KATIE ZERR: Let’s create a better overall environment

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South Dakota legislators have a lot to consider in a short period of time. The pressure to accomplish what they set out to do is intense, especially on important issues such as education.

Educating our youth and having competent people to do that job should be foremost in the minds of those who are making the decision on funding and proposals.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed sweeping reforms to the state’s K-12 education system during his state of the state speech to the legislature, including annual $5,000 bonuses for the state’s best teachers, more bonuses for math and science teachers and an end to teacher tenure.

He proposed a multi-point plan aimed at reversing what the governor called stagnation in the state’s educational achievement. The plan follows through on his education platform of new teaching standards, a shift in the state’s testing program to emphasize improvement rather than static benchmarks and a teacher evaluation system. It pushes teacher accountability and results based pay.

Based on the results of those teacher evaluations, Daugaard is proposing to give the top 20 percent of teachers at every school district a $5,000 bonus every year.

We all have to agree results-based pay seems like a great idea and would work in many environments.

But in teaching, there are so many variables to consider that it would be a complicated process. To put that in the hands of administrators or a committee could be a recipe for disaster.

A teacher could meet the described standards of excellence but have one or two challenging students that keep that educator from reaching the level required to receive the bonus.

Who makes the decision that despite not reaching goals set because of intangibles, that teacher does deserve the bonus?

And isn’t that in itself opening a can of worms?

Nothing makes creates a problem where there was none before like money. Competition is great in any job and nothing makes us better at what we do than a push from someone else who wants what we have. But we do not have the same influences that a teacher does in their jobs.

They also have the future of our state in their hands.

So instead of giving a few bonuses that will cost $10 million per year in state funds, why not take that money and make South Dakota a better place earn a good living.

Why not increase the pay of all teachers in order to make our state a more desirable place to teach?

Daugaard’s emphasis is on math and science. He wants more qualified teachers in those subjects in order to push students to fill the needs of the state in their choice of careers.

There are merits to his plan, but shouldn’t the push be to have excellent teachers in all subjects? Shouldn’t the concentration be on giving those teachers the tools they need to accomplish goals set by their school districts?

Shouldn’t they have the resources they need to try new ideas and keep up with the ever-changing trends in education?

Why do they have to spend their own money to accomplish goals they set for themselves and their students because there is not enough funding available?

There are so many studies that prove excellent teachers, in many subjects, push students to become better citizens, make better life choices and become contributing members of the community.

If a district has the reputation of paying well across the board, having the resources to provide tools their instructors need and rewarding all who make strides in their jobs, doesn’t that make more sense that rewarding a chosen few?

Studies show that students who participate in the fine arts do better in school. They get better grades, they have better self-esteem and graduate and move on to higher education.

What makes that less important than math and science?

Instead of creating an environment that makes one more important than the other, why not give our teachers the resources to grow good math and science students and create the environment that makes them want to stay here?

– Katie Zerr –

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