South Dakota Board of Education Standards hosting Sioux Falls meeting

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Debate around the proposed social studies standards continued Monday in Sioux Falls. 

The South Dakota Board of Education Standards hosted its second of four statewide meetings on the proposed standards at 9 a.m. at the Sioux Falls Convention Center.

A total of up to 90 minutes will be allowed for proponent and opponent testimony. More than 200 people attended the hearing and those against the new standards far outnumbered supporters.

Members of the board are: Becky Guffin, Phyllis Heineman, Rich Meyer, Terry Nebelsick, Linda Olsen, Julie Westra and Steve Willard. All members were present in Sioux Falls. 

Nebelsick was elected the new president of the board and Guffin is the new vice president.

The board did not vote on the approval of the standards on Monday. That vote will come after the fourth public meeting held in 2023. The next two board of education meetings will be in Pierre on Saturday, Feb. 11 and in Rapid City on Monday, April 17. 

After both sides presented testimony, Shannon Malone with the South Dakota Department of Education gave a summary of the submitted public comment. Malone said as of Nov. 18, the DOE has heard 968 public comments on the proposed standards. In total, proponents have submitted 103 public comments, opponents submitted 828 and there’s been 37 neutral comments. 

The DOE asked the board for an extra year to implement the proposed standards if passed. The standards wouldn’t go into effect until the 2025-26 school year. Public hearings will continue in 2023.

The board approved the motion for the changes to the implementation timeline. If the social studies are not approved, the timeline will need to be changed again.

Dr. Ben Jones, state historian and state historical society director, gave the untimed rebuttal in favor of the proposed standards. Jones said South Dakota teachers were used in the process of developing the standards along with a wider group of people.

Jones noted the American Historical Association letter and said he was surprised when it came out. Before proponent testimony, Jones said teachers adapted to remote teaching in March 2020 when Gov. Kristi Noem closed schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said teachers could adapt to the proposed social studies standards.

“These standards start with the content,” Jones said. “The benefit of content-rich standards are many.” He said it helps close the achievement gap.

Jones said low income students are dependent on schools to provide content. He said young students would be exposed to a wider variety of terms and events through the proposed social studies standards.   

“They will be supported by the department for quality implementation,” Jones said. 

Opponent testimony

Jeff Danielson spoke first against the proposed standards. The Watertown superintendent was speaking on his behalf and said time investment will shift away from other subjects towards social studies if the standards are passed. 

Tanna Stadler, a mother, said the standards ignore factors that improve the learning process. She said early learners would have too much to memorize and students won’t understand what they’re being told to memorize. 

“Volume does equal rigor,” Stadler said. 

Stadler said the state doesn’t have a good history of funding for K-12 education and she questions if there would be enough funding to implement the new standards. 

Eric Toft, a former teacher who lives in Brookings, said the proposed standards will gut the current geographic classes from the current standards. Toft said he worked on the 2015 commission and said the geography of capitals can be easily googled. 

He said making connections between places and understanding how GPS works are important for geography classes today. He said world population totals are absent from the proposed standards as well as modern immigration topics.

Brian Wagner, education consultant for the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes, said all nine Native American tribes oppose the proposed standards. Wagner said Native American religion is not mentioned in the proposed standards. He said how Native American Day was created in South Dakota is also missing.

Ryan Rolfs, the executive director of the South Dakota Education Association, said teachers are busy teaching and can’t speak to the standards. He said SDEA requested a weekend meeting so more teachers could participate without taking paid time off but no answer to that request has been received.

Rolfs asked if the board would listen to educators because they are making their opposition known.

Emily Fink said she is a parent and no one has paid her to speak. She said she has an 8th-grader who would not be considered successful based on the proposed standards. 

Emily Fink said she is a parent and no one has paid her to speak. She said she has an 2nd-grader who would not be considered not successful based on the proposed standards. She said they are too complex. 

Paul Harens, a retired Yankton teacher and member of the original 2021 social studies commission, said K-12 teachers are not teaching Critical Race Theory in classes. 

Harens said the proposed standards don’t allow for debate. Harens said Gov. Noem and Hillsdale College want to use South Dakota as an example.

“The real propaganda is coming from the national GOP,” Harens said. 

Michael Amolins said he is speaking on behalf of his family. He said verbs matters and that’s why these proposed social studies standards matter. He said there’s a lack of active learning, applied skills and accountability in the proposed standards. 

Robert Hoffmann, a retired teacher, said he is not concerned with the content of the proposed standards but the process of the social studies standards. He said the process has been hijacked by out-of-state, partisan influences. 

Shannon Steckelberg, a mother with students in the Harrisburg school district, said she really likes the Harrisburg school system. She said she doesn’t understand why more South Dakota teachers were used to make the proposed standards. 

“You must work with those who have experience,” Steckelberg said. “Memorization and understanding concepts aren’t the same.”

Steckelberg said first graders would be required to memorize the preamble and said many first graders don’t understand many of the words in the preamble. 

Dr. Stephen Jackson, a University of Sioux Falls history professor and member of the 2021 workgroup, asked why the process of inquiry is left out of the public education standards. 

“Inquiry is a significant part of history,” Jackson said.  “South Dakota would be the only inquiry-free state in the United States.” 

Jackson said he understands there is political pressure on the board but he asked to do what is right by students and oppose the standards. 

Clayton Lehmann said he is a history professor and is speaking on his own behalf. He said the proposed standards are backwards looking at facts and findings instead of looking for critical evidence. He quoted the letter from the national American Historical Association, which criticized the proposed standards, saying they would do significant harm to students in the state.

Crystal Groeneweg, a parent and special education teacher, said the proposed standards will take an emotional toll on younger learners as well. She said there will be a bigger need for special education teachers. 

Benjamin Daggett, a high school senior in Tea, said there is a teacher shortage and students like him would be driven out of the state because of the standards. He said he wants to teach in South Dakota. 

Brianne Bolstad, a teacher in South Dakota and member of the 2015 social studies group, said the proposed standards have too much memorization. She said there’s a lot of violent events expected to be taught at young grades. 

Brenda Van Beek, a parent in Harrisburg, said the process hasn’t served South Dakota. She said major changes in complex systems cause many complications. She asked why there needs to be another burden on teachers and mentions how little teachers are paid in South Dakota. 

Van Beek said she votes Republican but believes this has been a very bad idea. 

Katherine Erdman Becker, a parent, said the proposed standards won’t achieve the intended outcome. 

Dawn Marie Johnson said there should be a more inclusive process for social studies standards. She said there’s no Sioux Falls School District representative on the commission and she said she supports a weekend meeting to allow more teachers to attend. 

Linda Heerde, a longtime teacher and school board member, said she is speaking on her own behalf. She said she’s heard concerns from parents, teachers and administrators all opposed to the proposed standards. 

Kyrie Dunkley, an artist in Sioux Falls, a parent and member of the Indian education committee in Sioux Falls, said she doesn’t support religion or charter schools from out-of-state having influence on the curriculum of public schools in South Dakota. 

She also advocated for the expansion of the Oceti Sakowin-based curriculum along with language immersion and a deeper understanding of treaty knowledge.

Kathie Tuntland, a retired teacher and administrator, brought up the American Historical Association letter. She said students won’t be allowed to compete in National History Day sanctioned competitions if the proposed standards are adopted.

Ruth Grinager said she doesn’t like to see South Dakotans lose out on decision making. 

Kevin Cole, who teaches at USF, thanked teachers and said he wished more lawmakers had faith in them. He said the standards are objectives and curriculum mandate.

RoxAnn Neeman, a longtime teacher from the Lennox school district, said there’s not enough South Dakota history in the proposed standards. 

Proponent speakers

More than 20 speakers spoke in favor of the proposed social studies standards for a total of 90 minutes.

Four people not from South Dakota spoke in favor of the social studies standards. Two were involved with education in Idaho, one was a principal in Colorado and one with the John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in Maryland. 

The first proponent speaker was Aaron Levisay, a member of the social studies standards commission. He referenced JFK’s famous speech about America going to the moon because it is hard. He said people in South Dakota are ready to sacrifice to teach the new social studies standards.

Cole Heisey, a Sioux Falls resident, said he’d like to go back to school to learn what he wasn’t taught and he was impressed by the new standards. He said it will be up to teachers to teach to a curriculum.

Penny BayBridge,a homeschool parent, spoke in favor of the standards and said a TV game show showed there was a shortage in civics. She said children are sponges and want to learn. 

Steve Sibson, of Mitchell, said the current social studies standards were written by someone from Wisconsin from a national education organization that supports Critical Race Theory. Sibson said protests in 2020 were more about destroying American history rather than learning from it. 

Jon Nash, a recent South Dakota State University graduate, said he wishes he could go back and learn these standards. Nash said he’s been taught there are many things wrong with America. He said K-12 education should teach what is right with America. 

Nash said Native American education were just a “blip” in his education and the new standards would allow more Native American history to be taught.

Allen Weate, a former teacher who moved to South Dakota four years ago, said he supports the standards because it requires students to search for truths – bad and good. Weate said the standards do require critical thinking by learning past history.

Janet Finzen, a member of the social studies standards commission and former teacher in Nebraska who lives in Dakota Dunes, said the standards are written with students and parents in mind. Finzen wrote an op-ed in favor the standards.

“No one owns history, but we are all responsible for it,” Finzen said.

Christina David, representing herself, said she was excited to read the standards. She said she is concerned about the protests against the standards. She said her sons switched to homeschool and thrived.

Larry Fossum said he has 16 grandkids in schools and supports the proposed standards. He said there’s a massive disconnect between the Indian reservations and people in other areas of South Dakota. He said it is time to stop focusing on who wrote the standards.

Maggie Sutton, an outgoing lawmaker and substitute teacher, said students need to embrace thinking and to think out-of-the box. She said she’s worried about the public school system. 

“We need to teach students not to settle for the norm,” Sutton said.

Stephanie Hiatt, a member of the commission, is testifying via Zoom. She said the committee went over every line of the proposed standards. She said students in Sioux Falls are learning Spanish at the same time as English and the new standards will challenge young learners.

Hiatt said there is more memorization but it helps students build knowledge that will be helpful later in education.

Steve Lambert, a teacher of a classical academy in Fruitland, Idaho, testified via Zoom. He said his school is a Hillsdale K-12 school full of a rich, civics curriculum. Lambert said the Hillsdale curriculum at his school has been successful and the school leads in statewide tests.

Robert Garrow, a principal in Colorado, said his school uses standards similar to the content at his school. He said teachers are more than capable of teaching these standards and students are capable of learning from them.

David Steiner, John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, said the standards don’t “whitewash or indoctrinate” and noted how hard that is to accomplish. He said South Dakota would have the best social studies standards in the country. Steiner said memorization is also learning by heart.

He said education has given up on content and focuses on the process too much now. He said the social studies standards provide a good bedrock for students to learn and benefit from.  

Linda Montgomery, from Fairview, South Dakota, said she has four grandkids and she supports the proposed standards. She said she’s proud her 4-year-old grandkid can do The Pledge of Allegiance.

Jessica Pollema, a Lincoln County resident, said she wants to trust teachers. She brought up a “white privilege test” taught in a Sioux Falls high school revealed during the legislative session last year. 

She brought up litter boxes in schools and wondered what is actually happening in schools. She said she wants to set the bar higher in South Dakota.

David Goodwin, President for the Association of Classical Christian Schools in Idaho, spoke in favor of the standards. Goodwin said the standards lay out an excellent timeline. 

Karla Lems, a newly elected lawmaker from District 16, said students deserve an honest education and the bar should be set high. Lems said look at how Gov. Noem has been challenged in life and has rose to the occasion. She said kids can also rise the challenge of harder standards.

Sue Peterson, a state lawmaker from District 13, said the submitted written public comments come from paid lobbyists. She said the new standards come from parents and the board should listen to parents over teachers.   

9 a.m.

Malone discussed how the process with content standards works. 

Malone said the proposed social studies, if implemented, would take time for all teachers to feel comfortable and confident in teaching. The DOE will provide professional development in Summer 2023 and ongoing to build knowledge and capacity to implement the new standards.

Malone said there will be a social studies summit to explore resources available. Malone said there’s more than $800,000 to go towards implementation of the standards. 

Along with social studies, Career & Technical Education standards for Business Management & Administration, Hospitality & Tourism, Marketing, Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics and Capstone Courses are being discussed.

Laura Scheibe, the division director for college, career and student success with the South Dakota Department of Education, is discussing the standards for Business Management & Administration, Hospitality & Tourism, Marketing, Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics and Capstone Courses.

There was one public comment submitted for the CTE standards regarding Business Management and Administration.

8:50 a.m.

Ahead of the meeting, more than 800 pages of public comments on the social studies standards have been released. 

Many of the comments opposed to the proposed standards center around concern that they are not “developmentally appropriate” for the various grade levels.

The South Dakota Department of Education has released three op-eds in support of the proposed standards. Janet Finzen, a member of the Social Studies Standards Revision Commission who worked on the proposed standards, wrote “complex social studies standards empower students to succeed in school and later in their careers and life.” 

The South Dakota Education Association has provided a side-by-side comparison for each grade level to the standards approved in 2015. 

Sandra Waltman, SDEA director of communications and government relations, told KELOLAND News in October the proposed standards haven’t changed and therefore the opposition remains from the SDEA and many other education associations and teachers across the state. 

Waltman said the main concerns are about memorization, the amount of content and the cost of changing curriculums to match the proposed standards. 

There is no current state or federal test that measures how students are learning about social studies in South Dakota. The proposed social studies standards doesn’t change that, but Waltman said part of how public schools are accredited is through aligning with statewide standards. 

Francis McGee

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