Greetings from Pierre

By Rep. Ray Ring

In my last column I mentioned that the Interim Education Funding Formula Study Committee recommended a 3.8 percent increase in school funding for next year, to bring funding back to its 2010 level.

House Bill 1004, which does that, passed the House Education Committee last week by 13-2 and now goes to the Appropriations Committee. I voted “yea.” Several people testified for the bill; the only opposition came from a representative of the Governor, whose budget recommends only a 3.0 percent increase.

The Common Core also came in for a lot of discussion. The Common Core standards were developed by experts with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officers. The standards do not prescribe curricula or tell teachers what or how to teach. As one person familiar with them said, they don’t tell teachers what to do, but they do tell them what their students should be able to do.

Proponents claim that the standards are more rigorous than previous standards and require more “higher level” thinking, rather than the rote learning of the past. The South Dakota Board of Education, with guidance from the State Department of Education, adopted the standards in 2010 and has been preparing teachers for them.

Under Common Core, local districts are free to choose their own textbooks and curricula and teachers get to decide how best to help students meet the standards. Many critics of the public school systems have complained of lack of rigor and that students weren’t “learning how to think.”

In my own experience, a major weakness of college students is their inability to do more than memorize and recall. After the problems with No Child Left Behind, policy makers – including legislators – need to be vigilant, but Common Core standards seem to address some of schools’ shortcomings, and I’m willing to give them a chance. That’s why I spoke and voted against House Concurrent Resolution 1008, which called for ending the state’s involvement with Common Core by June 30, 2017.

I have heard from several opponents and proponents of the Common Core. One particular email was very thoughtful and sensible, and its writer kindly agreed to my quoting it. Here are excerpts:

Universities and employers alike have been voicing concerns about young peoples’ lack of skill in the area of how to think. Very, very few employers require an employee to be able to recite Chaucer; every employer requires an employee to know how to think through problems and find a solution, as do universities. …

The Chamber of Commerce supports it [Common Core] as well as an investment in our future workforce. …

Common Core cannot be successful without the proper resources for its implementation. This curriculum is not the low-budget what to think education South Dakota excelled at providing in my years as a K-12 student. It requires more close teacher-student interaction; creative teaching methods and lesson plans; and significant classroom adaptations for varying learning styles and abilities among students.

Common Core can be a very successful curriculum if we invest in it. Schools need the resources to implement it. As a parent, I would like to see more qualified, experienced aids in the classroom to help students, especially if class sizes are large; more options at earlier grades to allow students to progress based on mastery; and increased funding for teacher salaries so we have the best and brightest teaching our students, not the cheapest in the nation. Education is a calling like many professions, but because people love their work is not an excuse to pay them poorly.

Teaching a student how to think as Common Core does, offers a lifetime of learning and growth. I think our state should invest the necessary resources, substantively more than are being provided now, to make Common Core as successful as it can possibly be.”

I welcome your opinions and viewpoints, and appreciated the big turnout for Saturday’s cracker barrel in Vermillion. Reach me at Rep.Ring@state.sd.us or (605) 675-9379.

Please don’t forget cracker barrels on Feb. 15, 10 a.m., at the Irene Community Center; Feb. 15, 1:30 p.m., at the Viborg School Library; and March 1, 10 p.m. at the Vermillion City Hall. Hope to see you there.

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