The Associated Press
The Argus Leader. Aug. 13, 2012
Teacher evaluations shouldn't be a threat
It's no secret that it is difficult to measure the success of teachers, because they can inspire and mold students in so many ways.
They teach the mysteries of math, the intricacies of science and the complexities of reading and writing. Success or failure in those subject areas traditionally have been measured with standardized testing. But many teachers also instill a love of learning, guide students into future careers, build self-confidence, watch out for their well-being and share the concern that comes from a caring adult. Those things tend to be priceless, immeasurable.
In South Dakota, as in the rest of the states, our schools are going to attempt to rate teachers based on test scores and more. The leader of a work group coming up with a system for the state has told education leaders it is going to take time to judge teachers, the time of teachers and their administrators.
By the 2014-15 school year, South Dakota teachers will be judged as distinguished, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory. Ironically or not, those categories are similar in nature to how students have been judged under No Child Left Behind.
The group developing criteria is asking schools to provide annual formal and informal observations and a peer observation. The state is working on a way to train every school principal on how to evaluate teachers using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching.
The process will add time to the busy days of school administrators and teachers. Ideally, there will be more feedback between each school's top academic administrator and those in the classrooms. That sets up a great learning experience and a good way to improve teacher quality in cases where it is needed. Hopefully, it will add to the learning environment and not take precious time away.
But it also opens up the possibility that some administrators and teachers will do the minimal amount of work to meet the state requirements. We hope that is not the case.
Like it or not, times are changing and have continually changed in education. Looking for ways to improve teacher quality is a great goal. It shouldn't threaten anyone, and it should be viewed as an opportunity more than a mandate.
South Dakota generally has good schools and good teachers, but there always is room for improvement. There are chances to learn and grow, even for teachers.
Done well — even though judging teachers is difficult — the feedback given under the upcoming evaluations could inspire an educator to do an even better job of teaching the state's students and instilling in them the love of learning. That's the goal and the hope, after all. It's also what students deserve.
Watertown Public Opinion. Aug. 16, 2012
The reality of the death penalty
Tina Curl wants to see Donald Moeller die.
Actually, Curl wants to watch Moeller die.
Curl's daughter, Becky O'Connell, was killed in 1990 when she was 9 years old. O'Connell was abducted from a Sioux Falls convenience store, raped and murdered.
Moeller was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death.
Though no date has been set for Moeller's execution, Curl told a Sioux Falls media outlet she will be present when it does occur.
She "won't get any peace of mind" until Moeller is dead, "and I will be there to see it," Curl told the television station.
The United States is one of the few "first world" countries that still embraces capital punishment. As long as capital punishment is legal, it is difficult to argue Moeller does not deserve to be executed. Kidnapping. Raping. Murdering. All three committed against an all-but defenseless 9-year-old.
But if we are going to execute our most reprehensible criminals, we should not allow myths to intrude upon reality. Two of those myths are that execution provides "peace of mind" and "closure."
It provides neither.
The families of the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing anticipated they would have peace and closure when convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed. Those feelings were even stronger, they said, after McVeigh's federal execution was delayed by a month.
But, one year after McVeigh's eventual execution, most family members reported they felt no peace, no closure nor any better than they did before the execution.
The problem the United States has with capital punishment is not our pre-biblical "eye for an eye" sense of justice. Rather, it is the misguided notion that executing a heinous criminal accomplishes more than simply the execution of a heinous criminal.
Studies have shown:
— It costs more to execute a criminal than it does to imprison him for life;
— Executing a criminal does nothing to deter crime and;
— Execution does not — despite what they may say ahead of an execution — help the victims' families find peace or closure.
Despite what people in many other countries may say, executing the darkest, most sordid members of our criminal society is not inherently wrong. Doing it under false pretenses, though, is inherently wrong. If we are too meek to accept the facts of why we are executing someone (the "fact" being we can) then, perhaps, we should not be doing it.
Donald Moeller likely will die for the death of Becky O'Connell. But we would not honor our responsibility as a free people if we did not acknowledge the real reason for his death.
The Daily Republic, Mitchell. Aug. 10, 2012
Heat renews debate about global warming
Five years ago, The Daily Republic opined that maybe there is something to all of this global warming talk.
We openly noted that global warming is debatable, but also said that it is "hard to turn the other cheek when faced with news that Arctic sea ice is just half of what it was four years ago."
Again, that was five years ago. And then, of course, the years after we wrote that featured wet and cool summers and downright frigid and snowy winters.
It prompted a few folks to good-naturedly jab us every time a cold streak set in. Well, at least we assume those were good-natured jabs.
Now, we have read that July was the hottest month ever recorded in the United States. In fact, three of the five hottest Julys on record came in the recent past, including 2012, 2011 and 2006.
And sure enough, a report by The Associated Press noted that analysts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research say that these hot streaks are due, in part, to climate change.
Said analyst Kevin Trenberth: "Global warming from human activities has reared its head in a way that can only be a major warning for the future."
Great. Now we're worried once again.
We readily acknowledge that theories behind global warming vary, and some consider the idea complete hogwash. Naysayers simply point out that Earth has a way of working in cycles, sometimes hot and dry, sometimes cool and wet.
But the scientific data seem real enough and the statistics are a bit intimidating. And long streaks of heat only tend to make us wonder anew if global warming is truly the looming catastrophe some claim it is.
It's too bad the controversy is mired in politics. We suppose former Vice President Al Gore's role in the issue has made it so, but it shouldn't be a political hot potato.
It's hot enough already.