South Dakota Q&A: South Dakota’s History for Common Core

south dakota flagI participated in a forum last week in Sioux Falls, SD.  Questions were complied for two months prior and the panelists were given the questions (summarized) a couple of days prior to the event.  Unfortunately since forum was not moderated and rules put in place regarding time limits South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp and former South Dakota Education Secretary Rick Melmer were able to set the tone of the forum early.  Dr. Schopp was able to go first.  Hardly any of the questions were answered, and I know many of the attendees were frustrated.  I was as well since I only was able to touch the mike twice and was actually skipped over at one point.  You can read a recap here.

I made a commitment to those in attendance that I would do my best to answer the questions that Dr. Schopp and Dr. Melmer didn’t.  I’m going to break these up into several articles (there were a lot of questions!).  The first installment is on South Dakota’s History for the Common Core.  I’d like to preface this article with encouragement to check out the local experts – South Dakotans Against Common Core is an excellent resource.

Questions will be in bold, my answers italicized….

Who is responsible for bringing the Common Core standards into South Dakota?  The President or the Governor?

The President indirectly and the Governor directly.  Ultimately it was the decision of the South Dakota State Board of Education.  They voted to adopt the Common Core Math and ELA standards on November 29, 2010.  Governor Mike Rounds was aware of the process as it began several months prior and I assume signed the original memorandum of understanding with the Common Core State Standards Initiative and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  The reason I’m fuzzy on that is because they were adopted with less than two months to go in his last term and I’m not sure when those were signed as I don’t have copies of the documents.  The process definitely started in his administration.

That said Governor Daugaard is complicit as well as he has continued to allow the implementation of the Common Core in South Dakota.

President Obama is complicit indirectly through the Race to the Top grant program (which was an executive earmark within the Stimulus package passed in 2009) which South Dakota did apply for.  The application did state that “high points” would be given if the applicant adopted a set of “college and career-ready standards” developed by a consortium consisting of a majority of states. The Common Core was the only game in town.  How much the Race to the Top funding (which South Dakota did not receive) played in adopting the Common Core in South Dakota is up for debate, but one can’t dismiss it’s role.

Since Governor Rounds is running for U.S. Senate it would certainly be worthwhile to have him explain his role in the adoption of the Common Core and his position today.

When did the South Dakota Legislature vote to accept the Common Core?  Did they pass it unanimously?

First how often do any state legislatures pass anything unanimously?  Second, they didn’t because they didn’t vote at all.  No state legislature voted to adopt the Common Core, this was entirely driven by the executive branch.

Why didn’t anyone know about these standards before they were implemented?

Primarily because the state legislature didn’t vet them and the State Department of Education was primarily focused on obtaining feedback from the education community.  Unless you were involved in crafting education policy at that time there was little opportunity for you to know about this.  It wasn’t on most of the media’s radar at the time.  So unless you read Education Week or trolled the South Dakota Department of Education’s website (which we now know is not a bad practice!) you probably wouldn’t hear about it anywhere else.  Had the State Legislature been given the chance to weigh in it could have brought more attention to the Common Core, and good state legislators should be soliciting feedback from their constituents.

State Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-Sioux Falls) made the argument that the State Legislature has never set standards.  I share here why I believe that is not a good practice.

When Governor Daugaard brought the Common Core into our state, who among you were serving in the legislature or the South Dakota Department of Education?  Did any of you have the opportunity to read through the standards?  Where the standards fully written in a final format at the time we adopted the Common Core?

Of the panelists (myself being an Iowan excluded) State Representative Jim Bolin (R-Canton) was in the South Dakota House of Representatives and serving on the House Education Committee.  State Senator Ernie Otten (R-Tea) was not elected until 2012.  State Senator Phyllis Heineman was not elected to the South Dakota State Senate until November of 2010.  She served in the State House from 1999-2008.  She was a member of the South Dakota State Board of Education during this process however.  Dr. Schopp was employed by the South Dakota Department of Education at the time even though she was not appointed as Education Secretary until 2011.  Dr. Rick Melmer served as Education Secretary until 2008 (development didn’t start until 2009). 

State Representative Bolin said he did not have an opportunity and heard very little from the Department regarding the Common Core.  State Senator Heineman at the forum said she read them.  I will assume Dr. Schopp did since she worked for the Department.  I know State Representative Otten did not at the time.  With Dr. Melmer I’m not sure if he read them before adoption.  I personally read them after the fact when this finally hit my radar – by that time 46 states had adopted them in full or in part (Minnesota only adopted the ELA standards).

Where the standards fully written? Yes the final draft of the Common Core was released in May of 2010.  South Dakota did not approve the standards until November.

Did the State Board of Education have open meetings to discuss the Common Core, looking for the opinion of others?  Where there public meetings?  Who was involved, when, and where were they held?

Yes, all state board meetings are open to the public.  The process, as Dr. Schopp described it, didn’t seem to focus on the opinion of anyone beyond classroom teachers the Department hired to review them in their draft and final forms.  I could not find minutes for these teacher Common Core workgroups.

Did the public know the importance of attending at the time?  Probably not.

Here is what I could find on the department website, I am not sure if the months I’m missing means they didn’t meet, neglected to have minutes recorded or they were in executive session.

According to the Department website the Board of Education didn’t first discuss the Common Core until the September meeting.

Here is how the official minutes described the adoption of the Common Core (November 2010)

10.0 Public Hearing – Adoption of Common Core Standards for English language arts, and math 1:03 p.m.

President Duncan asked for any Proponents to the adoption. Written comments that were submitted through e-mail were provided to board members. Becky Nelson from Dept. spoke in favor of adopting the common core and Fred Aderhold from the Sioux Falls school district shared his approval for the adoption on behalf of the Sioux Falls school district. Having no other proponents come forward Duncan asked for opponents. Steve S_____ from Mitchell came forward to express his disapproval of adopting the Common Core Standards and why. No other proponents came forward at this time and President Duncan asked for a motion.

Motion: Motion by Richard Gowen and seconded by Phyllis Heineman to approve the proposed adoption of Common Core Standards.

Conclusion: The motion carried

Real descriptive eh?  A public hearing that had only two members of the public speak?  No idea how many attended.

Two meetings… a short public forum during the second meeting and they’re adopted!  How many of the board of education members read the standards prior to voting?  Who knows?

What steps were taken to include the opinions & expertise of any local school boards, teachers, parents and/or state legislators before adopting Common Core?

Dr. Schopp said school districts were communicated with, a public forum was held, and teachers had feedback (I could not find teacher workgroup minutes, and she didn’t describe how school districts were kept informed.  They started offering a series of webinars in December 2010, but that was after the adoption of the Common Core.  You can see above what the “public forum” entailed.  Considering the board of education only had two months itself to consider the Common Core State Standards I find it very hard to believe there was a concerted effort to solicit feedback from the public.

Is it true that several educators from the state of South Dakota had the opportunity to approve of the common core standards?  Who were these educators?  When and where were the meetings held?

According to the Department yes.  I don’t know; minutes for these meetings are available (unless I’m just not using the right search terms).  I would recommend a South Dakota resident submit a Freedom of Information request (or whatever South Dakota calls it) to see if you can get that information from the Department.

According to the South Dakota Department of Education website, the South Dakota Board of Education moved to adopt the Common Core Standards on November 29, 2010.  Does this mean the Legislature had no knowledge and no debate about the Common Core?

I can’t speak authoritatively about how many legislators knew, how much they knew or when, but I can say the State Legislature did not debate or vote on these standards.

Next in this series will be answers on Data Mining & Sharing & Federal Involvement.

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