SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As the debate around the proposed social studies standards will shift to Sioux Falls, school districts are taking a look at the impact new standards may have on local curriculums. 

The second of four Board of Education public meetings will be held Monday, Nov. 21 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. Registration for public comment opens in 10 days on Friday, Nov. 4. Two future meetings will be held in Pierre and Rapid City, before the proposed social studies standards could be approved in March 2023. 

Since the ending of the Aberdeen meeting, where supporters and opponents of the standards received up to 90 minutes apiece followed by an untimed rebuttal from Northern State professor Jon Schaff, education groups say their concerns remain. 

Sandra Waltman, South Dakota Education Association director of communications and government relations, told KELOLAND News the proposed standards haven’t changed, and the opposition remains from the SDEA and many other education associations and teachers across the state. 

“The concerns we have about the age appropriateness, the amount of rote memorization and just the amount of content that teachers, especially in the elementary grades, are supposed to cover in the course of a year. That is still a concern,” Waltman said. “School districts are looking at their curriculum across the K-12 system and realizing that they’re going to have to do a whole revamp and it’s going to cost dollars.”  

The cost of new social studies curriculums to meet the proposed standards was the topic of discussion at a Belle Fourche School Board meeting earlier this month.  

Angela Reder, the curriculum/assessment coordinator for the Belle Fourche School District, said there’s an estimation of $9 million would be spent by school districts state-wide to buy new curriculum and to pay the cost of teacher training to follow the proposed standards. 

“Currently the only curriculum available that aligns to the proposed standards is the 1776 Hillsdale curriculum,” Reder told KELOLAND News. 

The South Dakota Department of Education says $800,000 has been earmarked “to provide support and technical assistance to schools across the state, as they work towards implementation.” 

Waltman said the proposed standards would change local school district curriculums and pointed to fourth grade as a place where the proposed standards would impact students. 

“In fourth grade, students focus on South Dakota history and a lot of that history is tied to our agricultural economy,” Waltman said. “There is a program called South Dakota agriculture in the classroom, in which an organization called Ground Works produces a free curriculum for schools to use.”

Waltman said the Ground Works/SD Ag in the Classroom, created in 2011, aligns with the current social studies content standards for fourth grade. 

“That will no longer be an option for schools because that content will not align with the fourth-grade standards anymore,” Waltman said. “When you look at the standards overall, and how South Dakota history is sprinkled within those standards, there’s really not a place for that free curriculum that is so rich in South Dakota history.” 

The SDEA provided a side-by-side comparison of the current social studies standards from 2015 and the proposed social studies standards. 

How is social studies measured? 

There is no current state or federal test that measures how students are learning about social studies in South Dakota at the present time. The proposed social studies standards doesn’t change that, but Waltman said part of how public schools are accredited is through aligning with statewide standards. 

“They will look at the curriculum that you were using at each grade level and how it aligns with the standards,” Waltman said. “That really is how schools and teachers will be held accountable to meet those standards.” 

Public school standards for teachers or for the public? 

During his untimed rebuttal, Schaff told the Board of Education social studies standards and other education standards belong to the public and not just teachers and teacher interest groups. 

“Public education is a public matter,” Schaff said during the September meeting in Aberdeen. 

Waltman said she agreed public involvement in education is important and said the SDEA encourages the public to attend local school board meetings and for parents to be involved every day in their children’s school. 

“But when it comes to the development of the standards, you need the professionals in the classroom having an honest discussion and who understand how education works as a whole,” Waltman said. “This is really telling the students you need to come to what we want you to learn at this point in time, whether or not it’s age appropriate for them or, whether or not, that type of learning is appropriate for them.”

After the first public meeting, the Department of Education said 707 public comments came in via the Internet or standard mail and broke into 25 neutral comments, 67 proponents and 615 opponents to the proposed standards. KELOLAND News reached out to the Department of Education about the latest public comments on the standards but have not received a response. 

Waltman said she believes people who were signed up to testify in Aberdeen but did not get a chance will be the first to receive a chance for the Nov. 21 meeting in Sioux Falls.

“I really hope that people start to pay attention to what this means for our students’ overall education,” Waltman said. “And I hope that they take a look at the standards and voice their concerns.”