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Slideshow Sideshow: Second Blue Ribbon K-12 Meeting Hears Experts, Not Teachers

I listened to most of the second meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students yesterday (you can too, as soon as BIT posts the audio to BluRTFTS’s Meeting Materials archive). I heard lots of presentations from experts, some questions from panel members, but zero focused, deliberative discussions about how to meaningfully fund K-12 education, the sole question Governor Dennis Daugaard convened the panel to answer.

Tara Darnall, chief financial officer of our Department of Education, opened the meeting with more data on  school finances, demographics, and teacher salaries.

Dr. Julie Mathiesen, director of Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE), reported the qualitative data collected during the post-it-note World-Café sessions held around the state in June. Of the five major themes distilled from responses to the call for guidance for the task force, the two that weren’t vague rah-rah lines were “Identify new revenue stream or partnerships” and “Pursue increased teacher pay and incentives.” But Dr. Mathiesen reminded the task force that “qualitative” is a synonym for “squishy.”

Ingersoll data on why teachers leave teaching, presented to Blue Ribbon K-12 panel, Pierre, SD, 2015.08.19.
Ingersoll data on why teachers leave teaching, presented to Blue Ribbon K-12 panel, Pierre, SD, 2015.08.19. Click to embiggen!

Dr. Richard Ingersoll flew from Pennsylvania to Pierre to present his thesis, based on national data, that the “perception” of a teacher shortage comes not from a lack of good teachers but high turnover rates. He reported decade-old data that found 30% of 1993 teacher graduates left the profession by 2003 (the rate for new cops over that period was 28%). He said the four leading reasons teachers leave the profession are too little prep time (64%), too heavy teaching load (57%), poor pay and benefits (54%), and too big class sizes (54%). He offered no data specific to South Dakota. He appeared to have done no background research on South Dakota prior to flying in to give his presentation. The single major solution he proposed was teacher mentoring, which South Dakota started with a federal grant thirteen years ago at the recommendation of two previous education task forces.

After lunch, Northern State told the Blue Ribboneers about their wonderful E-Learning program, which teaches about 1,200 high school students, about 3.3% of our grade 9–12 population, with 16 instructors. Extrapolate that 80:1 student–teacher ratio to our entire K-12 system, and we could teach all of our 130,000+ kids with 1,640 teachers. We currently have over 9,300 certified K-12 teachers.

Dr. Mathiesen then returned to the mic with an impassioned and swoopy Prezi presentation that called for transforming our educational system from the obsolete assembly-line model designed to make 75% of student-widgets into unskilled laborers to a system of individualized, student-centered instruction patterned after iTunes and customized blue jeans. Dr. Mathiesen’s brilliant critique of one-size-fits-all education can be read as an indictment of Common Core standards, but BluRTFTS isn’t supposed to be talking about Common Core, so that point was perhaps lost on the task force.

The South Dakota Innovation Lab offered the final presentation, also on distance education. Mid-Central Co-op director Dan Guericke appeared to advocate a model in which schools would share circuit-rider teachers: five teachers in five subject areas would rotate through five schools throughout the week:

School Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri
Montrose Trig/Calc Spanish Bio/Chem Hist/Govt Speech/Lit
Canistota Spanish Bio/Chem Hist/Govt Speech/Lit Trig/Calc
Viborg-Hurley Bio/Chem Hist/Govt Speech/Lit Trig/Calc Spanish
Marion Hist/Govt Speech/Lit Trig/Calc Spanish Bio/Chem
Freeman Speech/Lit Trig/Calc Spanish Bio/Chem Hist/Govt

Sure. That’ll work.

Just as the Governor didn’t appoint many teachers to the task force on teachers and students, the task force isn’t bringing many teachers to the table. Of the nine experts who spoke to the Blue Ribboneers yesterday, not one is a full-time K-12 teacher. Several are former teachers. Perhaps the panel members should call those experts back and ask, “Why did you leave the classroom?” Blue Ribboneer Jim Scull might do that: he said he’s going to back to Rapid City and ask teachers what they think (bless you, Jim!).

I hate to say it, but yesterday’s BluRTFTS meeting felt like wheel-spinning, not policymaking. The task force has used two of its five face-to-face public meetings for informational sessions that could have been conducted by the personalized and distance learning methods so vaunted by the experts in the afternoon session. Unwittingly exemplifying much of what Dr. Mathiesen said is wrong with assembly-line, one-size-fits-all education, the panelists herded themselves into one place at one time to hear a whole bunch of experts talk. The panelists got to ask questions, but they didn’t get to take advantage of their time together to work with the material themselves to produce the solutions they’ve been charged with producing.

If distance learning is so great, the Blue Ribboneers should have practiced it yesterday. The speakers should have put all their presentations online a week ago. Panelists should have been assigned to review all of those materials (and more that’s been available since before BluRTFTS launched, like SDBPI’s research on K-12 funding in South Dakota and ASBSD’s Dec. 2014 report on the teacher workforce pipeline) and come to this week’s meeting prepared for constructive discussion of K-12 funding policy responses. (Once we hit Ingersoll, discussion of actual K-12 funding almost disappeared.) Instead, we’ve burned up two of the five available meeting times and a lot of mileage and meal money for panelists and presenters, and all we’ve gotten in terms of practical policy direction are the vague hints of things to come from panelists’ one-minute closing thought-sharings.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students has yet to do any real work in public, and they’ve got darn little time remaining for that work. Yesterday’s Blue Ribbon K-12 task force meeting felt like a dog-and-pony show, a series of presentations chosen by someone behind the scenes to provide the basis (see Daugaard chief of staff Tony Venhuizen’s summary of the day’s meeting: retention, not recruitment, is the problem, and distance education is vital) for a policy package that’s already drafted and waiting for distribution to the members at their final meeting.

Blue Ribboneers, it’s time to knock off the slideshows and get to work. At your next meeting on September 9, we’d better see an agenda for action. We’d better see task force members discussing the knowledge they’ve gathered from their research and conversations with teachers and other experts (all conducted before the next meeting, please) and translating that knowledge into a variety of practical policy proposals. We’d better see signs that this task force exists for a purpose greater than delay and rubber-stampage.


  1. MC 2015-08-20

    Cory, you’re right.

    I would like to see all this talk translated to a specific policy proposals.

  2. Travis 2015-08-20

    I’ll bet that the rest of the time this task spends will be on how to increase prep time for teachers… probably by mandating us to be at school earlier and stay later, even though many of us already do that at our own discretion. I’m not sure how they can reduce our workload without hiring more teachers, but they’ll probably come up with some distance-learning mandate that will “help.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t spend anymore time on increasing funding and just focus on the top two issues that Ingersoll fellow apparently “discovered” (hmmm, I wonder if he would have been brought to SD if teacher pay was at the top of his list?).

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Jana, I caught that anti-union line from Kasich during yesterday’s panel meeting. That’s another flavor of the GOP disregard for teachers’ authority and expertise.

    Travis, that sounds like one of the many dodges the Legislature will use to avoid raising pay. But come on: does the Legislature really want more veteran teachers who stay in their schools long enough to gain community respect and the ability to lobby effectively for their profession?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Ingersoll explains why he quit teaching high school in this October 2013 interview with The Atlantic:

    “One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says. “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work” [Liz Riggs, “Why Do Teachers Quit?The Atlantic, 2013.10.18].

    I doubt we can legislate respect. But we could try showing respect with more pay.

    “Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have shortages,” Ingersoll says. He adds that he is happy with his new career, but he would still be a high school history teacher had it not been for the lack of respect and low salary he experienced. For a lot of teachers I spoke with, this seems to be the common sentiment: If the overall attractiveness of teaching as a profession gets better, the best teachers will enter the profession, stay, and help increase the effectiveness of schools [Riggs, 2013.10.18].

    The slogan for teachers lobbying the Blue Ribbon panel and the 2016 Legislature is obvious: “Money Talks. Bulls–t Walks.”

  5. Spencer 2015-08-20

    I would imagine most schools have 250 minutes of Biology and Chemistry each week. If you are on the circuit, your students will only be receiving 150 minutes of Biology and Chemistry each week with a teacher in the classroom or total!? Cutting 100 minutes of instruction from every subject to save two science positions over five schools does not make a lot of sense. I hope the rest of the time is made up with online contact at the very least. This still does not get around the fact that more teachers will need to be hired for this circuit. In most of these schools, the science teacher teaches grades 7-12; therefore, one would need to add an Earth and Life Science teacher and a Physical Science and Physics teacher to this circuit in order to even cover basic course offerings. Also, a circuit may seem reasonable in the most populated part of the state and ultimately may be, but how about out here? All six of these school districts combined only cover 780 square miles. Our district covers 752 square miles, yet we are still an East River school. Almost all of these school districts could fit into our own. I wonder if we will get a stipend to fly in on crop dusters?

  6. David Newquist 2015-08-20

    Yes, the cliche experts testified yesterday. I doubt if there is one cliche or one term of educational jargon missing from those Power Point frames. And with all those claims about distance learning, I am impressed with the fact that no one tried to bore anyone with one substantive fact about it actually works with students. The presentation on customized learning came close when it compared the achievements of customized learners with ordinary students, but that left me wondering how those differences in learning were measured and how the statistics were derived. However, that would taken some extremely detailed and substantiated explanations that require verbal skills and precision that are not compatible with Power Point. And it might take people who actually know what they are talking about.

    This whole session seemed to be coached by Donald Trump, who has proven that for many Americans, you don’t have to know a fact or be able to make a significant distinction. You just have to bluster well. However, for people who have actually managed to acquire some learning, customized or en masse, the blue ribbon panel has clearly identified itself. And more of those highly qualified teachers have been given a compelling reason to leave the profession.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Spencer, the SDIL speaker didn’t give all the details on the circuit-rider model. He did say they pay the current teachers in that model $47K, $7K more than the state average. You’d definitely have to pay me more to spend an extra hour on the road driving to a different school each day of the week.

    I don’t know what the exact contact time would be, although I suppose we could still meet statutory requirements by having the kids in class for the same amount of time with lengthy sessions with the circuit-rider in the morning and lengthy supervised study time in the afternoon. But as you note, it would be tricky to translate this circuit-rider-sharing model into real savings.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    David, the panelists seemed absolutely dazzled by the Prezi show with the online learning tools Dr. Mathiesen displayed. She’s also a heck of a good speaker. But you identify a key gap in yesterday’s information: the panelists did not receive broad, solid empirical evidence that (1) distance learning delivers equal or better educational outcomes or (2) distance learning will move us toward the panel’s objective to “meaningfully fund” K-12 education.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-08-20

    “perception” of a teacher shortage comes not from a lack of good teachers but high turnover rates.

    That makes no sense. Either way, the result is a Real Teacher Shortage and the chief cause is low pay. All the South Dakotans, not Pennsylvanians, said that it’s the Money. Apparently the state government doesn’t believe South Dakotans know what they’re talking about.

  10. David Newquist 2015-08-20

    No doubt the panel was dazzled by the Prezi show. It is flashy. But having used its precursors, I see possibilities in its use, but also am acquainted with inherent limitations. With all the technical production required, it took me 8 to 12 hours to prepare a 40 minute program. Then sometimes the computer network was not cooperative. To make a lesson a teacher has to have a full command of the material to be presented, access to graphic materials, a good working knowledge of the modes of exposition, clearly defined grasp of the intellectual concept to be presented, and time to shape a coherent presentation. That s daunting. I suspect that some educational production companies might create some presentations that can be purchased, as texts are now.

    My alarm bell went off during Dr. Mathiesen’s presentation when she was making the point that in our industrial age we are able to design jeans to fit various bodies, but not shape educational experiences to fit individual learners. My first quibble is that we have long moved from the industrial age to a technical age, and while we have the ability to track and profile the shopping habits of individuals on the internet, we do not expend such knowledge and effort on education. It’s a good point, but stated in anachronistic terms.

    To illustrate the parallel she is drawing, she puts up a bunch of comely women in jeans with asses that all fit the Barbie parameters. Where are those body shapes, which probably comprise a majority, that do not fit those parameters? And just what parallel is being applied to students?

    Beginning with Aristotle, we have dealt with the fact that people bring different psychological structures to learning just as they possess differing body structures. There are inductive learners, deductive learners, and a myriad of combinations in between. And there are verbal learners, graphic leaners, abstract learners, concrete learners, etc.
    That leaves a question of just how customized learning develops a profile of each student’s learning patterns, and how does one make individual presentations to meet those patterns?

    It was a glitzy show. But it glosses over the real educational challenge it presents.

  11. Owen 2015-08-20

    I’ve included the link to the story on this that was in today’s Mitchell Daily Republic. The mentoring programs has been used for awhile where my wife teaches. She is a mentor for a young teacher and helps her with any questions or problems.
    As you said Cory it’s pretty obvious that Ingersoll didn’t do his homework and the blue ribbon panel won’t be able to use that as an excuse.
    This paragraph in the story is disturbing to say the least. Here is the excuse this panel can use to do, well nothing.

    “Many of the task force members said in closing remarks they were surprised to learn so much of what they’d been led to believe about South Dakota schools have been myths.”

    Not having teachers testify is wrong.

  12. SuperSweet 2015-08-20

    The last school Improvement effort in SD was Gov Mickelson’s “Modernization” program in 1993. School’s received funds to do strategic planning and teacher training programs. A lot of things changed for the better as a result. But that was 22 years ago.

    As I look at a lot of school websites I see no strategic plans listed. Maybe schools should be required to have a strategic plan with input from all stakeholders.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Mickelson’s Modernization? 1993? Dang, that’s pre-Internet! How am I supposed to look that plan up? ;-)

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Owen, I don’t get what they heard in Wednesday’s hearing that would have dispelled their myths. I don’t recall that article specifying any dispelled myths. What myths? Ingersoll certainly didn’t dispel any myths. He said we have to deal with retention to solve the teacher shortage, but he didn’t really say that South Dakota schools are short on teachers, and he didn’t say that recruitment is not part of the puzzle, either.

  15. Owen 2015-08-20

    Maybe you’ll have to ask Mercer where he heard the part about myths. To me it didn’t sound good. If nobody said it Mercer shouldn’t have put it in.

  16. grudznick 2015-08-20

    Mr. Tiezsen talked about myths on the radio. I bet they talked about myths.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Owen, I didn’t hear all of the closing comments. I don’t doubt Mercer’s reportage; I’d just like clarification of what the Blue Ribboneers think are myths and what new information they think they learned yesterday. I’ll have to review that audio once SDPB/BIT posts it online.

  18. grudznick 2015-08-20

    I think Mr. Tiezsen said on the radio that lots of myths were disproved. He said that just because you hear somebody say something 10 times doesn’t mean it’s true and now the BluRT-F understands that. He said that myths are just a way for closed-minded people to try and distract from the real issues so it was good they were disproved.

  19. Donald Pay 2015-08-20

    So far SD hasn’t gone down the road that Scott Walker proposed to solve the problem in Wisconsin: allow high school drop outs to teach your kids. Yup, I’m not kidding. Walker wanted to gut the state’s teacher certification system. This is a policy objective of ALEC and the school privatization movement.

    I’m just wondering whether SD’s push toward distance education isn’t just a way to throw money at out-of-state education corporations to solve the problem, rather than actually paying teachers a decent salary.

    In Wisconsin, Walker has to do something to counter the teacher shortage that resulted when boomer teachers retired en masse after his relentless attacks on teachers unions, teacher salaries and benefits. And, because of the attacks on teacher salaries and benefits and teaching as a profession by Republicans here in Wisconsin, there is a 25 percent reduction in students in ed schools. So, at the same time Walker’s policies are driving experienced teachers out of the profession, his policies are also driving students away. Thus, this last budget cycle we got the expansion of the “voucher” program which provides money to schools that hired unqualified teachers, and Walker’s proposal to gut teacher certification, which didn’t pass.

  20. SuperSweet 2015-08-20

    CAH, the next school improvement move in SD was made by Gov Janklow, wiring all the schools and creating the technology for learning program that started at DSU. You recall when the inmates were in our schools doing all the wiring, you were there wearing your hard hat in mild protest. Great strides were made in integrating technology as a result.

    Unfortunately that was the last time a governor has initiated a school improvement effort in SD., not withstanding HB1234, which correctly went down in flames.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-21

    For the record, my hardhat was not a protest of the program—I was an early and eager adopter of the Web for teaching purposes. I just would have liked the Governor’s chain gangs to have done the job sometime other than the middle of my spectacular grammar lessons. q:-)

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-21

    Makes sense, Donald: if ALEC wants to privatize education, they have to undermine the performance of the public school system. Grrr!

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-21

    More vague crap, Grudz. What myths?

  24. Donald Pay 2015-08-21

    Janklow’s program was mostly bad. Sure, he wired all the schools, then he got corporate entities to dump bad technology on the districts, and made the districts deal with the mess. Very little extra money came from Pierre to hire all the techies needed to run this stuff. Money went to another Janklow priority–property tax relief. And Janklow also put districts under the new funding formula with its property tax limitations. So teacher salaries and programs for students were cut to pay for Janklow’s folly. And that’s what you’re living under today. Thanks, Janklow.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-21

    Donald, the computers may have gone obsolete quickly, but wasn’t the basic infrastructure extremely useful?

  26. mike from iowa 2015-08-21

    Speaking of unions,wasn’t that the reason dumbass dubya and wingnuts wouldn’t bail out the auto industry before Obama did? Didn’t Raygun fire ATCs because they were unionized? Walker and the koch bros hate unions-another wingnut talking point.

  27. Rod Hall 2015-08-21

    Super Sweet may have missed one program sponsored by Gov. Janklow. It was called AREA Advanced Reading Enhancement Approach. The very best reading teachers were given leaves of absence so they could spend a year working with primary grade classroom teachers in their classrooms with their students. It was highly successful. The problem was it cost a lot of money and it took more, not fewer teachers! Appropriate books were put in the hands of the students and the reading specialists actually taught the primary classroom teachers and students how to use them.

    The real “black eye” for the program was that the administrators of that program had a final booze bash at state public expense!

  28. SuperSweet 2015-08-21

    Cory was an early adopter who utilized technology effectively. I remember watching him use an IPod to do grades.

  29. leslie 2015-08-22

    janklow folly. i like that. precursor of clown car.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-22

    I’m surprised by SuperSweet’s memory! One small correction: during the fall 2000 semester, I tried out two PDAs: a color-screen Pocket PC, then a gray-screen Palm Pilot. I returned the Pocket PC when it suffered a glitch that made the screen display in reverse. Both devices were fun, but the tech just didn’t integrate into my workflow as much as I wanted, especially without wireless Internet access (although I thought getting the device to talk to my school computer via the little docking station was pretty cool).

    I bought those devices on my dime, not the school’s, but the school at least gave me the freedom to try them out in my classroom. Protect teachers’ autonomy, and they’ll innovate and share ideas to make the school better. They’ll also feel more ownership of the job and be more inclined to stay.

  31. leslie 2015-08-22

    “postitnotes World Cafe”: very good cory. no wonder uncle jimmo bailed from the state.

  32. leslie 2015-08-22

    hope he isn’t prosecuted 15 years from now for being a liberal-if in fact he might have been. :)

  33. leslie 2015-08-22

    here, i don’t have any expertise so i just post sheit, like grudz

  34. Donald Pay 2015-08-22

    Here’s the thing about tech in schools, Cory. I was going to TIE conferences in 2000 and 2001 and they were touting Palm Pilots as the next big thing, implying that districts had better look into buying this technology or they would be left in the dust. I really got tired of listening to this hype, because it was a combination of marketing and adolescent boy behavior, and most of the teachers who would be forced to use this technology were middle aged women. If districts chased all the technology, we might as well just fire all the teachers, because we wouldn’t have the money to pay them.

    You are absolutely right about the need to let teachers lead the way on innovation, and to give innovators like you the freedom to do it. Hopefully, we would find a way to pay you for your innovation.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-22

    Good point on tech hype, Donald. Around the same time, USD was moving toward requiring all of its incoming freshmen to use PDAs, a remarkable requirement given that the term and the devices were mostly dead by the end of the decade, replaced by phone boom-tech that few people saw taking the shape it has now.

    The DDN studios may be another good example of a huge investment in specific tech that is now mostly obsolete. I can convert pretty much any classroom into a distance-learning studio, as long as I have a computer with a webcam, good Internet signal, and a strong microphone… or possibly just a smartphone with a Periscope account. Of course that’s bare bones: the DDN studios add interactivity with mics for each student, separate cameras for viewing the teacher, the class, the board, the document camera… but fire up Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting, and you come close to replicating that functionality. Heck, five years ago, I participated in a seminar class at DSU from my desk at Lake Herman, sharing audio and online slides with a prof and fellow students in multiple remote sites. We don’t need DDN studios and dedicated computer labs. We need flexible rooms and creative teachers where we can teach kids from basics to brilliance, regardless of the technology they bring to the room for our interaction.

  36. leslie 2015-08-26

    Ingersoll PHD has numerous teacher-pay/retension research assignments, some in Georgia Universities, the strong-hold of “toilet paper maker Koch Bros” (and occasional oil, gas and tar refiner/polluter and SD interloper). whadayah kno?

  37. Dan Goodwin 2015-10-23

    Gee whiz! You were actually expecting advanced prep and actual work toward a solution? What the hell is the matter with you? What planet are you from?

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-23

    Optimism always gets me in trouble. :-)

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