To the South Dakota Board of Education Standards:


To the South Dakota Board of Education Standards:

The following comments are made on behalf of the South Dakota Education Association regarding the proposed rule changes to the development of Academic Content Standards. 

Regarding proposed rule change 24:43:14:01, the proposed rule seems to reflect the current practice of the Board of Education Standards. SDEA does not take issue with putting current practice into rule; however, we do believe the proposed rule may be improved upon by adding language that ensures the inclusion of certified educators in the process. Practitioners in the field who understand pedagogy will have valuable insight on how standards will translate into lessons and whether standards are age appropriate.  We would suggest adding language to subsection a) to include certified educators and other important stakeholders such as parents. 

SDEA does appreciate that the proposed rule clearly states that the Board of Education Standards shall not mandate curriculum or instructional materials in subsection e). We agree that these decisions are best left to local control.

Our Association has several objections to proposed Rule 24:43:14:02.  First, we question the authority of the Board of Education Standards to adopt such language as a rule. The language reads much more like policy than procedure. The proposed rule appears to be an end-around of the state legislature, which rejected almost identical language during the 2022 Legislative Session after hearings in both Chambers.  

Adopting this language as a rule would create an unfortunate precedent. The legislative branch makes the laws, and the executive branch carries out the policies established in law. If the Board of Education Standards adopts this language as a rule, what in the future will stop the executive branch from turning legislation that fails the legislature into a rule? In our organization’s view this is an infringement of the legislative process. Adoption of this rule allows the bureaucrats to determine how we will educate students and not the parents and citizens of our state.

The language in the proposed rule is vague and confusing. How does the Board Interpret ‘inherently divisive concept’? The language: ‘but not limited to’ turns the standards review process into a subjective one.  Who determines what is divisive? We would argue that the language in this proposed rule will most certainly lead to the politicization of the standards review process.  Each new board member or new board may interpret the language in this rule differently.  In effect, the standards would be subject to change with each new administration. Ultimately this inconsistency leads to less stable learning conditions for our students and educators in each of our classrooms.

While wanting to protect students from personal exposure to bias, racism, classism, sexism, bigotry, etc. ought to be a goal within educational settings, the proposed language goes too far and prohibits the discussion of these topics in a constructive manner.  In fact, the language is in direct conflict with many of our existing curriculum standards and will have a chilling effect on promoting higher level thinking skills which require reasoning, analysis, evaluation, investigation, or synthesis of ideas. 

How does this new rule apply to the standards that have recently been adopted by the Board of Education Standards? For example, the Board gave final approval for the Career and Technical Education Standards on May 6, 2022.  The Human Services Career Cluster includes a course indicator that reads ‘Identify the effects of gender and culture on human development’.  It could be argued that this language may lead to classroom discussion that could be perceived as ‘inherently divisive’. 

The proposed rule will have a far-reaching effect on all content standards. For instance, the library standards for textual literacy require exploration of diverse perspectives, and those around civic and ethical literacy require students to collaborate to contribute to the free exchange of ideas in a diverse learning community. Likewise, the English Language Arts (ELA) writing standards require creating arguments that evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of issues and to identify bias and differences in points of view.

The ELA standards have students identifying fallacious reasoning in various texts, examining documents in US history, and analyzing the reasoning used. The speaking and listening standards for ELA require learning how to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas which requires the expression of opposing viewpoints. Without teaching students how to respectfully disagree with one another, these topics would certainly be inherently divisive; however, the standards provide a basis for combatting inherent divisiveness. For example, ELA 11-12. SL.1 requires students to participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions on a variety of texts and issues building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Similar ELA standards do the same thing for reading and writing in social sciences, science, and technical subjects. 

The mission statement for the Board of Education Standards reads: “As educational leaders, we will take a prominent role advocating a dynamic quality education for each student in South Dakota.”  

In SDEA’s view, the vagueness of proposed Rule 24:43:14:02 will only serve to tie the hands of the Board of Education Standards and politics will get in the way of adopting standards that truly foster rich and diverse discussions that are so vital in helping students develop their critical thinking skills.  The state standards will become static where critical thinking will be discouraged, and rote memorization will be the only acceptable teaching method in efforts to avoid anything that may be viewed as controversial.  This proposed rule will put the current Board and future Boards in the constant position of failing to meet its mission to advocate for a dynamic quality education for each student in South Dakota.

Finally, we fail to see the need to make the proposed language changes in rule 24:43:08:06. SDEA urges the Board to resist this rule change as the new language shifts the focus of a waiver from the student to district finances.  The language ‘better meet local learning goals, enhanced education opportunities, promote equity, or increase accountability’ is appropriately student focused. The new language: ‘stimulate innovation or student performance or when the district can address the intent of the administrative rule or policy in a more effective efficient, or economical manner’ suggests that a district may be granted a waiver if the district can demonstrate it is more economical for a district regardless of how it impacts student achievement. The use of the ‘or’ leads the reader to believe that only one of those criteria must be met to obtain a waiver.  We do not believe any waivers should be granted solely because it would be more economical, but that student learning and student achievement should always be the focus of the Board of Education Standards and the governmental agency tasked with providing students with a quality education.    

In conclusion, we believe the Board of Education Standards has a responsibility to the students of South Dakota. That responsibility includes ensuring their education helps them develop the necessary critical thinking skills that will aid them in becoming productive members of our society. They indeed deserve a dynamic education that challenges them to meet their fullest potential while having the freedom to learn in an environment where they can pursue their passions.