"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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Common Core: Funding and Teaching to the Test

I have just returned from the National School Boards Association Convention.  In my last class on tests and assessments, the presenter said something very interesting.  The US Department of Education has set aside $330 Million for the creation of assessments for the Common Core Standards.  I had heard of the consortia for the assessment piece of the Common Core.  However, I had not heard the US Department of Education was involved in any way with them. 

Throughout this Common Core discussion, it has been repeated ad infinitum that the Common Core is NOT a national standard.  Instead, it is a collection of states coming together, voluntarily, to create a core curriculum.  During my initial introduction to the Common Core, a fellow board member was immediately interested in who would be doing the assessments.  At the time, she said something like, "We all know that teachers have to teach to the test, so it's important to know who will be creating the tests."  The presenter discussed how, when a new test is introduced, the scores drop.  As teachers get more information about the test and what's on it, they modify their teaching to help their students have greater achievement on the test.  He said, "This isn't cheating."  It's just that more information and more data yields better preparation.  In short, we teach to the test.  The question is whether what we are measuring is the information we want our students to learn. 

Alpine School District is required to follow the core curriculum as established by the State Office of Education.  The State Office has decided to require the Common Core, and all school districts in Utah will need to implement the Common Core by 2012-2013.  The State Office recommended that we start this coming year, but ASD's administration has wisely opted to delay a year to properly train our teachers. And, I would add, to learn from the mistakes of others.  My concern with the Common Core is not the standards themselves.  My concern is it violates the principle of local control.  What our schools and students need should be managed by the people of our area and not dictated from on high. Certainly we can learn from others, but where the rubber meets the road, it is our parents, our teachers, and our principals who can best determine what our students need.

So, following the money, the $330 Million was split between two assessment organizations, Smarter Balance (SBAC) and PARCC.  Utah's State Office of Education has elected to be involved with the Smarter Balance Consortium.  I am mostly unfamiliar with them, but I was able to attend a conference where the researcher for Smarter Balance, Linda Darling-Hammond, spoke.  I attended her lectures for the express purpose of getting more information on her, her perspectives, and the Common Core.  (I will post that information in a subsequent blog.)  Ms. Darling-Hammond was rumored to be on the short list for US Secretary of Education, but declined due to a new Policy Center opportunity "that will examine a variety of education redesign issues, including standards and assessments".  Could she have meant the Common Core?  In the meantime, I'd like to issue a call to action for you to find out what you can about these two consortia and their assessment philosophy. 

A concern I found on the web states:

Both consortia appear poised to develop subjective assessments rather than objective tests. SBAC plans to assess deep disciplinary understanding and higher-order thinking skills. Will either PARCC or SBAC test student content knowledge and skill?

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said:

As I travel around the country the number one complaint I hear from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn't measure what really matters... Both of these winning applicants are planning to develop assessments that will move us far beyond this and measure real student knowledge and skills.

The issue isn't the bubble tests, it's what is actually assessed, and what teachers will be teaching their students to help them achieve favorable results on these tests. 

Recently, I received some communication from parents who are concerned with the Common Core.  The concerns come down to two issues.  1) This is brand new.  Textbooks haven't been created.  Tests haven't been created.  No one has done this before, and yet, we are jumping in with both feet across the nation.  2) The whole idea of local control is gone.  These standards were created with no public input.  They were adopted by states, without public input.  And the local school districts must implement the Common Core, without public input. 

These concerns were similarly reflected in the above-referenced article:

The CCSS [Common Core] represents a massive unevaluated experiment with our students for which they and their parents have been ill informed and have had no opportunity for input. The CCSS are untested and unevaluated in the classroom. The proposed CCSS should undergo rigorous testing in a limited number of districts before adoption and implementation statewide or nationwide.


Adopting the CCSS takes control of educational content and standards away from parents, taxpayers, local school districts, and states. The CCSS were produced by a closed group and conditionally approved by many states without public review. The NGA and CCSSO, both non-government groups, own the copyright protected CCSS. Control over changes to the CCSS will lie in the hands of so called “experts” outside local school district, state, and the federal government jurisdiction. [emphasis in the original]

Public education is a state responsibility. It is not the responsibility of the federal government. States should not turn over their rights or responsibilities to the direction and influence of non-government organizations or the federal government.  [emphasis mine]

I am not opposed to the Common Core standards, per se.  But I am opposed to such a lack of local control.  Given the Common Core, it seems unnecessary to have local school boards other than to allocate the funds for a pre-determined project. 

However, I can't emphasize the following point enough.  I am SO appreciative to our district administration for delaying implementation of the Common Core for a year.  I think it is a difficult line they walk when there is a top-down mandate and our kids' education hangs in the balance.  I only wish we could delay it further.  Unfortunately, that would require a change in standards and implementation goals from the Utah State Office of Education or State School Board policy.

In conclusion, please find out all you can about Smarter Balance and PARCC, and the US Department of Education's investment in the assessment plans.  Also, I would welcome any thoughts on how to delay the implementation further than the one year we are allowed by the State Office of Education.

Monday, April 18, 2011

USBA Convention 2011, Part 1: Open Meetings and USBA

NOTE: Jan. 6-8, 2011, the Utah School Boards Association held it annual convention.  I will update you with multiple blogs on this convention.  The convention was held at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.  Board members were allowed to stay over the two nights at the hotel, but I decided to commute to and from.

USBA Convention 2011, Post 1

USBA Business Session, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011

Nominations were taken for the 2nd Vice President of the USBA. The way it works is that members vote for 2nd VP. There are also a 1st VP and a President (and a past president). After 4 years (I think), the President's term is filled and the 1st VP takes the President's place, the 2nd VP takes the 1st VP's place, and another vote for 2nd VP is held. The 2nd VP, Peggy Jo Kennett, was unopposed. In her remarks she listed four reasons for public education:

  1. Protect Freedom
  2. Develop a sense of community
  3. Create a civic dialog
  4. Keep the poorest from being manipulated and the richest from being lazy 
Also, we were told only 25% of the operating funds for USBA are taken from dues (paid, at least in ASD, by the taxpayers). The remaining 75% are for programs, e.g. the New Board Member workshop, and services that USBA provides to its members.

We, then, broke into regions to elect delegates to the USBA Board of Directors and Delegates at Large. Since ASD forms the entire region, our regional director is John Burton. Debbie Taylor and Paula Hill are delegate-at-large and the alternate delegate, respectively. 

Class 1: Immigration Law
The immigration law class had a presentation by Utah Senator Luz Robles and Utah Representative Stephen Sandstrom. Both Sen. Robles and Rep. Sandstrom had immigration bills that were addressed in the legislative session.

Class 2: Open Meetings
State Law requires that board members take an Open Meeting class annually. This course satisfied that requirement. It was taught by Brinton Burbidge (of Burbidge & White, LLC--ASD's attorneys).

Essentially, a public meeting is convened by the board president, appropriate notification (at least 24 hours) is given for non-emergency meetings, and a simple majority (4 of our 7) of the board must be present to conduct business. Electronic meetings are acceptable, but there must be some location publicized where the public is able to go and monitor the meeting. (Interestingly, a Massachusetts court case has ruled that an exchange of email among all the board members of a district was a meeting, and violated open meeting laws because no notice was given.) Written minutes and a recording of the meeting must be kept and the recording must be available to the public within 3 business days.

A closed session of a meeting may be held, if 2/3 of those present (and one must always have a quorum) vote in the open session to hold a closed session. The reason and the location for the closed session must be publicly announced (and recorded), as well as the vote, by name, of each board member on the closed session. Closed session may be held for one or more of the following reasons:
  1. Discussion of the character, professional competence, or health of an individual
  2. Strategy sessions to discuss collective bargaining
  3. Strategy sessions to discuss pending or reasonably imminent litigation
  4. Strategy sessions to discuss the purchase, exchange or lease of real property when public discussion would disclose the value of the property or prevent the board from completing the transaction on the best possible terms
  5. Strategy sessions to discuss the sale of real property when a) see above section on value b) board has previously given notice of the sale, and c) the terms of the sale are publicly disclosed prior to board approval of the sale
  6. Discussion of deployment of security personnel, devices, or systems
  7. Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of criminal conduct
Recordings must be kept of the closed session, except if the meeting is held to discuss the character, etc. of an individual or deployment of security personnel or devices. However, the presiding officer must sign a sworn statement affirming that this was the sole purpose of the closed meeting. 

To see Utah Law, click here. Utah also has a public notice website, where all public meetings should be listed. You can subscribe on that website to receive notifications of meetings that interest you.

My Take: Public Meetings
Since this class is required by law, I found it especially beneficial. Mr. Burbidge, the instructor, joked that his classes are always well-attended...because they are mandatory. I saw why certain things were done in our closed session meetings and feel that I will be able to uphold the law much better with this new information. In one of my previous posts, someone asked about the ability to obtain the recording of the closed session. During our class, Mr. Burbridge said that those closed session recordings would be available only to a court of law or to a judge. So far, I think our school board is following the open meeting law procedures correctly. I now understand why our Board President has had to refocus board members back on topic during a closed session when our discussion strayed off-track. This is precisely her responsibility and she must sign a legal statement guaranteeing our proper conduct. Now that I am properly informed, I will be better able to support her in that endeavor.

Follow up note: 
Another thing I have noticed is how agenda items are classified.  I need to do some more research on Robert's Rules--so any of you parliamentarians, please comment and educate me.  As I understand it, action items require a motion to take some form of action.  After the motion and a second, then there can be discussion.  Discussion items are available to discuss free from motions or any other real constraints.  However, it is required that items be classified so the public knows which items will be voted on and which will not.  I have also seen Discussion with Possible Action items before.  The final classification is something called a 'Consent Agenda'.  These are a group of items that are mostly routine and don't often require debate or discussion or that have had debate or discussion previously. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 19, 2011 Agenda

This meeting has a lot of information in it that has great impact:  the Capital Budget, the Vineyard TEC appointment, internet acceptable use policy, etc. 


951 SOUTH 400 WEST



4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to
(1) review the 2011-2012 Maintenance & Operation budget,
(2) review the patron survey results regarding the potential bond in November 2011, and
(3) debrief from the National School Board Convention.


6:00 P.M.









1. Budget Report Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report
4. Student Releases - CA, CB, RB, JB, KB, AC



5. Student Expulsions - PC, SS

6. Student Reinstatements - DL, TL, TT


1. Adoption of Tentative 2011-2012 Capital Outlay Budget

2. Acceptable Use Policy

3. 2011-2012 School Fees

4. Student Excursions

A. Lehi High (1)

B. Lone Peak High (3)

C. Mountain View High (2)

D. Orem High (2)

E. Pleasant Grove High (2)

F. Timpanogos High (3)

G. Westlake High (1)

5. Building Rental Request from Christ Evangelical Church

6. Resolution 2011-001 – OPEB Trustees

7. Resolution 2011-002 – Taxing Entity Committee


1. Resolution 2011-003 – Dissolution of ATEC Fund

2. Resolution 2011-004 – Investment Changes

3. Resolution 2011-005 – Fund Balance


1. Membership Report Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent





Friday, April 8, 2011

District Redistricting, Budget, and Prime Rib

School District Redistricting

UPDATE NOTE: The County Elections Office will draw the boundaries, but the County Commissioners will need to approve the boundaries.  If the district's boundaries did not cross city lines, the city would be responsible for the redistricting.

I had a call from a constituent who was concerned about the board's input into the redistricting process.  The concern had to do with the current structure with so much board representation being in Orem.  The redistricting is supposed to be fairly uniform and contiguous.  However, there is a lot of latitude and power associated with redistricting.  Do you maintain the individual board members in each of their respective districts, and just make long, convoluted districts?  Or do you simply try to make so many miles square and let the chips fall where they may?  Following the growth patterns, the Orem folks will, most likely, lose a representative on the board, making the ratio 2 Orem to 5 others, down from 3 Orem to 4 others.  Boards, unlike other representatives' districts are limited in size.  More population doesn't equate to more representation, only different representation.

Since school boards are limited to seven members, the current board boundaries need to be shifted to accommodate the greater growth both West and North in our district.  Currently, Orem has 3 board members and 1 board member each for PG/Lindon, AF, Alpine/Highland/Cedar Hills/Draper/some Lehi, most Lehi/Eagle Mountain/Saratoga Springs.  The County Commissioners (see update note) will redraw the boundaries before June.  Should a sitting board member's area be swallowed up into another area, that member will be an 'at large' member and represent the "new" area until their next election.  At that next election, it is entirely possible (although the county may try to avoid this) to have 2 incumbent board members running against each other.  As a fan of opposition in all things, I think this is a fine scenario. 

In reading some articles about other school districts, they are working with their County to help redraw the precinct lines.  In asking about our involvement, I was told the County Commission would draw the lines, and then present it to us for our comments. 

If you are interested in how your representation will be affected, I recommend you contact the County Commissioners and the Elections Office to discuss this process and to provide your input.  I assume, by June, when the boundaries have already been drawn, it may be too late to have any impact.   The official boundaries will be set in stone in January 2012.   By way of information, two of the three County Commissioners do not live within ASD 's boundaries.   Certainly, if you live in the West or the North, you should contact the County Commissioners about what you believe to be fair redistricting.  For myself, as close to so many squares as possible would be the ideal.  I am tired of gerrymandered districts that make absolutely no sense.  Go with population, and leave the incumbents' concerns about reelection to their new constituents.


I attended the operations budget committee meeting.  The district administrators have submitted their requests for budget items that 1) change (usually increase) resources over current allocations or 2) compensate for areas that lost funding from the last legislative session.  The committee meeting was meant to be a prioritization meeting.  From those priorities, I assume, an actual budget will be proposed.  The board will, then, review this proposal, ask questions, and modify it, if necessary.  The board must have a final budget approved by June 22 of each year.  The budget will not include potential bond amounts and/or projects, since the bond must be approved by the voters. 

Two items of interest. 

First, there is a portion of property tax, levied by ASD, that is, by law, sent to the charter schools.  This was interesting to me because when I was involved with a charter school, there was no property tax component to the funding.  In speaking with my State Rep, charter school funding seems to change from legislative session to legislative session.  As it stands, 25% of the property tax allocated per student going to a charter schools is given to their respective charter schools.  The caveat is that the charter enrollment information comes from two years prior to the current year.  The question I have is how do new charter schools get funding, and what if a charter school's enrollment increases or decreases significantly in that 2-year time frame?  I need to find out why the lag in data projections.  Also, the concern from the district is two-fold.  1) This year it will amount to over $1M (last year and the year before, the amounts were $850K and $950K roughly) and 2) the board are the people who must appear before the taxpayers during the truth in taxation hearings to account for any increases in property tax.

Second, due to the Obamacare mandates in health insurance, our district's health insurance premiums will increase by about $3M this next year.  In addition, because employees can now opt to cover their dependent children (married on not, but not spouses and their children) to age 26, there is an estimated $854,000 in additional premiums for those dependents. 

The capital budget will appear on the April 19 board meeting agenda, and the operations budget, I assume, will be on the May agenda.  Even though, a truth in taxation hearing may occur in August/September should the board approve a tax rate increase, the time to give input on the budget is now through June.  It's kind of a backwards process where you put together a budget and approve it (and start using it on July 1, if I understand correctly), but ask for feedback from the people in August.  By August, it's too late.  I look forward to your input on the budget over the next two months.

Prime Rib (aka ESP Association Dinner)

The term ESP doesn't mean what you think it means in this context.  ESP stands for Education Support Professionals.  In the district, there are 3 employee associations: teachers (Alpine Education Association), administration (don't know the name of that one), and ESP (formerly called classified employees).  The ESP's are all the non-teachers in the district.  Within the association, there are different groups who elect their own officers to represent their interests to the ESP officers as a whole.  For example, some of the groups are: Food Services, Transportation, Custodial Staff, Secretaries, Nursing, and Media Specialists.  The dinner was hosted by the ESP officers and the group presidents.  The board and district cabinet members were invited to attend.  It was strictly for the purpose of getting to know each other.  Under Utah Law, the district must negotiate collective bargaining with any association that has a majority membership among the employee group.  See the Utah Code here