That the Legislature’s rules review committee told the state Department of Education “do-not pass go” on the teacher evaluation rules Tuesday is hardly a setback, because this is a state law that must be followed or repealed, and thus the rules will eventually get through the committee or be suspended altogether until the 2012 legislative session. But the situation does reflect a deeper problem that has become increasingly evident at the department in the past eight years.
The teacher-evaluation process was ordered by the Legislature in 2010 with a deadline of July 1, 2011, for the department to implement rules. The original legislation, SB 24, was sponsored by the department and the Rounds administration. Lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the final version 58-12 in the House and 32-2 in the Senate, and Gov. Mike Rounds signed the legislation into law on March 9, 2010. The department had nine months to get the plan in order before Rounds’ time in office ended, but the work didn’t get done. That Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard made clear he wouldn’t retain Education Secretary Tom Oster perhaps didn’t help, but that didn’t become clear until after the November election. What was happening between March and November 2010? I would expect some legislators might now ask that question. Deputy secretary Melody Schopp eventually was promoted to the top post by Daugaard. There again, under the third secretary in three years, the department failed to timely act. The rules, which are nothing more than a copy of the nationally-recognized Danielson program for teacher responsibilities, weren’t submitted to the state Board of Education in time to meet the July 1, 2011, deadline set in state law. The department is still working on the hard part of developing a process for school systems to use and then providing the training.
That so many months were allowed to pass with so little action is a reflection of broader challenges that were clear within the department during the first years of the Rounds administration when Rick Melmer was secretary of education. Rounds in his first year brought in Tom Hawley, who is one of the pros in teacher education in our state university system, on an interim basis to evaluate the department and redesign it. Tom was intended as a transition on a temporary basis, and he returned to the university system (and now is at Northern State University). Rounds hired Melmer, who was superintendent at the Watertown school district, and a lot of the redesign was, well, redesigned again. The charismatic Melmer made a lot of believers in state government, but he left the department as he continued his career climb and was chosen dean of education at the University of South Dakota, where president Jim Abbott had been struggling to get the ship on course. What was left behind was a mess. Melmer and Rounds had launched their 2010E program for education, with many goals that weren’t accomplished — to the point where the web pages that were supposed to show the progress on the goals didn’t get updated. 2010E was essentially left to wither. Why things didn’t get done on 2010E isn’t clear. The Legislature resisted the laptop program, but there were other pieces where follow-through seemed to evaporate. Whether the department has too much to do, or doesn’t have the right people in the right spots, or has some other challenges isn’t clear from the outside. In the case of the teacher-evaluation rules, the department’s original version of the legislation had a Jan. 1, 2011, deadline, but the final version gave an extra six months. Even that proved not enough. The bottom line is, given the department’s performance under the Rounds administration, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that teacher-evaluation didn’t get put into place on time, even though it was a department-sought change, and even with a 15-month window for developing the rules.