"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


Friday, February 2, 2018

NGSS: Standards for Grades 5, 9-12. My Letter to the State Board

Dear State Board Members:

I am concerned with the standards-adoption process I've observed since 2010.  Due to a lack of opportunity for the public to be involved during the Common Core adoption process in June and August of 2010, state law changed to require parent advisory committees for standards.  However, I have not found those "safe-guards" of advisory panels to address the fundamental questions required for standards adoption.

Just like with the math standards, average parents who have concerns with the current standards or with proposed new standards, do not have the time, energy or money to be able to effectively combat them with organizations that have full-time staff and who receive more time to discuss, debate, and propose than the 2 minute comment period allowed or by sending everything in an email. To that end, I hope you will forgive the length of my email, as I am unable to attend the committee meeting, and I want to include as much information as possible.  

I would like to address my main concerns with further adoption of the NGSS for science, and then address the questions I hope you will answer before voting on them.

CONCERNS WITH NGSS

1. ACT scores do not support switching to NGSS. In 2015, when I first wrote about my concerns in adopting NGSS, Utah scored higher in science on the ACT than the national average.  Utah tests ALL of its juniors on the ACT, which would naturally lower the ACT average when compared with states who allow for self-selection.  Utah's science ACT scores were higher than all those states who test 100% of their juniors as well (as per the 2014 stats, which were the latest ones available at that time:  you can see them here: https://web.archive.org/web/20150915050646/https://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2014/pdf/CCCR14-StatebyStateScoreSummary.pdf.)  

Since then, ACT has redesigned their test, and Utah has adopted NGSS (pretty much) for grades 6-8.  As of 2017 (https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/cccr2017/CCCR_National_2017.pdf, see pg. 14), Utah is one of 17 states, testing all its juniors.  Our science percentages (on benchmark) are exceeded only by 3 states (CO, MN, WI), none of which have adopted NGSS: http://ngss.nsta.org/About.aspx) In a quick search, I have been unable to find "raw scores" like I did for the 2014 ACT.  

Either way, if you think ACT is a good measurement of science mastery, then I'm unsure why we would jettison something that is working for something that hasn't shown itself to work for those states who have adopted these standards.

2. Fordham Foundation rates UTAH "clearly superior to NGSS.  NGSS is rated a C.  Fordham rated Utah's science standards (pre-NGSS for grades 6-8) a B, 7/10.  Please read their critique.  (http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/20130612-NGSS-Final-Review_7.pdf)  

A few quotes:

"In reality, there is virtually no mathematics, even at the high school level, where it is essential to the learning of physics and chemistry. Rather, the standards seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered."

"NGSS physical science coverage is mediocre throughout grades K–5. Sadly, its quality declines rapidly and steadily in middle school, and still further at the high school level, where little positive can be said. Indeed, the physical science standards fail to lay the foundation for advanced study in high school and beyond, and there is so little advanced content that it would be impossible to derive a high school physics or chemistry course from the content included in the NGSS."

"In reality, we found virtually no mathematics in the physical science standards, even at the high school level, where it is essential to the learning of physics and chemistry. Rather, the standards seem to avoid the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered." 

"A second troubling problem is that some topics are poorly covered—or omitted entirely—throughout the grades. Energy, and heat energy in particular, is a prime example of an important topic that is poorly addressed."

"Third, the NGSS also seem to shun precise scientific vocabulary, often resulting in muddled meaning."

"High school physical science content is virtually nonexistent. Entire areas that are fundamental to the understanding of physics and chemistry—and essential prerequisites for advanced study—are omitted. Among these are chemical formulas, chemical equations, the mole concept and its applications, kinematics, thermodynamics, and pretty much all of modern physics, including all of the advances of physics since about 1950, as well as their transformative engineering applications." 

"Nor is energy ever covered with adequate depth and rigor (as explained further below). The idea of building on earlier non-rigorous ideas of energy and making them rigorous at the high school level is glaringly absent. " 

"High school chemistry is largely absent from the NGSS. What little content is included is too often found in vaguely worded performance expectations that assume mastery of knowledge not previously introduced. The standards are further weakened by limitations found in the clarification statements and assessment boundaries, which place arbitrary caps on the knowledge and skills that will be assessed each year, as well as the near-total absence of mathematical relationships and problem solving, and the avoidance of appropriate scientific vocabulary."

"Nothing in NGSS might form a basis for the standard high school physics course, much less preparation for an “advanced” course in physics." 

"We cannot discourse on the strengths of material that is absent."

3. Science appreciation, not science: One reviewer, Ze'ev Wurman testified before the Ohio House (http://educationnext.org/wurman-testimony-math-science-standards-ohio/)  that the NGSS will create students who have an appreciation for science but who can't do science.  His conclusion states:
"The proposed New Generation Science Standards are flawed and aimed at preparing science and technology consumers rather than technology creators. They offer a false promise of enhancing STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] preparedness..."

4. Before-the-fact Training: All public school districts and charter schools were invited to send staff to a training at Weber State in the Fall of 2014, (6 months PRIOR to the grade 6-8 standards being presented to the State Board for public comment) to receive training in these new science standards.  Why train teachers/curriculum directors on something that might not happen?  Why are these standards so incredible that it requires a full-day seminar, before the fact, to properly train everyone?  

5. The adoption of the MOU for science test questions (just today) gives rise to similar concerns as the training.  Most of those states involved (I assume, since I was unable to find the MOU previous to today, and haven't had a chance to read it), will have similar standards, and it is my assumption these standards are NGSS.  As such, NGSS standards being used to write test questions leads to de facto standards adoption, whether Utah adopts NGSS or not.  What is tested is what will be taught.  We could keep our current science standards, but once we put NGSS test questions on our end-of-year tests, that is what will need to be taught to "prove" to the state our kids are learning.  

I don't mean to be rude or controversial, but from the time it was raised by Board Member Burningham in 2010 that adoption of one set of national standards (Common Core for English and Math) would lead to adoption of national standards in all the other areas, we have seen this occur.  There is no evidence that national standards yield better results than those that do not.  (It's about 50:50.)  What other standards did the science review committee look at?  And if no others, why not?  

Surely, there are many states that have science standards with a proven track record that are rated higher than Fordham's review of NGSS.  In 2013, there were 20 states with higher standards than NGSS, as well as the NAEP, TIMSS and ACT Frameworks.  Massachussetts' A-minus standards have, I believe, at least a 13-year track record and their tests are in the public domain.  (I know this is true for English and Math, but will be looking to find out for science.)  Are we interested in the BEST standards for our students, or do we want to have the SAME standards with most states?  For me, the answer is clear: I would like the best!  I have yet to find evidence (other than opinion) that NGSS will provide the best science education for our students.  

QUESTIONS THE BOARD SHOULD ANSWER FOR ALL STANDARDS

Here are the questions I would like to see asked by this Board for every set of standards, both existing and proposed.  I, personally, would appreciate receiving an answer to these questions, but understand if that isn't possible.  

The Burden of Proof to adopt new standards needs to be on you, as our elected State Board members.  Just because standards are "new" or the current standards are "old" isn't sufficient reason to assume that new is better.  Often, tried and true, is the best scenario.  

Additionally, since changing the math and English standards was voted down due to the hefty cost, why would we want to change other standards unnecessarily?  Or will these standards not incur any additional cost?  And if not, why not?  (Incidentally, as you go knocking on doors for campaigns, you don't hear "We need new science standards!"  You WILL hear tons of complaints about the math standards.  If there isn't a desire in the board to address the math standards that a large group of parents think is broken beyond comprehension, I think we should be very wary about changing something that the people don't think is broken, like science.  

1.) What is lacking in our current set of standards?  Please be specific; don't just say 'they need to be updated'.  With all due respect, if our previous standards were based on truth and objective fact, then, unless there have been changes, and science would be one of those areas where I would agree there are probably 'holes', there is no need to throw out the objective truth that we are already teaching.  Can we simply 'tweak' what we have now?

2.) What is the evidence that the proposed set of standards will be able to fill those gaps in our current standards?

3.) Have the proposed standards been either pilot-tested (for how long, what were the demographics, what were the metrics used to show improvement) or, as a baseline, benchmarked against other states or countries that we feel confident have been successful with this particular discipline?  (And what are those metrics?)

4.) Taken as a whole, over the course of 13 years, is there a prevailing worldview that emerges, and if so, is that worldview consistent with the diversity and the values of the citizens of this state? Do we seek to provide a broad, general knowledge, without influencing the attitudes, values, and beliefs of our students?  

5.) What are the pieces that are missing from the proposed standards?  For example, the NGSS do not address Life Systems, specifically body systems, or energy, or physics.  Climate change is heavily emphasized, but electric circuits are briefly mentioned.  While I appreciate both climate change and electric circuits being taught, it appears, at least to me, that there is an over-emphasis of one at the expense of others.  It is usually easier to find problems in things that exist.  It is much more difficult to take the time to determine what isn't even there.  

6.) Do the standards seek to obtain compliance of thought, instead of an understanding of the rationale and disagreements involved in controversial or politically charged issues?  This is especially important in science.  If we create a generation of students who believe that all science is not to be questioned, we have failed in our task.  Science is always to be questioned, and refined.  We should be constantly looking for ways to support or to disprove the current knowledge of the day.  

7.) Have you looked at some of the available curricular materials, as well as other states' implementations, to make sure that implementation of these standards, while supposedly wonderful in theory, won't fall flat in the application?  My past experience with the adoption of new standards and 'programs' (over the last decade) has been a trail of grand promises and disappointing results that are always blamed on local districts and teachers.  There has never been, or that anyone will admit, a set of bad standards.  It's always blamed on poor implementation.  With all due respect, if a set of standards can't be implemented successfully in at least 51% of the schools, then they should not be adopted, no matter what the claims and promises.  (Please see item #3.)

8.) Is there enough emphasis on fact and foundational knowledge?  There is a trend to focus on 'critical thinking' and to not get bogged down into rote memorization.  While I can appreciate and respect that position, it is impossible to have critical thinking about any issue without the foundational, factual knowledge of the subject.  Especially for children in the early grades who have limited abstraction and limited reasoning skills, are we allowing and encouraging those fact-based pieces of information that will form the foundation for greater understanding later on? 

9.)  Will these standards strengthen the parent-child relationship or hinder it?  For example, implementing standards that parents don't understand or that place them in a negative light vis-a-vis their child, no matter how great they are supposed to be, creates a rift between parent and child.  This is an unacceptable consequence for an education system that is supposed to be secondary and supportive to the primary role of the parent in educating his or her children.  The more involved parents are, the better the academic success of the child.  That is the number one factor in student success... the parent, not the standards.  We need to keep that in mind.  

Thank you for your time and effort, and my very great thanks if you made it all the way through this email.

Sincerely,

Wendy Hart
Mother
Alpine District Board Member (NOT speaking on behalf of my board) for ASD2
Business Owner
Highland, UT

Monday, January 22, 2018

Common Core IS NOT Dead, Board Goals, State Issues

A lot is going on in education.  Most importantly, tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 23, our Board will have a retreat to set goals for the district for 2018.  Please email me or reply on facebook with what goals you would like us to set.  (I can bring up to 2 goals, but I would like to see all your thoughts.)

I'm going to give you a brief summary of what's going on Locally, Statewide and Nationally in education.

Local:

  1. Board Retreat, setting Board Goals.  Review of 21st Century Learning/STEAM schools.  It is the school district's plan to convert all of our schools into 21st Century/STEAM schools.  Right now, Cedar Ridge, Ridgeline and Highland (if I recall) in my area are all 21st Century Learning.  This means more project-based learning, less memorization, more technology and a focus on the 6 C's: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Citizenship, Character.  


I, personally, have grave concerns with more tech in schools, especially with the emphasis on character traits and values, as evidenced by the 6 C's and the national ESSA (replacement for No Child Left Behind) requirements.  More on ESSA below.  Here is an interesting read on Critical Thinking that I agree with.  https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/the-critical-thinking-skills-hoax/

2. The Board set up a Local Building Authority last meeting to facilitate paying for the rebuild of Scera Park Elementary in Orem without raising taxes or going through a bond.  You can read more about it on my blog: https://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2018/01/local-building-authority.html

3. This is an election year.  4 Alpine Board Seats will be up for election this year, as well as 1 State Board seat in our area.  I would like to encourage everyone to take a moment and think seriously about running for office.  The 4 ASD Seats are: Saratoga Springs/Eagle Mountain (currently held by Paula Hill who will not be running again), American Fork (currently held by John Burton), West Orem (currently held by JoDee Sundberg), and Highland/Alpine/Cedar Hills (currently my seat).  As always,  I welcome any and all to throw their hats into the ring.  Civil public debate is the BEST way to get the best ideas working for our kids.  The State Board seat is currently held by Joel Wright and covers most of ASD, except Orem and a small part out West.  Government of the people, by the people and for the people requires not just a few people involved, but all of us.  And the Founders expected that people would rotate their service in public office.  The deadline to file is mid-March.

State:
  1. The State is close to releasing the new science standards for grades 5, 9-12.  Since the Grade 6-8 standards are a rewording of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), it is my personal belief that the Board will adopt, without hesitation, the NGSS for these grades as well.  I have many concerns about these standards, but the biggest one is that Utah currently scores higher on ACT science than any state that also tests 100% of its juniors, not just those who self-select as wanting to go to college.  (That means our scores will be lower, on average, than those states that let kids decide whether to take the ACT or not.)  We also score higher than the national average on the science portion of the ACT.  So, I'm unsure why we would adopt standards that show other states doing more poorly.  Not to mention that the math is almost non-existent, as are body systems, chemistry and physics.  Also, Utah's current science standards (except Grades 6-8) received a B grade.  NGSS received a C from Fordham Foundation.  You can read more by searching NGSS on my blog: https://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/search?q=ngss  Here's the video from when we adopted Grades 6-8: https://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2015/11/utahs-new-science-standards-national.html  The arguments are the same.  Please share with your friends and neighbors and ask them to contact the state board: board@schools.utah.gov to express their concern or their support.  If you are supportive, I would love to know why and where the NGSS has worked and by what measures it has worked.
  2. The State's ESSA plan was rejected, in large part, due to our opting out of SAGE.  Rather than finding out why parents don't want their kids to take SAGE, the Board is looking at renaming SAGE.  They have hired a new testing vendor, Questar, to continue with the SAGE testing, but the terms of the proposal indicate we need to continue to use the same questions as SAGE.  So, new vendor, same questions, new name.  
  3. Associated with that, the State Board is deciding how they want to handle the ESSA rejection by the Feds.  Please remember, when ESSA was being passed, everyone said that it returned Local Control of education to the states.  Those of us who opposed it said that it wouldn't.  What does everyone think now?  The options are 1) Ask the US Dept of Ed for a waiver for the opt out provisions, 2) Tell the Feds we don't want their Title 1 money and ask the Legislature to make up the difference in funding (my preference) or 3) Change state law to REQUIRE parents to submit their kids to SAGE testing against their will (Land of the Free?)  I have good reason to believe that if the State Board were to play their cards right, the Feds would be hard-pressed to hold back funding for the lowest socio-economic strata of kids in the lowest funded state in the nation.  But they'll try. 
  4. The Legislature is in session.  1300 bills opened about education, if I remember correctly.  Please pay attention and email your legislators.  I'm sure there will be a desire to limit opting out of SAGE testing and other measures designed to limit parents in their primary role of raising their kids.

Feds:
  1. ESSA requires a measurement for non-cognitive measures.  Just watch how everything will be focused on things like GRIT and perseverance, as well as technology.  The "nice" thing about technology is that you can have second-by-second information about your kid sent to a computer program to determine if your kid has the right attitudes, values and beliefs.  The desire to have knowledge is over.  "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 I. Goodlad) 
  2. Secretary DeVos declares the "Common Core is dead!"  It's not.  Not by a long shot, and that is in large part due to ESSA.  You can read more about that here:  https://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/betsy-devos-aei-american-enterprise-institute/  Please share this information with friends and neighbors.  Most BAD Educational ideas never die.  They just get renamed, rebranded and shilled to the public again as the "latest and greatest" education silver bullet.  


Local Building Authority

On January 9, 2018, our Alpine School Board decided to create a Local Building Authority (LBA).  The main reason behind this is to rebuild Scera Park Elementary in Orem in order to consolidate that population of students with Hillcrest.  Hillcrest will be closed but the property will be retained for future use.  Since the original consolidation plan included many more schools and the possible sale of the Hillcrest property, the savings from those closures and the sale of the property would have allowed the Board to pay cash to rebuild Scera Park.  As such, the savings from closing Hillcrest will be close to $800,000 each year, but insufficient to rebuild an school at the cost of $18M.  So, the LBA was created to accomplish this goal.

An LBA is allowed under state law and allows the Board to finance things over time without using property tax increases as collateral for the debt.  School districts in this state are not allowed to use a regular debt scenario like you and I do for a mortgage or a construction loan.  We have to either pay everything off within a year (short-term loan) or use a tax-related funding process.  We could also do something called a revenue loan which would work if we were building a rec center and we could use the fees (the revenue) from that rec center as the payment.

You can read all the information, including the By-Laws and the Articles of Incorporation here. (See Local Building Authority Mtg Documents.pdf)  The LBA is subject to the same open meeting laws as the ASD Board, and all LBA meetings will be held at the same location and place as the ASD Board meetings, when an LBA meeting is required.

The essence is this.  The ASD Board of Education (ASD Board) members automatically become the Board of Trustees of the Alpine Local Building Authority (LBA).  So as members are elected and so forth, the make-up of the LBA changes accordingly.  I had concerns about the ability of the LBA to remove board members and that language was removed from our documents.  The action of the Board on the 9th simply created a non-profit corporation, the LBA.  At the Jan. 23 meeting of the LBA, the proposal will be to seek a loan for the purpose of rebuilding Scera Park.  The LBA gets the "mortgage" for Scera Park and the school is the collateral for the loan.  The ASD Board then signs a lease with the LBA for Scera Park, paying the amount required to cover the cost of the Scera Park loan.  Then the LBA gets the amount agreed to in the lease from the ASD Board and pays the lender for the Scera Park loan.  The LBA, as a non-profit, makes no money in the transaction.  The lease is also written so that upon payment of the loan in full, Scera Park will automatically transfer ownership from the LBA to the ASD Board.  This allows the amount saved from consolidating Hillcrest of nearly $800,000 to be used, annually, to pay off, over time, the Scera Park rebuild.

My opinion of the Pros.  The advantages I see are: 1) The Hillcrest consolidation savings are used to pay-off Scera Park. 2) There is no tax increase required for this transaction and the savings in one area of the budget can be used to pay for buildings.  Currently, this could only be done if we chose to pay cash completely for the building.  We could use our rainy-day fund to pay for Scera Park upfront, and then take 18 years to pay it back.  That decreases our rainy-day fund by about 20% with no guarantee that it would be repaid.  The decrease would also negatively impact our credit rating for future bond rates.  3) It allows for building construction to begin more quickly without going through a bond election and so forth.  In theory, if we had the funds in the budget from savings in other areas, some of the West's growth could be accommodated by accelerating buildings without waiting for the bond cycle in 2020.

My opinion of the Cons.  1) The LBA only requires 24 hour notice for actions that regular board meetings are given.  The LBA can go into debt for any number of buildings, additions, appurtenances either inside or outside the district boundaries with a simple majority vote by the LBA board (aka the ASD Board).  2) The Board could use the LBA to finance things that do not take precedence on a bond by the public.  In short, it could skew our building priorities to reflect more internal priorities instead of those demanded by the people.  Some of the things that might be financed by the LBA board which the public hasn't wanted to see in a bond would be: Clear Creek renovation, District Office renovation, etc.  As long as there is a revenue stream that will cover the annual debt payments to the LBA, the Board can finance things as it sees fit.  This is the essence of Local Control, but it also requires diligence from the people in making sure those who are elected to the Board have an understanding of what they should and shouldn't do in this arena.

By way of information, the following entities have set up LBAs.
Duchesne School District
Granite School District
Jordan School District
Morgan School District
Ogden School District
Piute School District
Sevier School District
South Sanpete School District
South Summit School District
Tooele School District
Uintah School District
Grand County

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas aka Love Your Enemies

I have been enjoying this Christmas season: the carols, the movies, the Sub for Santa, thinking and finding the "right" gift for those important people in my life, and even the prospect of snow.  Christmas, despite its busyness, has a sense of quiet, a sense of peace, and a sense of hope.  The birth of a child often brings those feelings, and the birth of the Christ Child is no different. 



However, as we celebrate a birth heralded by choirs of angels, Wise Men from the East, and Shepherds, that joy and enthusiasm points directly toward the end of Christ's journey, to suffering in Gethsemane, to death on the cross, and to rising again at the Garden Tomb.  It struck me, that whenever we speak of or think of Christmas, whenever we proclaim Merry Christmas, what we are really asking is for the totality of the teachings and the life of Christ to become reality within us.  Merry Christmas doesn't just mean "Silent Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."  Merry Christmas means:

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them:

Fear not; believe only.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

This last teaching, to love your enemies, this is probably the most difficult of all.  And yet, the command was not just an academic exercise: Do as I say, not as I do.  No, it was exemplified by Jesus at the very moment it would have been most difficult to do.  No one has captured this better than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  From a collection of his sermons, The Strength to Love,  he says:

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
We shall not fully understand the great meaning of Jesus' prayer unless we first notice that the text opens with the word 'then.' The verse immediately preceding reads thus: 'And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.' Then said Jesus, ' Father, forgive them.' 
Then--when he was being plunged into the abyss of nagging agony. Then--when man had stooped to his worst. Then--when he was dying, a most ignominious death. Then--when the wicked hands of the creature had dared to crucify the only begotten Son of the Creator. Then said Jesus, ' Father, forgive them.' That 'then' might well have been otherwise. He could have said, 'Father, get even with them,' or 'Father, let loose the mighty thunderbolts of righteous wrath and destroy them' or 'Father, open the flood gates of justice and permit the staggering avalanche of retribution to pour upon them.' But none of these was his response. Though subjected to inexpressible agony, suffering excruciating pain, and despised and rejected, nevertheless, he cried, 'Father, forgive them.'
...
What a magnificent lesson! Generations will rise and fall; men will continue to worship the god of revenge and bow before the alter of retaliation; but ever and again this noble lesson of Calvary will be a nagging reminder that only goodness can drive out evil and only love can conquer hate.
As we celebrate this Christmas season, imagine if everywhere we went, we were able to Love our Enemies and follow the Golden Rule.  Imagine the Peace on Earth that would come when we fully realize that "only love can conquer hate."

Merry Christmas, or in other words, Let us love our enemies.  When we get that right, there will truly be Peace on Earth.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tell Congress to Vote No on National Citizen Database



URGENT: Call Congress and ask them to VOTE NO on:


College Transparency Act (CTA): HR2434,
Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (FEPA): HR 4174
Student Privacy Protection Act: HR 3157

Congress is set to vote on HR 4174, The Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (FEPA) on Wednesday, November, 15.  Like most legislation, it's title sounds fine, if boring.  BUT FEPA will remove the current protections in existing federal law prohibiting the Federal government from having a national database of personal, private citizen information.  This will initiate a life-long tracking of individuals by the federal government.

Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, there is NO reason for a free country, founded on the idea of separation of powers to have the ability to amass data on its own citizens without their knowledge or consent. This law will also include kids in public school and can contain Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) data, also known as attitudes, values and beliefs.

Fast-forward to Election 2020: What if the federal government was able to control enough information about people to influence an election?  The Russians would have nothing on our own government!  Maybe it won't happen in 2020, but maybe 2028 or 2032.  Given this amount of data collection, we will become a Banana Republic.  If you like the idea of those who are currently in power being able to peer into the deep recesses of your life, imagine if those who are politically opposed to you had that same power?  This should generate bi-partisan opposition.  Should Trump or Obama or Holder or Sessions be able to have any information they want about you? If not, call Congress and tell them to Vote NO ASAP!

If you think this is a slight exaggeration, just remember Lois Lerner and the IRS.  There was no outside "data breach".  Regardless of the motivation in that case, simply having access to the IRS data would allow someone in that position to absolutely be able to target individuals and groups for their political beliefs.  Imagine if it wasn't just the IRS, but every other federal agency and federal bureaucrat who could gather information, nationally, as long as they could come up with a reason to justify it?

Here is a link to a call to action.

Here is information being sent to members of Congress and 3 fact sheets about the above bills.  * (See #1 in the action items.)

Articles about the problems with these pieces of legislation and the hearing leading up to FEPA can be found here, here and here.

Please take action now!

1. Distribute the information contained in the fact sheets (see above)* and ask people to contact their members of Congress, especially if they are on the Oversight Committee. Oversight Committee Members: https://edworkforce.house.gov/committee/subcommitteesjurisdictions.htm.

2. Ask Congress to delay the vote.  Phone for Congress: 202-224-3121.

3. Pray they will see the light that for all the supposed "good" this will do, the real good is in allowing free people to be free, without surveillance from their government.

Government surveillance of individuals without due process does not lead to more freedom, but it does lead to fear, intimidation, and compliance.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Middle School Requirements: To Speak or Not To Speak

"Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Last month, the State Board of Education held a hearing on the changes to the middle school course requirements.  This rule change didn't eliminate anything, but it allows for local school boards to determine, other than English, Math, Science and History, which courses are required for 7th and 8th grade.  In talking with many other board members throughout the state, they don't expect to change any of the requirements on a local level hardly at all.  The one thing the rule change does allow is for local boards to craft policies that granting legal exceptions to the those requirements for individual students.

If you support this rule change, please take 1 minute to send the State Board members a quick note TODAY along those lines: board@schools.utah.gov.  The State Board will be discussing this rule Thursday, Oct. 12 at their monthly board meeting.

The education establishment groups do not want this level of local control.  They are afraid that you and I will choose...poorly...so we must be commanded and forced to do what they think is best for our children.

A parent group, of which I was a member, participated in the hearing. This is a copy of our statement to the board.  Please note: none of us was speaking on behalf of our respective organizations.


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Thank you for taking the time hear our convictions on rule R277-700.

We, parents, are in favor of the new rule R277-700, allowing local school boards greater flexibility in determining middle school course requirements. This rule shows trust in our local school boards and our parents. This rule returns local control to our boards, but most importantly, this rule does NOT remove music, art, PE, health or world languages. This rule gives power back to the local level and to the people they represent. It is scary to trust others to make decisions when we are used to having those decisions made at the state level. But fear of local control is a fear of free people making their own decisions.

Freedom brings risk. But this Board has shown a desire to return that freedom back to the parents through their local boards. It can be assumed that those in Davis or Jordan may not agree with the level of PE or arts that those in Rich or Alpine decide. The districts may disagree with what the charters have determined. Freedom brings with it great responsibility. But it also brings great potential for success, far greater than a one-size-fits-all education system. Rep. Rob Bishop has said about public education, Ever since ...the mid-sixties, ... we've been consistently fighting that battle over standardization versus freedom. Freedom should be our goal." We echo his sentiment. And we are grateful that the majority of this Board agrees that Freedom should be our goal.

As parents, we are at a disadvantage, in that, we do not have a formal group with paid employees to represent our interests. We do not have marketing groups who will send out petitions and emails to amass people to our cause. We do not have the luxury of thousands of people in our organization with contact information who can be rallied at a moment's notice to speak up about a particular rule. We are simply citizens. We are the people you were elected to represent.

While not speaking for the groups we participate in, the majority of us are members of various local school boards (Alpine, Davis, Jordan, Rich, Timpanogos Academy, Maeser Academy). We are also current and former members of PTAs, SCCs, and various parent organizations. We are accountants, teachers, programmers, designers, musicians, and social workers. But, more importantly, we are parents. And we know our individual children better than anyone.

Those of us who are local board members are excited for the trust we have been given. We love the arts! We appreciate PE! We think CTE courses, health, and languages are extremely beneficial. We thrill at the thought of education being for the benefit and improvement of each, individual child. We are not motivated to change the middle school course requirements much, if at all, from what the state has had these many years. But we support this rule change because it allows us to legally make exceptions for those students who need them.

While this may appear to be a theoretical discussion, the impact of this policy is taking place around us as we speak. Here are some examples.

Emma has severe food allergies. She was required to take a CTE class that included a foods course, putting her in medical danger. Taylor is a child in foster care who has been abused. Changing in a PE locker room causes him trauma every day. Taylor would do better in his other courses if he didn't have to go through the difficulty of changing for PE class. Brandon has ADHD. He needs to take a PE class every day to do well in his academic classes. Taking two PE classes makes it harder to have open class periods for other electives of interest, instead of just required courses. Savannah is in a community symphony program which requires her to take orchestra in school. This limits her ability to take other courses that are not required. Jordan is heavily involved in karate outside of school four days per week. He wants to take drama, band, Spanish, and choir, but he can't take all of them because he requires PE. Trina signed up for dual language immersion in first grade. All these years later, she is required to take two language courses instead of the one that was originally required when she first committed to the immersion program. Her mother is a social worker and knows the health course would just be a repeat of what Trina already understands. She'd like to take a non-required course for fun. Justin has special needs. Being required to take PE and fine arts classes like choir or band adds greater stress to his life. His success with his other courses would be improved if he didn't have to cope with the additional stress of these required courses.

While the names of these students have been changed, their situations are real. These are experiences of real students in real schools in our state. We believe the majority of students will still need and find the current middle school requirements to be a good balance for their lives. However, for those parents with students like these who need greater flexibility, we support letting local boards find ways to make exceptions.

We also support this rule change because it highlights a very important principle: Local Control. The best decisions are made at the level closest to those who are impacted. Everyone seems to advocate for local control during elections, but this is the point where local control can be supported or defeated. Do we trust our local school boards to create policies that benefit their communities? Do we trust the parents of our students to decide for each individual child what is in their best interests? Or do we want to give up that responsibility and tell these parents, that we're sorry, there's nothing we can do to help their child?

We wonder why parents aren't as involved, and this is, in part, why. Sure, they can volunteer for the Valentine's party in the classroom. But when it comes to deciding what courses their child needs and what that child should focus on, do we defer to others, far away, from that child? Do we not believe individual parents can and should have the option of working this out at the local level?

State law acknowledges this fundamental truth: parents are primarily responsible for the education of their own children. They are the experts of their children, and it is up to those of us on local school boards to represent them and to allow them the necessary flexibility in this area. While there may be ways via IEP's and 504's to individualize requirements, why can we not simply support, as local school boards, a well-rounded set of experiences? But when that doesn't apply, let us trust those parents who need exceptions for their kids to simply ask for them. Why are we so afraid to trust the people who know their children the best: the parents?

Thomas Jefferson stated in 1816: “the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to.”

Trust us! Allow us, as local board members and parents, to make the determination for those children who will not be as successful being forced to fit into a pre-determined box. For many kids, the range of experiences we currently have will be beneficial and helpful. But for those who will experience negative consequences, we should be wanting and willing to allow that level of flexibility.


We ask for your trust. Trust that we will defend and protect the variety that currently exists: physical education, fine arts, health, world languages. Trust, also, that we will allow individual parents and guardians to make the call to aid their individual children with special needs, with specific challenges, with greater gifts in need of additional focus, with individual concerns. We either trust parents and want to empower them through their local boards or we don't. This rule change to R277-700 gives us back that trust. Let us not be afraid of freedom! Thank you for trusting us.


Wendy Hart, Parent
Paula Hill, Parent
Brian Halladay, Parent
Phillip Cardon, Parent
Rachel Thacker, Parent
Bryce Huefner, Parent
Matt Throckmorton, Parent
Liz Mumford, Parent
Julie King, Parent
Robin Allred, Parent
Alyson Williams, Parent
Darrell Robinson, Parent
Mona Andrus, Parent
Julie Tanner, Parent

Monday, October 9, 2017

Orem Consolidation: Why You Care Even If You're Not In Orem

The Board has been considering consolidating schools in Orem (see info here).  "So What?" you might say.  "I don't live in Orem." The reason why it matters to you is because whatever we do or don't do in Orem will impact what we can or cannot do in the rest of the district.

So, here is what I'm asking.  Take a minute to look through the figures on the Orem plan.  Here is a link to the City Data that includes not just property tax, but also the amount the state provides per student.  Property tax only makes up 25% of the total amount we get in funding.  You will see that Orem brings in, on average: $6,140 per student.  But on the spending side,  Hillcrest (no Title 1 funding) spends $8,365 per student.  Geneva (Title 1*) spends $8,062.  Scera Park spends $6,235.  In contrast, Highland spends $5,416; Cedar Ridge: $5,911; Alpine: $5,119.  The district average for elementaries is $5,741.

On the website, there is a link where you can leave your feedback.  If you have suggestions as to how to keep these Orem schools structurally sound, with greater educational options for the kids in those schools and not incur additional debt, I'm all ears!  We looked at the numbers and put together our best plan, based on those numbers.  Now, we need feedback.  Do you like the plan?  How can we improve the plan?  Is there a way to accommodate the wishes of the parents in Orem and still provide for those kids in other parts of the district?  Please pass this information along to anyone in the district boundaries.  We'd love to hear your suggestions and your ideas!  Please provide feedback before the end of October.  For more information, read on!

The Orem Plan
The facts and figures of the Orem Plan can be found here.  The original Infographic was created a month or so ago.  After public comment and discussion, there have been options that are being discussed that differ.  These are the "hotspots" but as the graphic indicates, these are current considerations, meaning that nothing has been decided yet.  The board is looking at making a decision by the first November meeting.

Orem has a declining enrollment which has been going on since 1998.  Orem also has many older schools with seismic (Geneva, Hillcrest, Scera Park) and other maintenance issues. Because of these considerations, the Board has considered consolidating some of the schools, and doing boundary changes and, in some cases, a rebuild of some of the schools.  There are a few benefits to doing this consolidation. The first is to allow schools to have full grade levels and more than one or two classes per grade. This allows for teachers to work together.  It also allows for more options for specialty classes.   The second reason is so we can educate all the kids in our district in an equitable fashion.  We can only spend each dollar one time.  If we spend it in keeping older schools with declining enrollments open, that means we can't spend it on additional resources for those kids in Orem or in other parts of the district.  The overhead in opening and maintaining an elementary school is around $780,000 per year.  Two other things to keep in mind are class sizes and employees. The overall class size shouldn't increase much at all.  A Hillcrest-Scera Park combination shows a projection of between 23 - 28, depending on the grade.  And no employees will be let go.  We have so many employment needs throughout the district that any employees in the consolidated schools would simply be able to find employment in another school in the district.  As for the teachers, they could move with their class.  So, most, if not all, of the teachers who are currently at Hillcrest and Scera Park would continue to work at the consolidated school.






So, back to why you should care: wherever we spend one dollar means we can't spend it somewhere else.  That means, we can maintain and rebuild schools in Orem with 350 - 450 students (even though they were originally built for 700 or more).  If we do that, we will need to raise property taxes in a subsequent bond AND build the necessary schools in the high growth areas like Lehi, Saratoga Springs, and Eagle Mountain.

The majority of parents who responded to a survey in Geneva want to stay together.  There isn't room in any of the existing schools to keep them all together.  So it would require a rebuild of Geneva alone or an addition to or a rebuild of an existing school like Suncrest.  Hillcrest wants its school fixed and then a rebuild of Scera Park, without consolidation.  Incidentally, Scera Park parents appear to be in favor of consolidation.  If we were to consolidate and sell the Hillcrest property, then we could put that money toward the rebuild of Scera Park.  I don't remember the amounts, but it would allow for a portion of the cost to be paid outright.  The remaining amount could be taken from other parts of the budget, without waiting for a bond and without incurring debt. From a fiscal perspective, this makes the most sense.  On the flip side, rebuilding all the elementaries would require significant cost and a new bond.  A new elementary school is $16 -18 million.  That's an additional $16 million that would need to be added to a bond for EACH of those schools.  (Arguably, Hillcrest's seismic needs are less than $16 million, but they are probably close to half of that.)  So, whatever amount is necessary for Lehi and the West and on-going maintenance in the rest of the district, without consolidation, we would have a minimum of $32,000,000 more and possibly closer to $40,000,000 more to maintain these Orem schools as they are.  Additionally, the soonest any of those schools could be rebuilt (without consolidation) would be 2021, assuming the passage of a 2020 bond.  That leaves a minimum of 4 years with students in schools that have structural issues.  I'm not comfortable with either of those scenarios.  So, help us figure out what the best options are.  Make sure to fill out the Feedback form and to share it with your friends and neighbors in the district!

*Title 1 monies are federal funds that assist low income schools.  I am unsure whether these Title 1 funds are included in the chart on the website or not.  Title 1 could account for some of the increased expenses for those schools that receive Title 1 funding.