Few Certified Teachers in New Social Studies Task Force

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Over the past nine months, the topic of content standards for social studies education has been a controversial one.

The problems started in the summer of 2021 when the Department of Education (DOE) released a draft South Dakota Social Studies Standards, which differed greatly from the project submitted by a working group made up of several members of South Dakota’s educational and tribal communities. The DOE removed several mentions of Native American history and culture from the standards.

This decision, never fully explained by the DOE, led to a violent reaction from the original working group and South Dakota tribal communitiesas well as ask for resignation Governor Kristi Noem, DOE Secretary Tiffany Sanderson, Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute, and Indian Education Director Fred Osborn (a member of the original task force and newly announced commission).

On September 20, 2021, Noem asked the DOE not to consider revisions to state social studies standards at this time, instead directing them to delay the process for a year. Shortly after, she backtracked, announcing that she would rather relaunch the whole project with a new working group.

While a firm answer was never given for the modifications made to the initial project, Noem was vocal on the subject of education, rail against critical race theory and “divisive” concepts.

In his January 2022 State of the State Address, Noem invited Dr. Ben Carson to attend and mentioned his action pledge of 1776 as governor. Noem was the first candidate for public office to sign in May 2021, saying at the time that schools must stop teaching children to hate their country.

The initial 2021 working group consisted of 44 members, plus a facilitator and a leader. Of these 44 members, 31 of them were DOE-certified educators. Only eight of the members had never been certified and six had expired certifications.

The newly announced group however, has a different composition.

The members of the new group are:

  • Mark Miller, Chairman of the Commission (Noem’s Chief of Staff and former General Counsel)
  • Joe Circle Bear (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe)
  • Janet Finzen (a teacher from Nebraska)
  • Stephanie Hiatt (a USF alumnus with a doctorate in education)
  • Benjamin F. Jones, Ph.D. – State Historian
  • Dylan Kessler (Director of Operations at Primrose Retirement Communities and a graduate of private conservative liberal arts college Hillsdale, which teaches a curriculum based on “Western heritage”.)
  • Aaron Levisay (US Army FM Supervisor)
  • Christopher Motz (Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of South Dakota)
  • Shaun Nielsen (SD Educator)
  • Fred Osborn – State Director of Indian Education
  • Jon Schaff (Professor of Government at Northern State University / Director of the Center for Public History and Civic Engagement)
  • Mary Shuey (South Dakota educator with expired certification)
  • State Representative Tamara St. John (Sisseton Republican State Representative)
  • Samantha Walder (educator from South Dakota)
  • State Senator John Wiik (Republican State Senator from Big Stone City)

Of the 15 members of the new group, only 5 – Finzen, Hiatt, Nielsen, Shuey and Walder – appear to be or have been public school teachers.

Of these five, only Hiatt, Nielsen and Walder are currently certified by the South Dakota DOE. Shuey’s certification expired in 2020, while Finzen was never certified in South Dakota and teaches in Nebraska.

This means that of the 15 members of the new task force, only three, or 20 percent, are DOE-certified educators in South Dakota. That’s compared to 70% of the original task force members.

Meanwhile, 11 of the new group’s members have never been certified as educators by the DOE. This represents 73% of the group. By comparison, only 18% of the original group had never been certified.

The members themselves also generated interest.

As noted earlier, few public school teachers were included this time around. Moreover, only three members of the new task force would be members of tribal communities. They are Tamara St. John, Republican State Representative and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe; Joe Circle Bear, listed as a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; and Stephanie Hiatt, a University of Sioux Falls alumnus and member of the Seminole Tribe in Florida.

It is currently unknown to KELOLAND News if any other members are part of the tribal communities.

Other additions to the group include Mark Miller, Governor Noem’s chief of staff, who will serve as group chairman; Dylan Kessler, who is director of a retirement community; Aaron Levisay, former Warden for the Army; Republican State Senator John Wiik; and Christopher Motz, executive director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference.

The South Dakota Catholic Conference is the official voice of the bishops of South Dakota on public policy issues. Catholic schools in South Dakota are not subject to DOE rules.

Although St. John and Wiik are state legislators, neither serves on education committees.

Of the 15, only two, Nielsen and Indian education director Osborn, were members of the original group, although other former members told KELOLAND News they applied and were rejected.

One such member is Stephen Jackson, who holds a Ph.D. in History and a member of the 2021 Task Force which helped develop the World History Standards. “We got an email shortly after the press release last Friday saying, ‘Thank you for applying, but here’s what the band will ultimately look like,'” he said. was not selected.”

Jackson, who has a doctorate in history and is finishing a book on the history of education in the United States, says he does not know who was responsible for choosing the members of the group.

KELOLAND News has contacted the DOE with questions about the selection process, but we have not received a response at this time.

Jackson says he has hope for the new group, but the lack of certified South Dakota K-12 educators gives him some level of trepidation.

“That raises an eyebrow,” he said. “It makes me a little nervous because I think the perspective of practicing K-12 teachers or even retired K-12 teachers is invaluable.”

This “relative” lack of educational experience is something Jackson says is a big difference between this group and the original one.

“I think it’s saying something that there are as many politicians in this group as there are educators actually working in education, and if our goal is to have a set of standards that are widely accepted and non-ideological, I think it raises important questions,” he said.

When working on the standards, Jackson says his priority was to put “the best of our knowledge” in front of the students. “What is the best information we have and what will be the best for our students.”

Jackson and the rest of the group had much of this knowledge and information suppressed.

“In the history of the world, we’ve had a few references to indigenous peoples,” Jackson recalled. “They have all been removed – there was no mention of indigenous peoples in the revised standards.”

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