

    Can I quote you on that? ;)

  9. owen 2015-06-24 20:24

    My wife taught at 2 different colonies and loved it. They treated her very well.

  10. MOSES 2015-06-24 21:12

    Get your degree here,move out out of state where you make big bucks then come back and retire.Motto of our state should be we came to die not to buy.

  11. Lynn 2015-06-24 21:59

    Sorry if I sound like Debbie Downer on this but I feel they are just going thru the motions on this and in the end nothing will change. The teaching shortage will get worse and the sub-par candidates that might get hired by a district may have no business ever being the inside of a classroom.

    Do you remember being in class dealing with a subject that you would probably would of rather spent getting a root canal at a dentist without Novocaine but were instead surprised by the teacher? That teacher turned subjects that you were either poor in or uninterested into something that was fun and his or her passion and excellent communication skills spread to us.

    Instead South Dakota public school parents and students might end up with volunteers, sub standard teachers or lower standards for hiring in requirements. Push more into home schooling? Private schools if people are fortunate enough to live near one and they get financial assistance with kids cleaning the school or working in the kitchen? Instead of Peace Corp going to Africa they teach in South Dakota?

    Frankly if that is how our state’s leadership values education pay would not be the only reason to bolt although primary. Going to a state that does value education will most likely offer a better quality of life, be more mentally stimulating and healthier.

  12. Donald Pay 2015-06-24 22:11

    OK. I think the task force is narrowing down the focus correctly. There is going to be a discussion about teacher compensation, and how it can be enhanced. I notice the issue of consolidation and closing small schools with small class sizes was not taken off the table. Although I think South Dakota needs to come to grips with that issue, it should be off the table for the time being. That’s going to be hard, hard discussion that needs its own “purple ribbon” task force.

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-24 22:11

    Moses, you have written the best quote among these comments:

    “Motto of our state should be we came to die not to buy.”

    Hahahahahahahaha! Thank you.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-24 22:12

    MC, according to Soholt, we’re already getting the things you say we need. The only question left is what teachers need, and the answer is obvious: competitive pay for work well done. The task force’s givens knock out three quarters of your sentence, including the “besides more money” you try to parenthesize when in fact that statement cannot be hidden in any punctuation. More money, period.

  15. grudznick 2015-06-24 22:26

    I’d like more money too, Mr. H. Who wouldn’t? What about the custodians? They need to be included in this too.

  16. Jana 2015-06-24 22:56

    Grud, love your comment “I think that the best of the teachers should get the best of the raises, the good teachers should get good raises, and other teachers should get other raises.”

    Give us a number.

  17. Liz 2015-06-24 22:58

    I’m surprised that you didn’t comment much on the purpose/efficacy of the meeting itself. I’m a teacher, and I went to one of the first meetings, and I felt like it was an absolute waste of my time as a professional since the questions seemed to lead to specific answers that had nothing to do with my experience as an educator. If a hospital wishes to pay its deserving nurses a more competitive raise they don’t ask nurses to sit in a room and brainstorm new funding sources. I’m interested to know the questions asked at the meetings you attended, and what you and others felt about the style/result of the meeting. Did legislators sit at the tables or out of earshot at the back of the room?

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-24 23:24

    I’m working on that reporting and commentary for a separate post, Liz. I wanted to focus here on the task force assumptions, which really strike me as important for focusing the discussion and screening out a lot of the usual distractions that the Republicans who don’t want to pay teachers what they are worth traditionally use to avoid taking action.

    The legislators who attended the Aberdeen session—Sen. Corey Brown, Rep. Lana Greenfield, and Rep. Al Novstrup—sat at the tables and participated in the conversation.

    Liz, you do make a very good point about how we don’t ask nurses to brainstorm hospital funding ideas. I may have to include that in my commentary, coming up tomorrow!

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-24 23:25

    There is no custodian shortage. But if you can show me there is one, I’ll guarantee that we can solve it by offering better pay, not by calling custodians a bunch of fat cats or sluggards.

  20. MJL 2015-06-25 02:15

    Liz is 100% right about the efficacy of the meetings. Even with the legislators there, I always wonder if it will translate.

    There were plenty of comments at the one in Sioux Falls by the teachers about the need for legislators and the Governor to take some action that would not cost any money, but would start things down the correct path. Show respect for the work that teachers do.

    The issue of respect needed to come up and the simple fact we are using words like “we ASSUME that teachers are doing a good job” reflects the general attitude. I respect the hard work that nurses do at their job. I respect the effort put forth by the local farmer. I respect the work of our law enforcement officers. When we can start showing that respect component (pay is an important part of that but not the only part), then we will see more people wanting to make a little less than becoming an insurance salesperson or investment broker. (I just picked these two careers because I have witnessed several teachers over the years transition into these fields instead of teaching. There is nothing wrong with any profession where people work honestly and hard at what they do…except maybe for political ad writers.)

  21. Ray Tysdal 2015-06-25 08:47

    “Every year, when the Legislature meets, education is discussed and debated as much as any other topic.” That’s how the Governor’s column on education on the Blue Ribbon Task Force web site starts…and for thirty years that is all the Republicans have done…talk. The Governor goes on to explain how the process worked for the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system over the past few years. Clearly the Governor and legislature put more value on criminals and prisons than they do on students, teachers and education. The only movement attributed to our Governor on education is a 6.5% CUT IN EDUCATION FUNDING IN 2011! Every year it is the same thing…according to the legislature (who are charged in the constitution with the legal responsibility to provide education) it is the teachers’fault, the administrators’ fault, the school boards’ fault. NO! NO! NO! IT IS THE LEGISLATURE’S FAULT!!! IT IS THE GOVERNOR’S FAULT!!! They should be ashamed of themselves! I am ashamed of them! They are elected to be LEADERS FIRST! Republicans often talk about “failed policies” of the Democrats. The South Dakota Legislature and Governor are living proof of a failed policy…THE REPUBLICAN POLICY ON EDUCATION IN SOUTH DAKOTA…FAILED!!! NOT AN “F” BUT A ZERO, NO GRADE…NADA! It has failed for over a generation…for three decades. The Republicans do not value education, they only value talking about it. They are cowards and need to be reminded of that at every turn!

  22. MC 2015-06-25 10:21

    If I understand you correctly, Cory, the one and only answer is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’

    The key to better increase graduation rates is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    The key to better prepare students for college is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    The key to ensure graduating students can read and write is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    the key to true economic development is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    the key to national security is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    the key to world peace is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’
    the key to solving any problem is ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’

    somehow ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’ will make them better teachers.
    ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’ will make teachers more effective.
    ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’ will remove the need for parental involvement
    ‘PAY TEACHERS MORE MONEY!’ will somehow solve ALL social ills

    is this what you trying to tell us Cory?

  23. Travis Wicks 2015-06-25 10:58

    That attitude, MC, is why we teachers feel there is a lack of respect for the profession.

    Do we not deserve to make a livable wage, comparable to other professions that require similar training/educational requirements? Why do we deserve less than a nurse, an insurance agent, an office manager, or an accountant?

    Do you think the quality and effectiveness of teaching is the reason for the shortage? Is it lack of parental involvement that is the reason there are over 200 positions open in this state right now that can’t get filled?

    Or, perhaps you are simply throwing out right wing rhetoric to confuse and deflect the real issue: too many people with the ability to make a positive change and effect a cultural shift in perception of the teaching profession do not believe in spending as much money on education as they do on cutting taxes for corporations and themselves.

  24. MC 2015-06-25 12:01

    I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more, they should. But don’t hound the state government for it. Hound the local school boards, They pay administrators good money, cut back on extra-circular activities. dip into the their reserves. Unless you want to disband all the school boards, and make South Dakota one big school district and all the teachers employees of the state.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-25 12:20

    Oh, MC, the moles we’ve got to whack on the argument about teacher pay! If the teachers aren’t slacking off, it’s the local school boards.

    MC, I’m not making any of the statements you try to impute to me. More importantly, neither are Senator Soholt and the task force. Soholt and BluRTFTS are taking as given that we already get good graduation rates, students prepared for college, literacy, and effective teachers. You don’t get to scream those demands for better performance at the task force, because we already have better performance. What I’m saying is that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and South Dakota has been getting a free lunch from its teachers for thirty years and then some.

    We immediately solve one core problem by paying teachers more: the moral problem of our being cheapskates and basically stealing from teachers, harvesting the grain without paying the rent, eating the meal but skipping the check. We also solve a longer-term problem of ensuring that we can recruit and retain good teachers to carry on the good work past teachers have done.

  26. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-25 15:54

    Outstanding responses Travis and Cory.

    And what Ray said.

  27. Ray Tysdal 2015-06-25 16:20

    For MC: Do a little reading…the funding formula is set by the STATE LEGISLATURE by South Dakota State Constitution. South Dakota public school administrators are paid almost last in the nation. Cuts in school programs are made by school boards trying to keep their schools functioning with the little the state allows them. The opt out is a system that makes school boards the bad guys while the real bad guys are the Republican (TOTALLY) controlled legislature and governor.

  28. mike from iowa 2015-06-25 16:39

    Teachers strike,koch bros send in hired mercs to put down strike,widows and families of strikers get nothing for their losses,welcome back to ‘murrica-circa 19th century.

  29. Joan Brown 2015-06-25 19:58

    I have a niece that has taught in a colony school for years. She is also treated real well. She teaches the four upper grades in the school. There was one winter/spring that some of the roads were so bad to get to the school that the two teachers couldn’t get there in their cars, so they met in one of the small towns and the colony sent somebody in to pick the teachers up and then at the end of the day took them back into town. The only complaint that I have heard from her is that she has to eat lunch with the colony women and there is some of the foods that she doesn’t like. What a colony teacher makes will depend on the size of the school district the colony is located in. I know of a woman that taught in a colony school where the largest town in the district was roughly 15,000 and she said she was making $40,000 a year in SD. Travis, I do know the colony schools are slightly different than other schools in a district, in what is taught and how many teachers there are.

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