Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. January 10, 2023.

Editorial: YSD’s Stand On Proposed Standards

It was no surprise when the Yankton School Board voted unanimously Monday night to express its opposition to the latest proposed Social Studies standards for South Dakota schools.

In fact, that lack of surprise was the point.

The periodic updating of the state’s Social Studies standards has previously been an uneventful, little noticed exercise. But in 2021, when a special 46-person commission (which included Native American educators) submitted a final report that was then significantly altered by the governor’s office — it redacted much of the Native American education component — the firestorm began, and rightfully so. It prompted Gov. Kristi Noem to scuttle the draft proposal and put together a new 15-person commission last year that included a curious mix of political appointees, the director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference on Education and three teachers, two of whom weren’t even certified to teach in this state. The new standards consist of a lot of memorization that some educators believe is age-inappropriate in some cases.

The latest proposal is still in the review phase, and some school boards around the state are weighing in, like Yankton did.

However, the Yankton School District (YSD) turned its decision over to the teachers and to the public, conducting surveys with each group.

The Social Studies teachers were polled on their feelings about the new proposal, and 96% of them voiced their opposition, Superintendent Dr. Wayne Kindle told the YSD board Monday night. He had previously noted the result while speaking at a community forum held at Mount Marty in November.

The parents were also polled on their views, and more than 45% said they didn’t support the standards and another 36% said they were undecided “but support and value the opinion of their child’s teacher regarding the Social Studies standards.”

“When you combine that ‘I do not support the Social Studies standards,’ along with ‘I’m not sure but support and value the opinion of my child’s teacher,’ that was 81% of our 400 parents that took the survey,” Kindle noted. “When you take the answer about supporting and valuing the teacher’s opinion, we have 96% of our teachers that say they do not support it.”

YSD’s approach to this issue illustrates a glaring contrast. The decision approved by the school board Monday night was reached by extensive polling of some of the key stakeholders directly involved: the teachers and the parents of YSD students. This seems quite different from the process the state has used to formulate the current standards or from the consideration devoted to the first standards proposed.

It’s difficult to tell how this process will play out, and there are still some curves in the road ahead. But the YSD board deserves credit for letting its stance be guided by the views and feelings of its personnel and its constituents.