"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, August 30, 2013

No Man Can Serve Two Masters: School Grading/Accountability

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

School Grading is touted as a way for parents to find out how well their school is doing. Obviously, we pay lip-service to parents being primarily responsible for their child's education, but we have higher levels of masters who take that power away from parents. If the teachers, schools, and student are graded based on how well the student does on a test, then everything is dependent on that test. I believe all those involved in setting standards, assessments, and school grading in this state are intending to have the best outcomes available for children. However, it is important to stop and look at the principles behind these issues and what the end results most likely will be. Who is the master we will serve?

A prime case in point is the presentation we received as a Board on Aug. 13 about the new school grading and teacher evaluation programs.   (A great overview can by found online, courtesy of the Alpine Parent Society.) These programs have been put into law by the legislature, but are also requirements of the Federal Waiver from No Child Left Behind. I could go into the mathematical flaws in the system, the necessary faith in the test creators, and the fact that testing drives what is taught in the classroom. However, the biggest issue I have is who will truly have the power to determine what our children learn. If you realize teacher evaluations, school grades and student grades are all tied to the new state SAGE (Common Core) tests, you realize whoever writes and grades those tests affects every aspect of education in this state. Say what you will about standards, the practical application of it will be in the tests.
Here's an example. Some people have heard recently of the Toni Morrison book, The Bluest Eye. I have never read it, but the excerpts I've read put it, in my opinion, in the category of pornography. (You may disagree, but bear with me for the sake of the argument.) I have an acquaintance back East whose children have read this repeatedly in her private, Catholic school, not because the teachers and administrators agree with the book, but because selections from the book appear on the AP English test. In this case, the AP test determines what is taught in the classroom, even if it is completely contrary to the values and mission of a particular school.

Additionally, the federally-funded Common Core tests (SBAC and PARCC) are testing “process and communication skills over content knowledge”, according to one reviewer. Since our test-developer (AIR) is also developing the SBAC test, one wonders if our state tests will follow suit. If so, anyone who fails to teach the proper methodology, not just the facts, puts their students, their career, and their school in jeopardy. (An example of this from another state can be found here.) Testing is the way standards, curricula and teaching methods are enforced. 

Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said, “It doesn't matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Similarly, “He who makes the tests, controls the education.” The Master of our Education is the test-maker/grader. 

Parents can want certain things taught. Our laws and constitution can say how parents are primarily involved in their child's education. We can speak till we're blue in the face about how parents and local control of education are so important. But as soon as we tie everything to the grade on a test--a test parents have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over--we realize we have a different master. Instead, we must have complete faith in the test developers.  Have they created a fair, accurate system of measuring what we, as parents, want?  And if they do not, there is nothing we can do at a local level to change it. 

We think an end-of-year test will be testing fact, knowledge, and information. However, the emphasis of the SAGE (Common Core) testing is to test “higher-order thinking” over fact. Most parents want their kids to learn higher-order thinking. But what does higher-order thinking mean to the test developer? Benjamin Bloom, author of the well-respected Bloom's Taxonomy (used extensively in education) defines it this way,”...a student attains 'higher-order thinking' when he no longer believes in right or wrong.” (Major Categories in the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, p. 185) This is completely inconsistent with my motto on education: Truth vanquishes darkness. 

You cannot serve two masters. 

Education cannot serve the parents if they can't control the test.  Higher-order thinking cannot lead to the discovery of truth if it also means no right or wrong.  

In the end, who is the master of education in Utah? The state tests, brought to you by American Institutes for Research. It's not you, and it's not me.

About 50% of the time, I agree with the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) on legislation. This is one of those times. We may not agree for all the same reasons, but we agree on the end result. Last session, the legislature passed SB271 on school grading. This is an update of a school grading bill from 2011. In response to the 2011 law, the State Office of Ed developed a process for grading schools, called UCAS. UCAS is mathematically flawed and, like every accountability measure emanating from the state, will take local control away. SB271 is opposed by the USBA because, while they must have some sort of school grading to get the No Child Left Behind waiver, they prefer the UCAS grading system. I think we need to get rid of it all. However, I will be at the press conference/rally the USBA is holding in opposition to the current version of school grading, SB271, on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. at the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) office at 860 E. 9085 South (East on 90th South, just east of 700 East and the Canyons School District ATC buildings).  I'd invite everyone who is opposed to the enforcement Common Core via testing, or to centralized control over education to attend.

Just remember, we can't serve two masters. Until we reassert our rightful position, as masters of our children's education, education in Utah will continue to be subject to a master set up by those who are willing to fill the void we have left.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Can I Have an Impact on the Direction of our District? Answers Here!

As school starts, I want to inform you about 3 opportunities for you to get involved.  I have lots of people say they'd like to be more involved, but other than PTA, what can they do?  Also, you want to have an impact in your child's education, but how much time does it really require.  Well, here you go.

1) I am looking for one volunteer to serve on the District Community Council for the Ridgeline/Timberline/Westfield area.  The DCC is the public input arm of the district.  It will require you to attend about 80% of the School Community Council meetings from those 3 schools, and then attend a meeting at the District Office once every two months to report on any issues from those 3 schools.  Please let me know if you are interested.  This is a great opportunity to have input, to communicate the local issues, and to provide feedback.

2) The district would like 3 volunteers from the 'empty nest' crowd to participate in a single evening focus group in September.  The aim is to find a way to better communicate and involve our empty nesters in the direction and focus of the district.  Please let me know if you are interested in participating.

3) And finally, the Alpine Parent Society is in full swing.  A few enterprising mothers have started the society to attend and report on Board meetings and any other important doings of the district.  It is on a rotating basis, and you only need to commit to 2 times each year.  Each meeting will be about 1.5 hours.  So, this would be a total commitment of 3 hours each YEAR.  This helps to increase the transparency of the board, and to allow the local community to have an impact.  Also, just because Parent is in the name, it really means any taxpayer in the district.  So, just like the empty nest coalition, you needn't have kids in district schools to participate.  Here's the link: http://alpineparentsociety.wordpress.com/  We had great success with this in Highland City.  I think the goal is to have a couple of people attend each board meeting.  But for right now, they just want to get people in the swing of things.  Please sign up today!

Thanks for your support!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Aug. 6, 2013 @ 6pm: Hearing on Property Tax Increase!!!

Tuesday, Aug. 6, 6pm at the District Office, 575 N. 100 E., American Fork!!!!

Tonight is the final hearing and vote on the tax increase for the district.  While it is a minimal tax increase, scheduled to raise $1.5 M to replace the amount being sent to charter schools by the state, I believe that a tax increase is a measure of last resort.  While we can always find good things to do with that money, the question is whether or not we need that additional amount to fulfill our obligations.

As an example, during June's meeting, we purchased a piece of property from MATC for $1.4M.  This property may be used to move our Adult Services classes for those with disabilities from our Lindon facility to American Fork.  We could also use it to house our At-risk students' alternative High School.  In short, there are many potential uses, but nothing concrete at the moment.  So, do we need to now raise taxes from our patrons for the same amount?  Sure, we can raise taxes and replace carpets and make repairs.  But, we could also not purchase property and do the same thing.  For me, I would have preferred to wait on the property until we were more clear on its use before expending the money. 

Just because our district can use your tax money to do good things, just because it's not a lot of money, does that mean we have a moral imperative to take your money by force?  I think we are under a greater obligation to make sure this is the last possible course of action for educating the kids of our district before we come to you with our hand open.  Property taxes, as I've said before, are the most eggregious form of taxation.  You don't get more money as your property values increase, but you still have to pay the increased taxes.  This places a huge burden on people who are undergoing income difficulties.  There are waivers for the elderly and the disabled, but nothing for a young family that moved into their first home last year and then lost their full-time employment, or a military family affected by the sequester.  While I know we could use the money, I am not convinced that it meets the criteria of being the last, possible resort.  I think it is just simply a matter of wanting to get the amount back that the legislature sent to the charter schools.  I disagree with the legislature on this one, but I'm not comfortable making you pay for their mistake.  For me, showing up the legislature on the backs of our taxpayers isn't what good government means.