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Hillsdale’s Morrisey Wrote Social Studies Standards—Contract Says So

How do we know that Hillsdale College professor emeritus William Morrisey wrote the proposed K-12 social studies standards? Because that’s what his $200,000 state contract told him to do:

South Dakota Department of Education, contract with William Morrisey, #2022C-426, 2022.03.04, pp. 1–2.
South Dakota Department of Education, contract with William Morrisey, #2022C-426, 2022.03.04, pp. 1–2, annotated by CAH/DFP.

In accordance with RFP #2660, the Consultant agrees to:

  • Develop social studies content standards, including the disciplines of history, civics/government, geography, and economics. The content standards will define the minimum for what teachers ensure students learn through their K-12 education, progressively building students’ understanding year after year.
  • In addition to developing standards for K-8 social studies, the Consultant will also develop standards to meet South Dakota’s graduation requirements (at least 1 unit of U.S. History, 1/2 a unit of U.S. Government, 1 1/2 units of social studies elective coursework, and 1/2 a unit of economics) and applicable laws, including SDCL 13-33-4.
  • The state’s history and government, including Native American history and tribal government, will be incorporated throughout the K-12 standards. The standards will also incorporate the United States’ founding documents and principles, including the study of key primary sources [links added, emphasis mine; South Dakota Department of Education, contract with William Morrisey, #2022C-426, 2022.03.04, pp. 1–2, annotated by CAH/DFP].

Develop standards—that mandate is more direct than the requirements of the last contract, #2021C-714, which engaged the American Institutes for Research to facilitate the revision of South Dakota’s K-12 social studies standards. That May 2021 contract required more complex deliverables from facilitator Beth Ratway, whose role was clearly not to develop the standards herself but to coordinate the effort of the dozens of South Dakota educators empaneled for that work:

SD Department of Education, contract with American Institutes for Research, #2021C-714, 2021.05.26, p.1.
SD Department of Education, contract with American Institutes for Research, #2021C-714, 2021.05.26, p.1.
SD Department of Education, contract with American Institutes for Research, #2021C-714, 2021.05.26, p.2.
SD Department of Education, contract with American Institutes for Research, #2021C-714, 2021.05.26, p.2.

The 2021 contract with AIR made the educator workgroup responsible for developing the standards. Under Deliverable #1, the contract required groups to work on standards for each grade level. Under Deliverable #2, facilitator was to create guides for decision-making and process, but the workgroup members were to decide whether standards needed to be revised and how to revise them. under Deliverable #3, the facilitator was to help the team produce and document their revisions, but the workgroup was to make the recommendations. The facilitator also had to administer compensation for the workgroup members, which at $175 to $225 per member per day, depending on their roles, for 46 members holding several meetings could have eaten up about a third of the $227K contract.

No conditions centering the South Dakota workgroup as the creators of the standards appear in Morrisey’s $200K contract. His contract just says, develop the standards. The contract includes the word facilitate in its list of deliverables—facilitate picking the commission members, facilitate their in-person and online meetings, and facilitate the later public hearings (ah! So South Dakotans get to meet the Michigan author of the standards?)—but those verbs do not specify that the commission should be writing the standards. The contract tells Morrisey to develop the standards.

And from accumulating evidence, it appears that’s what happened: Morrisey wrote the standards based on Hillsdale College’s ideological preferences, with little to no regard for the proper scope and structure of curriculum standards or good educational practice and no practical, creative input from South Dakota educators or even the commission members he helped pick.

The proposed standards are not a South Dakota product. The local educators who produced the 2021 draft put too much thinking and too many Indians in their work. Noem’s Department of Education rewrote the standards-development contract to sideline South Dakota educators and ensure that an outside consultant would develop the political document that Governor Noem desired.


  1. CK 2022-08-17

    Is Hillsdale an accredited school? Where do they rank in quality of education and accredited degrees?

  2. Dicta 2022-08-17

    Rankings are always going to be iffy depending on who is doing the rankings. My research indicates that Hillsdale is a private christian college that is accredited. US News and World Report, the usual go-to for educational rankings, has Hillsdale at #46 among liberal arts universities. Not having a normative discussion about whether or not they should be writing such standards, but wanted to address the question.

  3. Anne 2022-08-17

    The American Institute for Research sure knows how to fill a crock.

  4. Knitter23 2022-08-17

    AIR’s contract included all the payments for the workgroups as well as their work. All costs came out of the contract so that DOE didn’t have to do individual contracts with each of the participants. So the contract was reasonable based on all the contracts I wrote in my time at DOE.

  5. All Mammal 2022-08-17

    As a parochial college, Hillsdale doesn’t have experience in childhood development. College courses are based on hours and credits, therefore they are specialized and compartmentalized.
    The accepted childhood education practices are based on a balanced approach to instruction and all learning is fluid, not organized into single categories. History and civics can and should be incorporated into English assignments, graphs can fulfill math expectations, definitely art and creative writing assignments make the abstract concepts contemplated more intimately, and music and history can be combined by learning old-timey songs. Even science can be combined by studying hydro power and fossil fuels. Every lesson should be introduced with discussion and student led hypotheses based on experience and new information, while constantly assessing progress and areas needing work. Learning is fun and exciting, as a munchkin. Everyone has something to teach, so the learning should go both ways. I don’t recognize any fun, engaging learning coming from Hillsdale’s standards for South Dakota’s fun-sized historians. If we really wanted to honor the traditions of the Lakota, we would dabble more into student-led learning structures, using apprenticeship and scaffolding tactics. Social learning is bonafide good practice. My classroom was always equipped with an adopted unci to bring that presence of calm and wisdom and grandmas tend to love to volunteer for hugs and high fives and someone to pass on the beauty of their patient presence.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-17

    Hillsdale is accredited by the HLC (see DAPIP). Wherever Hillsdale ranks on whatever arbitrary scales will not change the basic point made here: After contracting in 2021 with a consultant to facilitate the usual work of South Dakota educators to revise their own statewide curriculum standards, the Governor threw out that work, and the DOE wrote a very different contract and hired a very different out-of-state vendor to develop new standards himself, in a process devoid of the usual essential input of SD educators.

  7. Bob Newland 2022-08-17

    So an “emeritus” with great training in the presentation of a fairy tale has his fingerprints all over a curriculum designed to hide the truth. How else could it be under a governess who created her own fairy tale of what a governess does?

  8. P. Aitch 2022-08-17

    Looks like every Governor for decades will want to/need to revise the social studies curriculum. i.e. When Noem goes Hillsdale follows out the door.

  9. 96Tears 2022-08-17

    Cory, that is the point. To put it a different way: Taxpayers were bilked out of $200,000 to buy a campaign soundbite for absent-governor Kristi Noem’s presidential campaign. This was theft.

    She called it her Critical Race Theory action. It’s hogwash drafted by political hacks who are racists and aim to indoctrinate, not educate, children and young adults with a third-rate schooling experience. Noem must be fired for incompetence and dereliction of duty.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-17

    Yeah, 96: we issued a contract for $227K last year and got a workable set of curriculum standards, produced by practicing teachers, based on years of experience and mostly in line with how schools have taught social studies, with some reasonable updates. Noem threw that work and that money away and used DOE dollars to turn that practical curriculum into a campaign flyer that helps her run for President but throws social studies teaching for 148 school districts, 10,000 teachers, and 140,000 students into disarray.

  11. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-17

    The money involved in this exercise is way out of line with what has been traditionally a volunteer activity or nominal payment for task force and facilitator for other curriculum and “best practices” documents produced by the Department of Education in years past. The Department has never paid faculty of South Dakota Universities such an outrageous amount for consultative or facility work with the Department, at least until the advent of the “Gear Up” fraud. This “work”, which was actually just an adaptation of the 1776 Curriculum previously developed by Hillsdale, is just a political pay off from one right wing Republican Institution to another. The people of South Dakota are still smart enough to figure out that the whole thing is a scam.

  12. DaveFN 2022-08-17

    With all the demand and acclaim for these canned Hillsdale free courses with their tendentious conclusions and leading questions, there must certainly be no dearth of people of impoverished educational backgrounds open and willing to be indoctrinated. The false lure of certainty whatever the conclusions.

  13. grudznick 2022-08-17

    These Hillsdale fellows must needs be brought into check.

  14. scott 2022-08-18

    I have to admit I have not been following this issue, since it is so silly and stupid to begin with. I had no idea what Noem had done and thank you Cory for again shedding light on what is going on in this state.

    Why not put together a group of retired SD educators, say 2-3 from each of the elementary, middle school and high school ranks along with a university prof to do this work. I do not feel that a college prof is the kind of person one wants writing stands for grade school students, since they are so removed from that sector of education. Another case of where Noem just sends more money out of state. The brain washed Trump/Noem followers just cannot see what is happening in SD.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-18

    Scott, I can’t blame you for not paying close attention to curriculum standards, I didn’t pay much attention to them when I was teaching. I find curriculum standards boring and mostly superfluous: good teachers don’t need the state or a committee to tell them what kids ought to learn; good teachers know their subject, their kids, and their culture and can be trusted to teach effectively without such top-down guidance/dictates.

    The process you describe for writing standards is basically how we have done it in every subject, including social studies, ever since curriculum standards became a thing. Teachers from around the state mostly volunteer to serve—the state may pay them stipends and mileage. They meet and cook up standards based on their knowledge and experience. They produce standards that capture the good things they are already doing in the classroom while incorporating new developments and research in teaching and learning. We thus get standards grounded in South Dakota teachers’ understanding of what matters and what works.

    Morrisey has parachuted in from Michigan and written standards completely detached from the professional knowledge and practical experience of South Dakota teachers. He has written an iconoclastic set of standards based on his institution’s agenda. If the Board of Education Standards approves these standards, social studies education will be a mess.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-18

    I’d like everyone to read that critique closely and notice that it is not based on any partisan political perspective. We don’t have to analyze Morrisey’s work for any right-wing, apartheidist, white-revisionist, Trump-gaslighting perspective. We can critique these standards purely in terms of detachment from South Dakota professional knowledge and practice and sound pedagogical research. Last year’s revision, produced by South Dakota educators, was better designed and more closely attuned to real classroom needs. The standards South Dakota teachers produced last year were pedagogically sound and practical; there was no need to issue another contract and spend more time and money for another revision, especially now that we can see that this extra revision has produced an inferior product.

    Noem has wasted time and money, to the detriment of our schools and student learning, with sheer disrespect for the professional skills and commitment of South Dakota teachers.

  17. Peter Carrels 2022-08-18

    It is useful to learn more about Hillsdale College, as this institution is having an increasingly influential impact on our society and governance. Hillsdale’s most recent newsletter -called Imprimis- was headlined by an article titled, “Laying Siege to the Institutions.” Public education not only in South Dakota but across the country is one of those institutions under siege. Hillsdale constantly defends and feeds the war against “cultural elites”. In Noem’s and Trump’s world view, cultural elites are blamed for much of what ails our society. Cultural elites comprise the so-called “deep state.” Hillsdale and conservative nationalists attack the necessity of government, leading and enabling conservative politicians from around the country to demean governmental checks and regulators such as the Environmental Protection Agency. The Hillsdale philosophy is that the private sector can regulate itself, apparently. We need to understand that hiring Morrisey to establish K-12 school objectives and curriculum represents a dramatic transformation of public education. And that’s his goal. Thank-you Cory, for doing a deep dive on this situation.

  18. P. Aitch 2022-08-18

    Luckily the “culturally elite” educators in SD can drag implementation out until wiser heads prevail. As the textbook “The Wrong Side of History” is being written this chapter will be a delusional doozy.

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