From my perspective, these were the year’s biggest stories in K-12 education in South Dakota:
10) Longitudinal data system – The state DOE finally has a data system linking students and teachers, along with a range of other indicators. It will enable the state to answer such questions as: Which teachers get the most out of their students? Does class size matter? Are online courses working for students? Which colleges produce the best teachers?
9) Project-based learning – Innovation Labs schools in southcentral South Dakota are dramatically changing the way those rural schools are run. Students learn through projects, taking advantage of technology, while teachers serve more as facilitators. Sioux Falls New Technology High isn’t rural but it’s a similar model.
8) Privatizing the school district – Working with the Sioux Falls School District, a company called Ombudsman opened a high school program for ELL students at the downtown Multi-Cultural Center. Next year, Ombudsman is taking over Joe Foss alternative high school, which will merge in 2014 with Ombudsman’s two-year-old alternative high school.
7) Spanish immersion – Parents of current, future and wait-listed students persuaded the school board to expand the Spanish immersion school, adding two kindergarten classes at Robert Frost Elementary. The board later agreed to give Spanish immersion its own elementary school in northwest Sioux Falls in 2016.
6) Teacher training – The Board of Regents decided every teaching candidate must spend a full year teaching alongside a veteran teacher before they graduate. The goal is to have them ready for their own classroom on day one. Private schools may soon follow.
5) School lunch – The Congressional health kick hit schools hard as athletes and other big kids left the cafeteria hungry. The USDA relaxed its rules a bit this month, lifting the cap on meat and grains.
4) ‘No Child’ gets left behind – South Dakota received an Obama administration waiver from No Child Left Behind and installed its own point system for keeping schools accountable.
3) School consolidation – The Sioux Falls School Board voted to close Longfellow and Jefferson and replace Mark Twain elementary.
2) Tax measure fails – A 1-cent sales tax increase to undo the funding cuts of a year ago failed at the polls, guaranteeing K-12 funding will be a top-three issue before the Legislature for years to come.
1) Reform fails – South Dakota lawmakers briefly caught the reform bug, passing by a single vote Gov. Daugaard’s bill that would have changed the way we evaluate and compensate our teachers. The teachers union gathered the signatures to refer the law to voters, who overwhelmingly rejected it.
Common Core Standards implementation begins.
ELL students – DOE doesn’t think English learners should have to take the Dakota STEP, and some lawmakers want to give schools more money for ELL students.
Legislative Audit raised legal questions about fees for summer school.