"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson


Monday, March 4, 2019

Substitute SB149: Test metrics are flawed. Funding shouldn't follow

This is my letter to the House Ed Committee asking for a substitute for SB149.
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I would like to request a substitution to SB 149 that removes the funding tie to school grading and a 1% increase in points under the state accountability system.  The moment we tie funding to the accountability system, we need to guarantee that the accountability system is flawless.  If there is one instance of a school that should get money and doesn’t or vice versa, it is an unjust system.  It also sets a precedent that elevates our accountability system above all other metrics, including those that the student’s parents hold in higher regard.  Also, an accountability system that focuses on a single data-point in time, aka the statewide test, results in a monolithic system that doesn’t allow for those students and/or schools that don’t fit into the “box”.  Statewide accountability should be seen as an interesting data point.  But tying funding to it, elevates it to a level that reduces accountability to the parents and taxpayers and reduces choice in what and how a child learns best.

Instead, the accountability metrics for SB149 can and should be managed at the local board level, as proposed by the principal.  If, for example, the principal and SCC want to use this money to pay for additional special ed aides, then the metric would be different than if they wanted to pay for additional science resources.  Purchasing special ed aides will not, necessarily, increase test scores, but it may be the right thing to do.  Science resources, again, might improve test scores on science, but it may simply be a better experience for students.  And there may be a better metric than science scores(number of students passing science, for example or participating in science fairs, etc).  Or, in the case of science, they may want to focus only on improvement in science scores as opposed to the aggregate of English, Math and Science.  And science alone may not lead to the necessary rate of improvement contained in this bill. 

It would be nice if we could find a simple testing system that was easy to use and applicable to all, but the process of educating human beings and how those children react is more complex than just a simple measure on a test score.  Additionally, our tests measure HOW students answer questions, not just objective fact. 

Importantly, there are several examples of where our accountability system fails.  Just 3 of those are:
1.Dixie Montessori which is in Turnaround status.  They are a Montessori school which is much less focused on test taking and test prep.  Parents choose this kind of a school for a reason.  Should they not qualify for this money because they don’t fit the mold of what a “school” is supposed to look like?
2.UCAS which is the charter associated with UVU.  Students take college courses at UVU during high school and graduate with an Associates’ Degree at the time of their HS graduation.  Under our current grading system, UCAS is not proficient in the college-readiness category, because they don’t offer AP courses.
3.Lone Peak HS: A couple of years ago, Lone Peak received a ‘D’ grade and later appealed to receive a ‘C’ grade.  Lone Peak has the highest AP testing rate and one of the highest AP pass rates in the state.  They have a 96% graduation rate (last I checked), and they score proficiently on our testing, as well as having a much higher than the state average on the ACT.  By those measures, Lone Peak is doing well.  Where they “fail” is in not having enough non-proficient students improving at the “appropriate” level (as determined by Student Growth Percentile—which is a whole other discussion).

If our accountability metric fails for just a few schools, then they will be unnecessarily punished when we tie funding to their outcomes.  Additionally, I am concerned with Special Needs schools (Alpine district has two: Dan Peterson and Horizon) and how this testing metric will apply to them.  Special needs students are tested on age/grade-level not developmental-level.  Under that scenario, how will they improve 1% each year?  For those who take the alternative test because they are in the 1% of the most cognitively disabled, is a 1% point improvement every year possible?  I don’t know.

At any rate, since there are demonstrable flaws in our accountability system, it is wrong to tie funding directly to that system.  I ask that the bill be amended to allow local schools to propose their accountability metrics in their plan and have it approved by the local boards.  We do this with Trust Lands.  I think it should be the same for this plan.  I would also ask that this fund not receive on-going funding, but just leave monies to be funded via the WPU.

Sincerely,

Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
Mother of 3
HI02 Precinct Chair

Sunday, March 3, 2019

No on SB149: Don't tie funding to the state test!!!


On Monday, March 4 at 4pm, the House Ed Committee will hear the bill SB149: The Teacher and Student Success Act.  Please come, if you can, to ask our reps to vote no (or to amend) SB149!! If not, please email ASAP!!

vlsnow@le.utah.gov; susanpulsipher@le.utah.gov; mballard@le.utah.gov; dnjohnson@le.utah.gov; blast@le.utah.gov; csmoss@le.utah.gov; leeperry@le.utah.gov; vpeterson@le.utah.gov; mariepoulson@le.utah.gov; adamrobertson@le.utah.gov; swaldrip@le.utah.gov; christinewatkins@le.utah.gov

SB149 is a result of the Our Schools Now compromise that was defeated at the ballot box in November.  Our Schools Now's failure left money in a newly created account, and we need to get it out and into our schools.  None of that is a bad thing.  In fact, it's a great thing.

The problem is the proposal on how that money gets allocated to our schools.  My personal preference is to just put the money back into the ed fund and allow schools/districts to spend it like normal.  Unfortunately, SB149 wants to put a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork onto getting the funds, not to mention restrictions on how the funds will be used.  AND, my personal favorite, each school must improve in their school grading (aka SAGE/RISE/ASPIRE tests) 1% each year in order to continue to get the funding.  ASD has 2 special needs schools.  I'm sure they won't miss that additional funding.  (If you haven't seen my posts on why this statewide testing is horrific for special needs students, please look at my previous post on HB118.)

In Alpine School District, we need teachers and we need buildings.  We can't use ANY of this for buildings.  And teacher salary increases are limited to 25% of the money.  The principal of each school must create a school improvement plan.  (Each district already has a school improvement plan that is full of all the standard buzz-words and "great ideas" that exist to just "check the box" to get the state money.)  The principal may (or may not) include others in crafting the plan that has to follow along with the district's board-approved framework.  But as a taxpayer, the principal is not accountable directly to me.  That's the school board.  The principal is accountable to the school's supervisor and the supervisor is accountable to the assistant superintendent who is accountable to the Superintendent who is accountable to the Board who is accountable to me and you, the taxpayers.  What are the odds that this plan will allow us to have an option for traditional math taught?  Not slim and none, just none. And THAT IS NOT LOCAL CONTROL!

SB149 Teacher and Student Success Act. It mimics the Federal Government's Top Down approach to education that limits local control.  The UEA and I agree on this issue.  Their list of concerns is below.  Feel free to take 13 minutes (or less) to watch my interview with State School Board Member Alisa Ellis on SB149: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9LG6UF-u1M&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR15imPPfCRqd2N-H6XVVkv-GRpQeVOL_IV0tNZmsETx1AcYGdDASh2GIIc

SB149 is redundant. It creates yet another public education funding distribution method on top of the existing Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and others. SB149 is overly prescriptive. The bill usurps control from locally elected school boards by defining what school boards and individual schools must do to receive funding

SB149 creates additional bureaucracy. The bill imposes an unnecessary new burden on schools and districts to create and manage plans in order to receive a funding distribution.

SB149 is unnecessary. Given adequate funding, currently established financial distribution methods (like the WPU) can provide all the needed resources for student success.

SB149 inappropriately relies on test scores as a primary measure of school success. Standardized test scores do not fully describe student learning or teaching effectiveness.
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If you've been watching my posts about HB118 for opt-out, this is worse. This bill will all but do away with your ability to opt out because once money is tied to test scores there will be tremendous pressure to take the tests. SB149 is in the House Education Committee this Monday, March 4th at 4 PM. Please call, write, and test both the Education Committee and also your representative. Please write the committee members & urge them to vote NO on SB149!

Monday, February 25, 2019

NOHB118: Not good for teachers; not good for students

A few years ago, the legislature passed a law that prohibits teachers from being evaluated based on state test scores.  I was very supportive of this legislation.  The arguments against allowing teachers to be evaluated are very similar to why students shouldn't be evaluated based on this assessment.

Please email all the senators and ask them to VOTE NOT on HB118 (#NOHB118).

lescamilla@le.utah.gov

dkitchen@le.utah.gov

gdavis@le.utah.gov

jiwamoto@le.utah.gov

kmayne@le.utah.gov

wharper@le.utah.gov

dhenderson@le.utah.gov

kriebe@le.utah.gov

kcullimore@le.utah.gov

lfillmore@le.utah.gov

dmccay@le.utah.gov

dthatcher@le.utah.gov

janderegg@le.utah.gov

dhemmert@le.utah.gov

keithgrover@le.utah.gov

curt@cbramble.com

ssandall@le.utah.gov

amillner@le.utah.gov

Here is my letter to them:

I ask you to vote no on HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessments.  I was very supportive of HB201 that Rep. Poulson ran a few years ago that prohibited teachers from being evaluated based upon our statewide assessments.  There were many reasons, not the least of which were the lack of validity, reliability and predictability, of our statewide assessments. 

I will provide a few reasons up front, with more information below, should you desire it.

1.HB118 will provide a reward to those who take the tests, which inherently punishes those who opt out.  This is akin to offering a dessert to one of your children while another child is standing there watching you.  There may be reasons for this: the other child has a food allergy, for example.  You are not "per se" punishing the child who doesn't get the dessert because they wouldn't have had that dessert anyway.  BUT, watching you offer the dessert to another child is mean and does end up as a punishment.  So, the "carrot, not a stick" argument is unfounded. HB118 allows for the use of a stick for the child who is not rewarded.  The schools feel a lot of pressure to get kids, especially the one with very involved parents who probably test well, to take the test.  While incentives are currently against the law, there are many examples of students being pressured, in violation of state law, to take the assessments. (See below.) What methods will be available to opt out students and their parents who are now "punished" in accordance with state law?

I am supportive of teacher-created tests and assessments of my child's knowledge and performance.  I am not supportive of the statewide assessments which have provided no benefit to my children or to their teachers other than a single data point in time.  For a child who doesn't test well with great test anxiety or who doesn't get why one needs to know 4 different ways of finding the area of a rectangle instead of just one, this testing actually causes more trouble with the learning process than it's worth.  Additionally, the emphasis of language in math assessments puts children on the autism spectrum at a disadvantage, as well as ELL students.  Finally, special ed students are tested on grade level, not developmental level.  So, a 4th grade student who is doing 2nd grade math, would be taking the 4th grade test.  This is, in my opinion, abusive.  For these and many more reasons, parents opt out of testing. 

2. There is no federal money at risk if we don't attain a 95% participation rate.  ESSA states: 1111(b)(2)(K): “RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—

“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

3. Special Ed students* are required to take the test at their age-level, not their developmental level.  So a student who is in sixth grade, reading at a fourth grade level, is compelled to take the sixth grade test, not the fourth grade test.  This is completely wrong, and many special ed teachers have reported (confidentially) that they are not to inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

4. Increasing the focus on testing (one that isn't seen by parents or teachers) devalues the professionalism of the teacher and his/her assessment of my child after 180 days of teaching and in-class assessments.  To allow a statewide test to take the place of a local assessment places greater value on the state-diktats than on the teacher's own evaluations. 

5. State law used to not prohibit the incentives, and after a year, the prohibition against incentives was put into state law.  HB118 seeks to reverse this trend, that the legislature apparently felt was important in 2015.

6. We talk a lot about accountability.  But this just places accountability AWAY from teachers and onto the state.  Our teachers are professionals, and they have the ability to assess our students, especially since they are in the classrooms daily, with much more nuance, understanding, and compassion than a single statewide assessment at the end of the year.  The accountability we seek should not be micromanaged from Salt Lake or from Washington.  The accountability needs to be with the local school boards, the parents and the teachers.  This further impedes the parent-teacher-student relationship. 

Rather than drawing "battle lines" between parents and schools and placing the students in between, we need to respect parental rights to opt out of things they can't see and can't control, and return the true value back to our teachers.  In point of fact, the statewide assessments exist because of a lack of trust about what is being taught in the schools.  That trust increases the more there is direction and communication at the local level, not the state or federal level.

Please vote no on HB118.

Sincerely,
Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
Mom of 3
HI02 Precinct Chair


More information.

1. Unfortunately, while punishing students who opt out of testing or rewarding those who take the tests is currently illegal, it doesn't mean that it isn't happening.  I just recently retired after 2 terms as a local school board member.  As such, every year during state testing, I would receive emails, FB messages, texts and so forth from many people (across the state, even) with concerns about how their children were treated when they decided to opt them out of state testing.  I have heard of every practice to incentivize kids to take the test, despite state law.  My children, every year,  report how the "opt out" parents are discussed at school as being uninformed, and sometimes the rhetoric expands to disrespect of the parent or outright mocking.  Some schools have used participation points to circumvent the "course credit" requirement or have required students to take tests that they are promised are "harder and more time consuming".  Some other requirements were pizza parties, ice cream parties, not having to take the final if you simply take the test.   Additionally, our good teachers feel a lot of pressure from their districts (and the state) to perform, even though they no longer are subject to test scores being part of their evaluations.  I have had several teachers who were unaware that the test scores did not impact their own evaluations, a few years after state law had made such a practice illegal. 

2. ESSA is, in fact, in conflict with itself.  In one part it requires a 95% participation rate, and in another this rule on parent rights that clearly is violated in regard to state law. In October, State Board Member Alisa Ellis asks whether there is federal money at stake if we have a lower participation rate than 95%.  The answer she was given by the State Supt Chief of Staff was no.  The federal requirements would impose an additional line of reporting that include the 95% figure as the denominator in assessment performance.  It doesn't have to be submitted to the feds.  It doesn't impact funding.  And only about 5 Title 1 schools might be impacted for turnaround status.  However, the State Board is able to make sure that those schools are not negatively impacted if their "performance failure" is strictly due to opt outs.  State turnaround and school grading formulas remain unchanged.  see 6:05 for the explanation and 17:50 for the answer on federal monies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSdQ0jkhiqc&feature=youtu.be

3. This is a "feature" from No Child Left Behind, of which, ESSA is just a reauthorization.  Many parents of special needs students, myself included, will not allow their children to take these tests because they would be demoralizing and certainly they do not provide any information that is beneficial if they are tested at a level so much higher than what they are able to grasp.  Special Ed teachers have confided their concerns to me, but also feel the pressure to make sure they have a 95% participation rate because ESSA requires all subgroups, of which Special Ed is a part, to have a 95% participation rate.  Some teachers report they have been threatened with disciplinary action should they inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

5. SB122 from 2014 was the first bill to address opting out of statewide tests.  It contained no prohibition against rewarding students who take the test vs those who don't.  It did require that schools and employees not be negatively impacted by those students who opt out.  One year later, SB204 was passed that prohibited rewarding students for taking the test and also prohibited using the test for course credit or advancement.  HB 118 will repeal this provision that the legislature felt was a necessary protection against treating students who are opted out poorly. 

6. An example, one child was struggling in 4th grade with needing to show 4 or 5 different methods of multiplying 2 or 3-digit numbers.  The child was very good at the standard way of doing it, but really struggled with the other methods.  When his mother approached the teacher about doing just the one method that we all learned as kids, the teacher's only concern was that the child would not do well on the statewide assessment.  Doing the math, and learning how to do math wasn't at issue, it was the test that stood in the way of what both the mother and the teacher thought was best for this student. When the mother informed the teacher, the child would be opted out, the teacher was pleased to allow the correct answer through discovered by the standard algorithm to count for this child.  (If you would like more examples of the problems with our assessments and what is being assessed, I'm happy to provide that.)  Suffice it to say, these are not straight-forward, objective tests that we think of.

*All but 1% of the most cognitively disabled must take the same test as everyone else.



Monday, February 18, 2019

No on HB118: Just Say No to Legal Bullying Incentives

Contact the Utah Senate Education Committee Members TODAY (Monday, Feb. 18) and ask them to VOTE NO ON HB118.  Please be courteous, put NO on HB118 in the subject line, and write your own letter.  Please do not copy and paste.  They meet at 8am on Tuesday. 

Senator Henderson - dhenderson@le.utah.gov
Senator Davis - gdavis@le.utah.gov
Senator Fillmore - lfillmore@le.utah.gov
Senator Grover - keithgrover@le.utah.gov
Senator Hillyard - lhillyard@le.utah.gov
Senator Millner - amillner@le.utah.gov
Senator Reibe - kriebe@le.utah.gov
Senator Stevenson - jwstevenson@le.utah.gov


#UTPOL #NOHB118

HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessment Performance is sailing through the state legislature.  The federal government wants 95% of Utah students (and their subgroups: ELL, Special Ed, etc) to take the former SAGE, now RISE/ASPIRE tests as part of compliance with ESSA (remember that federal legislation that everyone said would RETURN power to the states.  Ha!).  

So, in order to help with that federal compliance piece, we want to "help" Utah parents make the "correct" decision, and give them all kinds of reasons to have their kids submit to the federal requirement.  In order to "incentivize" (aka make you comply "voluntarily"), the Utah legislature would like to allow teachers to give course credit for a student taking the state test. A test with no validity, reliability or predictability, that only 15 people have been allowed to see some portion of, but hey, the feds want it, why wouldn't parents want to go along?  

The reason for this is, in part, to not lose federal dollars under ESSA.  However, there is NO RISK of losing federal dollars, and ESSA specifically states that it protect parent rights to opt out:

1111(b)(2)(K): “RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—

“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

Some concerns with HB118:

1. Every year, I receive many letters, private messages, texts, and tags on facebook posts from parents who have seen their children bullied for being opted out of state testing.  One young lady, who was quite shy, was told that instead of taking the SAGE test, she would be required to present an oral report in class about why she was opted out of SAGE.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Children are having their parents' ideas and opinions on this subject denigrated in class in front of other students.  Without exception, my children have been told, every year, by different teachers in different classes, that their parents do not understand and are uninformed as to the value and benefit of the state tests.  Do we really believe it is correct to undermine parental authority and to alienate child from parent all so a student will contest their parent's decision about a state test?  Is state testing really that important on any level that it demands the mockery of a parent's decision about the best interest's of their child?  Agree or disagree with opting out, mocking a child's parent is completely inappropriate, especially in a state that states a parent is legally the primary person responsible for a child's education and that the state should be "secondary and supportive."  It is currently illegal to incentivize this behavior, as well as to give rewards for testing.  Why would we want to make it legal?

2. Special Ed students (other than the 1% most cognitively disabled) are required to take the state test for their age and not for their developmental level. For example, an 8-year-old who reads on a 1st grade level would take the 3rd grade test.  Because these are "computer -adaptive" tests, some people, mistakenly, believe that they will "adapt" to present First Grade material to the 3rd grader taking the test.  This is not correct.  The 3rd grade test contains only variations on 3rd grade material. So, the child reading at a 1st-grade level, will either just hit submit through the entire test (best case) or will struggle (no time limit) to try to understand things far above her ability.  This will be demoralizing and serve absolutely no purpose. The teacher, parent and everyone else already knows the child doesn't read or do math on a 3rd grade level.  What other information would be gleaned from subjecting this child to that test?  Additionally, I have received reports from Special Ed teachers who have been told they are not to let parents know their children can be opted out. There is great pressure placed on Special Ed to get that 95% participation rate, since they are one of the groups mentioned specifically in the federal law.  Many parents and teachers of students with special needs are greatly relieved when they realize their child can be opted out, under state law, without (currently) any negative consequences to their child or their school.

3. No money at stake.  Utah, originally, requested a waiver from the feds for the 95% participation rate, due to our state law.  Since the feds rejected this waiver, HB118 was introduced to up our participation rate from 94% to 95%, proving that Utah is only a vassal state to the master that is the US Department of Education.  However, in an October State Board of Education meeting, the Board Members were told no money was at stake, and we only need create another line item in our reporting (posted on our website, not sent to the feds) to show the federal calculation along with the state calculation.  Additionally, for those (estimated at 5) schools who fall into the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools due to lower participation rates, the State Board can decide what "remediation" if any is necessary. This way, the state doesn't spend money to "remediate" schools that don't need remediation because their only "flaw" was having more kids opting out than what the feds like.  Here is information from the October State Board meeting on this subject, from Board Member Alisa Ellis: https://youtu.be/nSdQ0jkhiqc

It would be well worth your time to watch the entire segment but if you don't have time here are a couple of places that are critical.Beginning at 6:25-As our opt-out rate increases above the 95% participation threshold, the federal government requires that we change our calculation. In our board meeting the Superintendent estimates about 5 schools would be affected in the state.We would look at the lowest 5% performing schools in the state and then the change in calculation would only occur if any of those schools had more than 5% opt out.It's also important to note that we aren't even required to send the calculations to the Federal government. We simply have to run a report and post it for public consumption.Beginning at 17:50 -I asked if our opt out numbers continue to climb if we are at risk for losing federal $$$. The answer was no.
More information on opting out, nationally, can be found here: http://www.fairtest.org/federal-law-and-regulations-opting-out-under-essa

Write the Senate ed committee members and your senator, as well.  Then share this with every friend and neighbor who wants to maintain parents as primarily responsible for their child's education and to keep bullying of kids who opt out illegal.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Goodbye but not Forgotten

Today is the last board meeting I will attend as your elected representative on the Alpine School District Board of Education.  To say it has been an honor but a difficult responsibility is an understatement.  I have been strengthened and encouraged by everyone's kindness and support throughout these past eight years.  And I thank you, more than many of you could ever know.

But having said that, this doesn't mean everything comes to an end and we drive away into the sunset.  This next year is every bit as important or more so than the last.  Who is serving in public office is nowhere near as important as what, We, the People do to inform that discussion and remain informed and involved.  I would like to ask those who are willing, can you attend a single board meeting out of 365 days in the next year?  Is that too much to ask?  4-5 hours out of 8,760 hours in 2019?  That's .06% of your time in the next year.  Is freedom, education and the future of our schools and our children worth .06% or .12% in that endeavor?  Let me know if you are willing to continue to be informed and involved citizens.  We have great people and teachers in this community.  Whatever the issues, we can improve them and solve them working together, not appealing to outside experts in DC or some Think Tank that stands to make a lot of money when they proclaim that our "education system" has failed.  A thriving educational system that partners with teachers, parents and the student doesn't make outside experts a lot of money, but it does educate the next generation, consistent with the values of their families and their communities.  This is only done when the individuals in this community step up and stay informed and involved.

There are so many things on the horizon, new health and science standards.  (The health standards are especially problematic, in my opinion.)  Math still being taught by cramming 4 years' worth of high-level math into 3 years (Algebra 1,2, Geometry and Pre-Calculus in 9-11th grades, IF you want to get to Calculus as a Senior).  What literature are our kids reading and obtaining their values from? How much emphasis on GRIT and social-emotional learning do you want in your schools, in a formal way, if any?  Do you want EVERY First Grader to learn to code?  How much technology do you want your kids exposed to in schools?  How will you, as a parent, manage their overall online activity when so much of the homework is now online?  If you have an opinion
, we need your voice.

I am grateful for the trust that you have bestowed on me.  I hope I have been worthy, in some small way, of that trust.  Thank you for your support.  As I have said before, you will never know how much your little notes, text messages, FB posts and treats have buoyed me up and given me the fortitude to go on.

My predecessor finished her final board meeting with these words: "When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God."  I echo her sentiment and am grateful to have served.


Mt. Vernon, overlooking the Potomac River.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

No on Question1 and School Board Races| A Philosophy

Please vote NO on Question 1!  There are so many reasons why, but the most important is that it sets a very dangerous precedent.  I'll also discuss the school board candidates below [Spoiler: State Board 9: Avalie Muhlestein and Julie King in ASD 1 (Westlake HS area)].  Please study and be informed before casting your ballot.

NO ON QUESTION 1: A Dangerous Precedent
Question 1 is a polling question.  To my knowledge, we have never had an opinion poll on our ballots.  So, instead of paying lobbyists to lobby the legislature or to get signatures for a ballot initiative, you are being used by an organization that was unable to accomplish their objectives by either of those options.  If you can't change laws the regular way, and you're rich and famous, you try to find a way around the normal lawmaking process. Co-opting citizens to pressure lawmakers is now a thing.  

Question 1 doesn't change A SINGLE THING. But the proponents HOPE the legislature will increase gas taxes, and then play a shell game to get SOME of that money into K-12, (as well as Higher Ed and Roads and money for UDOT. Shhh!  Don't tell anyone that part.  It isn't as emotionally appealing as grade-school kids.)  Legislators also know that GAS TAX CANNOT be used for Education under our Utah Constitution (hence the shell game).   If lots of people vote yes on Question 1, then the Question 1 proponents can browbeat legislators into passing, supposedly, their version of legislation that they were unable to get signatures for to get on the ballot. (Of course, politics being what it is, there is no guarantee that what we end up with will look anything like what the proponents are selling.)

But we want more money in K-12 education!  Do the ends justify the means?  Never!  Why are legislators wary of raising taxes? Because the legislators must represent their constituents and run for re-election.  Gas taxes negatively impact those who are struggling, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and those who live farther away in rural areas than those on the Wasatch Front.  Legislators in those areas would be motivated to discuss and debate ways in which their constituents will be less impacted.  However, the majority of people in Utah live on the Wasatch Front.  So, Question 1 Proponents assume the majority of Utahns will support Question 1.  If you and your neighbors can feel good about "helping kids" (and college students and roads), then who cares if we make those who can least afford the gas tax increase suffer?  Majority rules.  And tyranny by the majority is becoming the way to get your pet policies passed into law, especially if you're rich and can spend tons of money to influence an election.

The solution: Donate RIGHT NOW to our Alpine District Foundation.  Don't wait for the legislature or Our Schools Now or a ballot initiative.  You can donate to:

  •  the district as a whole, 
  • an entire school (look to donate to our specialty schools like Summit, Polaris, Horizon, or Dan Peterson), 
  • a program: band, drama, history, or 
  • directly to a classroom at a given school.  
Your donation is tax-deductible and will go exactly where you want it to go.  You can also donate supplies or other materials as well.  Want to donate a set of trombones to the band?  You can do that.  And what's better than just donating directly to our schools?  You don't force others to spend more money on a gas tax that will help pay for roads and college students.  Imagine if those who have spent MILLIONS to finance the Question 1 ads had, instead, donated that money to their local schools!  (P.S.  For those in other districts, you have a foundation too!)

For more information on my concerns with Question 1, click here to see my video.  (Side note: did you know Utah spends the largest percentage (40%) of its budget on education, more than any other state in the country?)

In the future, if Question 1 succeeds in changing state law, mark my words, it will become the method of choice for those with time and money to circumvent the average person's voice. Just a reminder that checks and balances and separation of powers are the bedrocks of our freedom.  Direct democracy: going to the majority of the people and using them as the big stick to beat the legislators up with, violates those principles and disenfranchises those who don't have the time, money or power to object. This is an unraveling of the checks and balances that prevent that other "golden rule"--the person with the gold, makes the rules--from destroying freedom.  Success on Question 1 doesn't bode well for freedom in the future.  Please VOTE NO on QUESTION 1, and I promise you it doesn't mean you hate children.

School Board Races

State Board:
I, personally, like both District 9 candidates for State Board.  However, if you voted for me because of my support for traditional math and my opposition to Common Core, you will want to support Avalie Muhlestein.  I appreciate her outside-the-box vision for education, and her desire to get rid of so much state-level accountability that sucks up time, money, and other resources that could be returned to the local level to pay more for teachers.  At the end of the day, we have state-level accountability because we don't trust our local people and our local teachers.  I want to trust our local people and get the state out of the accountability and data collection business.  I recommend you read through her platform and her issues, and consider a donation to Avalie's campaign.

Alpine School District:
The West area is the only race for ASD where there is much discussion and debate (see below).  For the other 3 races, I predict Amber Bonner (my area--ASD2), Sarah Beeson (AF--ASD3), and Ada Wilson (W. Orem--ASD5).  I had actually hoped there would be more debate, discussion and involvement in these races.  But, unfortunately, very few people are willing to run for school board. (3 seats are up in 2 more years, so start thinking about public service.)  While it is often a thankless job, our society is stronger when people are willing to step up to the plate and serve their community in elective office.  I'm grateful for all those who have thrown their hats into this ring.

For those in my area, I will be voting for Amber Bonner. Amber is very active and involved, has kids still in the schools, and asks questions.  She thinks things through, and wants, more than anything, to have smaller class sizes.  And she find ways to support teachers.  I think Amber will do an excellent job as our representative.  And most importantly (to me, at least), Amber listens to different perspectives.  And even if you see things differently, Amber knows you can still "care about kids." (Our inside joke.)

In ASD 1 (Westlake area), again, I, personally, like both the candidates.  But, my endorsement goes 110% to Julie King (see here and here).  Julie is a tireless advocate for parents and for finding ways to make things work for those kids who just don't fit neatly in the "box".  Instead of trying to find ways to make everyone the same, Julie is actively facilitating parents finding the perfect match for their individual kids in our system.  Julie is a "doer".  She has been a District Community Council rep at our special needs school out west, Horizon.  On one of her first visits, she realized they had serious problems with the entry doors.  She took it upon herself to find a way to get those doors fixed. Julie is supportive of fixing math, getting better standards (not CC or NGSS), expanding Gifted and Talented options, securing Data Privacy, and PARENTAL RIGHTS.  My only regret about not running again is not being able to serve with Julie on the board.  We have served together on the State Board's Data Privacy Commission, and she always has such interesting insights from her experience in Social Work, with the Juvenile Justice system, and as a Foster Parent.  Whether you are in her voting area or not, please consider donating to her campaign.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"What Kinds of Human Beings Do We Wish to Produce?"



October 9, 2018: Study Session/Board Meeting at the District Office

1. Study Session (4pm): Social Emotional Learning
2. Board Meeting (6pm): Includes an agreement with Orem City for the School Resource Officers.  (pp.79-87)

All meetings are open to the public.  Public comment is available at every Board Meeting.

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING

The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be 'what knowledge is of the most worth?' but 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?' The possibilities virtually defy our imagination. --John Goodlad

The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be 'what knowledge is of the most worth?' but 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?' The possibilities virtually defy our imagination. - John Goodlad

There are so many buzzwords in education these days: 21st Century Learning, Social-emotional Learning (SEL), GRIT, the 4-C's (or the 6-C's), Response to Intervention, Critical Thinking, STEM, Project-based learning, Guide-on-the-side, Engineering Design Model, Workforce, etc. etc. etc.  It's hard to keep up with them all or even understand what they all mean.

Social Emotional Learning or SEL first really made its appearance (from my perspective) in the Federal re-authorization of No Child Left Behind, called ESSA.  In additional to academic measures, the Feds want us to use "non-cognitive" measures to assess how well schools are doing.  It came to prominence with a focus on GRIT, and a TED talk by a professor who wrote a book on the subject.  Now SEL is everywhere.  The idea is that kids should learn, not just academics, but the skills and dispositions to be successful in the workforce (aka the 21st Century because human nature magically shifted in 2001, I guess).  So, the purpose of schools has shifted from basic academics to creating a comprehensive person.  The only problem is whose vision of that "correct human being" is being implemented?  And is that really what we want from public education?  Who should determine what kind of human being your child should become?  Who is the "we" in 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce'?  (Does the word produce come across as a bit creepy to anyone else?)

On one hand, I can appreciate and understand that we want kids to be well-rounded, kind-hearted, honest, and sympathetic.  On the other, what is the purpose of public schools?  Well that goes back to the age-old debate.  Everyone thinks of it as something different, and way back when, our district mission statement included "democracy" as the purpose of schools.  I disagree.  I think for public schools, the purpose should be academic excellence.  Everything else, should be left to the individual child and his/her family. That's not to say that teachers don't teach, especially by example, kindness and honesty.  They do.  But that's just part of being a good human being, right?  When we focus on dispositions, we necessarily remove our focus from reading, writing, and [a]rithmetic. Supposedly, we are doing both academics (what we are calling the Right Side of the Pyramid) as well as SEL (the Left Side of the Pyramid).  Our goal should be to educate, not to tell you what the purpose of that education is supposed to be.

The other problem I see, is who decides what the appropriate dispositions are for our children to possess?  And what are those definitions?  I've found, too often, sadly, that when someone uses a word that sounds good, their meaning may be completely different from my own.

In Alpine, we are focused on the 6 C's (4 of which are borrowed from the 21st Century Learning 4 C's).  They are: Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Character, Citizenship.  All sound great.  But what of the child who is introverted and Collaboration means lots of group-work projects?  She might do very well academically IF she's allowed to work alone, but in a group?  Not so much.  She is learning that she must go along with the group, and the knowledge she gains isn't as important as the "collaboration" with others.  It also puts young children in a very difficult position if they disagree with how something is going or what is being said.  Citizenship: what kinds of student advocacy do you want your child engaged in?  What if those citizenship perspectives differ from those of your family?  And Critical Thinking (also known as Higher-order thinking) has at least one definition in education that I would whole-heartedly disagree with.

...a student attains 'higher order thinking' when he no longer believes in right or wrong". "A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher´s ability to obtain affective [emotional] objectives by challenging the student's fixed beliefs. ...a large part of what we call teaching is that the teacher should be able to use education to reorganize a child's thoughts, attitudes, and feelings. --Benjamin Bloom

In short, it's wrong to be rewarding personality types instead of the knowledge that every child is capable of acquiring.  It's also wrong to possibly, modify a child's thoughts, attitudes and feelings, not through reason and the discovery of truth but by using emotional objectives to challenge their 'fixed beliefs', those beliefs instilled in them by their families.

If you agree with this shift, then you will be pleased.  If not, you may want to speak up about this dilution of academics with dispositions.

AGREEMENT WITH OREM CITY FOR SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

Take a quick look at the agreement (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1b8lY2ExcO10gchOSZ2hxb1U_whvH2_M2)  I have the following concerns.

1. Restorative Justice:  Restorative Justice, as I understand it, is where the person who is at fault is asked to "restore" what they broke in some way.  In some instances, this makes sense.  If you spray paint graffiti, it makes sense to have you repaint whatever you vandalized.  However, if you physically assaulted someone, the victim of your assault may be traumatized by further interaction.  In this case, Restorative Justice isn't a good idea.  AND, it may not be the best idea as a first recourse in even situations like graffiti.  It is interesting to note that the Parkland Shooter fell through the cracks due to restorative justice.

Excerpt from this article:

Schools also began replacing more traditional methods of discipline with student-led mentoring programs ... as well as “restorative justice” programs, a Breakfast Club-like fantasy where, instead of punishment, the bully or the violent offender engages in talk therapy and group discussions with the kid he or she has been harassing to seek reconciliation.
That sounds like great fun for the victim.
2. Reading Miranda Rights for those 14 and up without requiring a parent to be present.  I don't know about you, but if my kid is in the kind of trouble where he or she is being read their Miranda Rights, I think I should be present.  Also, what about children who have mental disabilities that, while chronologically 14 years old, mentally are much younger?  Shouldn't their parents be present?

3. Student Privacy.  FERPA is the Federal School Data Privacy Act from 1974 that is all but worthless.  Anything that occurs at school is subject to FERPA, whether health-related or juvenile-justice related.  That means these records can be shared with anyone for "an educational purpose" without parental knowledge or consent. 

I would be curious to know your thoughts on these issues.