Why State Legislatures Should Decide Standards

At a Common Core forum I participated in on Tuesday in Sioux Falls, SD, State Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-Sioux Falls), said that the South Dakota Legislature “never set content standards.”  She noted that has always been up to the State Board of Education.

She said that was done to keep politics out of standards.  That’s a nice sentiment.  It sounds good, but what ends up happening is you typically have a one-sided conversation.  This is illustrated by the process that Dr. Melody Schopp, the South Dakota Secretary of Education, outlined for the packed room:

  1. They attended webinars in order to learn more.
  2. In January 2010 the South Dakota Department of Education hired teachers to review standards.
  3. They crosswalked the standards then (comparing the Common Core to their current standards).
  4. February 2010 the sent that feedback to the school districts, and I believe she said they also received feedback from the school districts.
  5. In June and July of 2010 they hired teachers to review again.

This sounds great again if you are part of the education establishment.  The teachers who reviewed were hired by the Department.  How were they chosen?  School districts were made aware.  Who, the Superintendents?  The school boards?  Did they communicate with the community and parents?  Was both positive and negative feedback shared?

Dr. Rick Melmer, former South Dakota Secretary of Education, said that these meetings were open to the public.  He also said based on his experience that parents and community members typically don’t attend at the school district level or at the state level.

I am sure that is typically the case, but then again people typically don’t attend these meetings unless they know there is a reason to.  Did the average parent in South Dakota (or in any state) know this was going on?  State Representative Jim Bolin (R-Canton) said he served on the House Education Committee at the time and was not kept informed.  If members of the House Education Committee were unaware of the alignment to the Common Core how is your average citizen supposed to know?

Also, not addressing South Dakota specifically, most state boards of education, meet in a central location at a time not conducive to when people work.  South Dakota is a little better in that regard.  I have been told that their board meetings are held in different locations in the state (the next one is October 1 at 3:30p – central time – in Oacoma, SD).

But again I bring up the point if parents were not made aware of the process beyond posted notices on the Department website why would they show up?

Obviously we all from here on out should be proactive and make sure we check those sites and read the agendas.  Lesson learned.

Going back to State Senator Heineman’s point however.  The problem with having an unelected board make policy decisions like these is that it leaves “we the people” out of the process.  Legislators meet with their constituents, good ones solicit feedback from their constituents, and they are ultimately held accountable by their constituents for the decisions they make.

Where is the accountability for the State Board of Education?  There is none.  Legislators, if they want to keep being a legislator, have to be responsive to their constituency.  An unelected board does not, especially if they’re surrounded by an echo chamber. 

There are some states that do elect their State Board of Education like Kansas and Texas.  Members of the Kansas State Board of Education will have to answer to why they voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards despite a massive amount of negative feedback.  They approved those standards the day before a Fordham Institute report card on science standards came out giving Kansas science standards a higher grade than the Next Generation Science Standards.

Not to mention the process was not transparent enough and that was said by one of the board members.  Kansas State Board of Education they will need to answer for how they voted at the polls.  That isn’t the case in most states.

Kentucky’s State Board of Education also adopted the Next Generation Science Standards despite criticism.  A legislative committee voted against it 5-1.  Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said they would be adopting regardless.   They simply do not listen.

We’re seeing a similar process in Iowa.  We have an appointed task force to discuss the Next Generation Science Standards.  They have met twice already and will meet one more time to give their feedback to the State Board of Education.  The first task force meeting was, according to State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) (who is part of the task force) an infomercial for the Next Generation Science Standards given by members of the Iowa Department of Education. 

The last task force meeting I was told by a parent who attended, “the entire meeting was about Iowa Core with interjections of why NGSS is better. Little to no mention about content or cost.”

How in the world are they supposed to come to a decision if they don’t discuss content or cost?  Next meeting they are supposed to “come to a consensus” on whether or not to stay with Iowa’s current standards or adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.

No third option?  If Iowa’s standards stink how can we improve them ourselves?  How can they be strengthened without adopting the Next Generation Science Standards?

This task force appears to me to be a farce, but we’ll know for certain in October.

Perhaps State Legislatures don’t set content standards in most states.  The process of adoption for the Next Generation Science Standards offers a peek under the veil of how the Common Core State Standards were adopted in most states.  Seeing that it’s clear to me that the State Legislature should be the body that has the final say on what standards are set by their state.

3 thoughts on “Why State Legislatures Should Decide Standards

  1. Here in Oregon we essentially have an education czar. Our Governor appointed himself the State Superintendent of schools. Below him is an education investment board, comprised of major corporations and a health facility. The members are chose by him, at the whim of him and are not elected nor can they be deposed. More recently the have charged themselves with Early Learning. Now they are in charge of Pre-K -12, and influence higher ed as well. Community involvement is what they want it to be.

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