Superintendents voice concerns of social studies standards

In an open letter Tuesday, the South Dakota School Superintendents Association called for the Board of Education Standards to strike down the proposed standards.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 6:25 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - In less than a week, the ongoing fight over the proposed social studies standards from the Department of Education could be over. The Board of Education Standards is expected to vote on the standards at it’s fourth and final meeting in Pierre on Monday. But once again, educators from across the state are voicing their concerns about the standards, and are now calling on the board to vote against adopting them.

In an open letter Tuesday, the South Dakota School Superintendents Association called for the board to strike down the proposed standards that have had hundreds of public comments against them, with more testifying their opposition in person in three public meetings. The proposed standards have been revised twice since their introduction, but little of the content itself has actually changed.

SDSSA open letter to the South Dakota Board of Education Standards.
SDSSA open letter to the South Dakota Board of Education Standards.(Dakota News Now)

Association President Summer Schultz said even after those meetings and comments, superintendents across the state feel that no progress has been made in addressing their concerns and the concerns of other individuals across the state, especially current teachers.

“I worry that even though there’s been tremendous opposition, I just worry we’re not much farther along in making this a statewide effort to make the best standards we could,” Schultz said. “We might not all agree. But if overwhelmingly, in a process that is supposed to gather input, the input from South Dakotan individuals that are saying let’s take a second and re-look at this. If we aren’t listening that, what are we teaching our kids about a democratic process?”

MORE: South Dakota educators raise concerns with proposed social studies standards process

Those concerns include a return to rote-memorization of historical events and figures, a method that Schultz and others in education have said is a step back from the methods that schools use now to challenge students to examine history with context. Schultz said listing all of those out in content standards creates a list of items that students will need to remember, but with little in the way of explaining events and figures in their own words.

“I’ve been in education a long time, and I don’t believe in more standards and more listings, and more retelling, and more timelines. That sort of thing. More doesn’t always mean better.” Schultz said.

The increased content that the standards include will also require more time in the classroom to teach, and potentially cut into the time needed for other graduation requirements such as Career and Technical Education courses.

“I worry that there are some things lacking, and there some things that are going to take away from other areas that our state historically has said are important for kids to learn.” Schultz said.

MORE: Educators still question proposed social studies standards after revisions

The SDSSA is asking the Board of Education Standards to instead revisit the proposed social studies standards that were scrapped in 2021, put together by a larger workgroup made up of current educators from across the state. A complaint about the current proposed standards is how few current teachers and administrators made up the workgroup. Schultz said while the standards from 2021 are not perfect and will need to be reworked to address the concerns that individuals had about them at the time, it’s a better framework for teachers and students.

“At least take a look at what was created and give that a fair process before we throw it all out for these new standards that were created without South Dakota necessarily in mind at the time.” Schultz said.

Dakota News Now did reach out to the Department of Education for comment on the open letter for this story, and did not receive a response in time for it’s publication.