Tea elementary principal Dr. Samantha Walder served on Governor Kristi Noem’s K-12 social studies standards review commission, the 15-member educator-light panel Noem rigged to rubber-stamp the generic Trumpist standards written by Michigan’s private right-wing Hillsdale College. Dr. Walder testified against these bad standards in September, saying the process marginalized educators and advanced standards without even a formal vote of the commission.
At the second public hearing by the Board of Education Standards on these social studies standards, held today in Sioux Falls, Dr. Walder wanted to expand on her criticism of the Hillsdale standards, saying they violate conservative principles and possibly state law. Time constraints prevented Dr. Walder from speaking in person, but here is Dr. Walder’s written statement:
My name is Dr. Samantha Walder and I am in my 15th year in education, 8th as an elementary principal, and served as the only principal on the SS Standards Revision Commission. I represent myself as an appointed commission member.
As I shared with my commission colleagues, I am concerned about a fundamental shift in recommending curriculum, not standards.
To be clear, today is part of the standards adoption process and not a curriculum review. According to state law, our secretary of the Department of Education shall prepare and submit for approval by the Board of Education, a standards revision cycle and content standards. All the public schools in the state shall provide instruction in substantial conformity to the accreditation benchmarks adopted. Schools need accreditation for funding and to ensure graduates have valid degrees.
Furthermore, as outlined in State Law directing the DOE to promulgate rules and requirements for accreditation, the legislative intent is clear on local control. “Nothing [in this section] authorizes the board to require the use of specifically designated curriculum or methods of instruction.” This language is direct from our Legislature and puts trust in the local educators. Through policy, teachers are held accountable by principals who are held accountable by Superintendents and School Boards to make the best decisions for their community.
Although many will bring up other concerns with the proposal, I turn your attention to the unprecedented over-reach into our classrooms.
Assignments such as, “Students can write an informative essay of 500- 700 words on a historical figure”. may be perfectly appropriate assignments chosen by teachers in a classroom after the school board adopts curriculum. Just as I testified to your Governing Board in 2017, Standards are not curriculum. Standards are not textbooks. Standards are not assignments. Standards are written to guide schools in their work and, in South Dakota, allow local districts to determine their own curriculum or method of instruction.
This assignment is one of many, many lines in this proposal that would require a specific assignment or method of instruction.
The discussion at the SD Board of Educational Standards should NOT be about a classical education method of instruction or which foundational documents of democracy should be in a curriculum. Local teachers and administrators can already make these choices and are doing so within our current standards and accreditation accountability system. Schools choose any model method of instruction and curriculum to meet the standards and are held accountable by accreditation from the DOE. For example, we have Lakota Immersion, Spanish immersion, Mass Customized Learning or STEM-based pathways, Online, self-contained or content- specialized elementary classrooms, and the list of the unique methods of instruction used in South Dakota is as diverse as our great State.
My 14-year-old daughter is here with me today. I want her to know that no matter which “winds of change” are coming politically, in South Dakota we uphold the civic processes with checks and balances to preserve the next generation’s ability to trust they are heard as part of the process. I want Leah to stay in South Dakota no matter which industry she chooses and know that her expertise will be valued when decisions are made. We are setting precedence here for much more than our education system.
If adopted the social studies pseudo-standards would be an unprecedented subversion of local control and outside the realm of the conservative principle our State prides itself on. This proposal is to fix something that is not broken in South Dakota Schools.
Members of the Board of Educational standards, please help us to put a check and balance this misstep we have found ourselves in and build a berm on the slippery slope of overreach into our classrooms by State government [Dr. Samantha Walder, prepared remarks to Board of Education Standards, 2022.11.21].
The ultra-conservative Hillsdale standards are not good for education. Dr. Walder, a conservative herself, says their execution in South Dakota isn’t even conservative.