"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, October 27, 2014

Why Have a School Board? Taxation without Representation

What my opponent got wrong. 

From her post:
What would our school district look like if my opponent’s votes had the support of the majority of the School Board?

Monthly bills would have gone unpaid more than 30 months in the 4 years she has served.
The Board, by law, receives a report on a monthly basis of what HAS ALREADY BEEN PAID.  Four school districts in the state do not take any formal action on the claims.  My substitute motions were always to 'accept' the claims instead of 'approving' them.  I can accept them, but I don't have enough information to approve them.  After two years, with two new board members, we now accept the claims.  I have voted 'yes' on all 'acceptance' of the claims.  I will never vote to approve something that I cannot personally stand behind and support.

No annual budgets would have been approved, so maintenance and operation funds would not be approved to be used by schools.
Annual budgets must be approved by June 22 of every year.  A budget would have been approved, but if the majority had agreed with me, we wouldn't have spent $75,000 for a party or nearly $42,000 of your money on dues for the Board and Superintendent.  Instead, we would have had more teachers and/or aides in the classroom, a lower tax rate, and discussions of important budget issues by board members BEFORE the money is allocated.

We would not have had the financial ability to accommodate growth, so class sizes would have been even larger.
This might reference the 2013-14 budget where I voted against a tax rate increase and against a salary increase for our Superintendent and our Business Administrator.  It's wrong to ask the people for more money in taxes and then pay your top administrators more.  I suggested that the Board pay the Superintendent and the Business Administrator a modest increase out of our own salaries. 

Taxes on our local residents would have to be raised to compensate for withdrawal from ANY Federal funding.
Many Federal programs cost so much to implement that there isn't a benefit.  I have never moved to get away from ANY Federal funding. Federal Special Education funds, in particular, are severely constrained by federal strings, impacting our ability to 'plug holes'.  When the federal strings impacts our kids, it's important to look at what our options are.  I have supported requests asking for an analysis of the costs vs. benefits of our different federal programs.  Our federal strings give us 6% of our budget, but control a lot more than 6% of what we do.  We need to know if the benefit of the funding is worth the cost of the strings. 

Our schools would be subjected to the federal No Child Left Behind standards and labeled as failing.
Under No Child Left Behind, all schools are failing this year.  That's not anyone's fault but Congress'.  The waiver magnanimously provided by the US Dept of Education included 'assurances' that violate No Child Left Behind.  I supported the Waiver submitted by our State Board of Education that is allowing us to get out from under the egregious penalties of No Child Left Behind and still retain our state's control over education, as legally REQUIRED under No Child Left Behind.

Extracurricular activities that serve students and address their needs would be limited to ONLY what the school board wants to offer.
If a club is illegal under state law, it is the duty of the local school board to limit or deny that club.  I asked that the Board, not just our administration, consult with legal counsel.  If the majority had agreed, we would have been able to go forward knowing, legally, where we stood, instead of hoping that someone doesn't sue us.

Benefits for teachers would be reduced or eliminated
I have never voted to reduce or eliminate benefits for teachers and I never would. I have supported every single salary increase or bonus given to teachers. 

If the Board isn't supposed to weigh in and represent the various views of the community on these many issues, then why have a school board at all?  I support public education.  I support the public, not just funding education, but having a say in what that education looks like through their local board members.  Otherwise, a board, rubber stamping whatever is proposed, is just taxation without representation.

Utah Law: Duties of a Business Administrator
By contrast, I have found nothing in the duties of the school board that say we have to approve all of these expenses that have already conformed to our policies.

Claims discussion:
(download the study session audio file)

2014 Budget Discussion:
(Scroll down to additional media, listen to the Board meeting, my motion is at 47 min in)

No Child Left Behind
See Sec. 9401: Waivers (who can do them and what is required)
and Sec. 9527: Prohibitions on Federal Government...

My letter to the  Utah State School Board on the NCLB Waiver

Utah Law: School Clubs

2014 School Clubs motion for legal counsel
(Scroll down to additional media, listen to the Board meeting, beginning at 16 min, 50 sec)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"You Don't Care About Kids!": Civil Discourse

Most people you meet care about kids.  People involved in education pride themselves on their commitment and the nobility of working with and wanting to provide a good education for the next generation.  However, when the discussion turns to specifics of policy, spending, and issues in education, the opposing sides trot out the famous line (or some variation thereof), "You don't care about kids!"  I know.  It's a common theme. Not all that original.

Stop and think for a moment.  Of all your friends and neighbors--people you know well--what percentage of them would you say don't care about kids?  If you were to extrapolate on that number, what percentage of the inhabitants of Utah don't care about kids?  For me, I don't know a SINGLE person who doesn't care about kids. I really don't.  What that means is, based on my experience, I should not ever encounter a person who doesn't care about kids.  And, honestly, I don't think that I have, to date.  Oh sure, I have met all kinds of people with whom I disagreed on all sorts of education policies.  I have met people with whom I have had passionate discussions.  But through it all, I have never doubted that they cared about kids.  I have, honestly, doubted how their positions would lead to better outcomes for kids, or, practically, how a nice-sounding idea that wasn't grounded in reality could possibly work.  But, as far as their motivation and their intent, I have yet to come across anyone in any capacity that truly wanted to do harm to or was apathetic toward the children in their purview.

That's not to say there isn't evil in the world; there is.  But, I don't know those people, and, most likely, neither do you.

A few weeks ago, a friend posed the question about the difference between conflict and contention.  A person I do not know responded that the difference was contempt.  She went on to explain that when you see someone as worth less than yourself, you treat them with contempt.  Since we shouldn't be treating people as worthless, all are valuable, especially from a religious perspective, then we should never treat people with contempt.  Even those with whom we disagree. Even those who we think are about as wrong as they could possibly be.  Error is the human condition.  We all make mistakes.  And it is that human fallibility our Founders wanted to make sure was tempered with checks and balances and a lot of public discourse.  But to have true public discourse, people need to actually talk.  And that talk must allow for different perspectives and understanding.  Impugning of motives will shut down productive discourse faster than anything.  People can be wrong, but not have bad intent.  I learned a long time ago, that disagreeing or even being angry with someone doesn't mean you have to malign their character or treat them poorly.

So, my challenge to every single person reading this blog (but most especially to those who are supporting me this election season): do not give in to contempt.  Conflict, disagreement, vigorous debate--ABSOLUTELY!  Contempt, disrespect, and the impugning of motives--REJECT IT!  You may not understand why someone does what they do, but don't assume they are doing it for malicious reasons.  Thumper's dad was right, "If you can't say somethin' nice [about someone's character or motives], don't say nothin' at all."  You haven't walked in their shoes.  So really, you have no idea what is in their heart.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.   Most likely, they are human with a different set of experiences, and, I'm pretty sure, they do care about kids.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Well, At least, you're consistent!": University Place CDA, Your tax dollars at work

"Well, at least you're consistent!" 

We are talking about the University Place (CDA--Commercial Development Agency) in Orem. The plan is to take $63 million in future property taxes, $44 million of it from Alpine School District, and allow the developer to reinvest that money into infrastructure. The largest property owner in the City of Orem will get a $63 million tax break. If we were to give this amount in tax breaks to every business in Orem, that would be about $25,000 per business.   

Even though, this is legal, I believe it is wrong for several reasons.  And, "at least, I'm consistent!"

My fellow board member Paula Hill has an excellent commentary on this issue.  I concur!

I am reading comments about the Orem Mall (newly minted as “University Place”). I would like to explain the pros, and then give my take as to why they are wrong.

Alpine District currently receives $1,123,000 a year in property tax from the existing mall. The tax incentive plan proposes to give ASD either 25% or 50% (both have been discussed) of all property tax increase, leaving the original $1.1 million still coming in to the district. The incentive is only for the infrastructure, as ASD does not participate in residential or commercial properties. There is no “giving” of district money to anyone, any way.

This is not a backroom deal made by smarmy “suits” determined to rob the public of their fair share. These are conclusions drawn by fine administrators with good business sense. It appears to be a win-win: the incentive helps the business grow, and even though we get a small part, a small part of a lot is better than all of nothing. And of course in twenty years, we get the whole she-bang.

These are the flaws I see in the reasoning.
1. It is economic engineering, human beings peering into the next twenty years and making informed guesses, but guesses just the same.

2. It is based on false principles—the correct economic principle being allowing the free market to function, well, freely.

3. It violates two of the items on the ASD criterion for CDA’s (or RDA’s, or whatever initials we come up with)
  • We do not move money around the district. At the Orem City Council meeting, where all the Good Old Boys were explaining to us obtuse citizens, there was a lot of talk about competing with “up north,” occasionally even citing specifically Lehi’s attracting businesses. The outline at the Board discussion listed bringing out-of-state money, but the reality is there was a lot of fuss about the north end of the county. So, as a government entity we are picking winners and losers
  • We ask the unanswerable question (and guess at the answer), “Would the business go without us?” The feeling expressed was that it probably would, but not as quickly, therefore we would not get even our smaller share of property tax valuation as fast. But a cruise around the current mall shows the older area under busy construction all over the place, and the newer areas, including Costco, the theater, etc., are bustling already. Orem City website is continuously welcoming new merchants. The mall is already going without us.
There are other plans out there that are not being considered. Some Orem citizens don’t want a “walkable” town, with a high concentration of glitz and glitter in one area and essentially down-grading all other shopping. The talk was of the “halo effect” that would benefit State Street, etc., but one comment on why we were helping retail to grow in one area at the expense of others was that, well, those other stores could move to the mall too. At a city planning session (charette is the new buzz word) three of four citizen groups identified Orem City’s downtown as Center Street and State Street. Yet the planners hijacked the consensus and claimed the mall as the center of town.

Our discussion at the September 9 Board meeting included, “What do we have to lose?” meaning would we rather have a small piece of the cake or no cake at all? My response was that I am not a gambler, especially with the tax-payers’ money, but since we have to make a call I am going with the principle of the free market knowing what is best. I choose 100% of the property tax growth free enterprise will engineer, all on its own, versus one-half to one-fourth of what the “suits” are declaring we will get. It is not that I do not see the value to the district as well as to the community of the revitalization of Orem, it is that I do not believe there is a right way to do the wrong thing. And the tax incentive for University Place is the wrong thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug. 31 Deadline: Governor's Survey on Common Core Standards

The Governor has a survey on Common Core.  The deadline to submit your comments is this SUNDAY, Aug. 31, 2014.  Find the survey here: http://utah.gov/governor/standards/

Regardless of what you think about the standards, please make sure you take this survey.  Public input on the standards in 2010 was noticeably lacking.  As parents, teachers, taxpayers, and citizens, it is our duty and responsibility to voice our opinion on the issues facing our elected representatives.  I applaud Governor Herbert for asking for our input.  Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity.

A couple of suggestions: There are a lot of claims made about  Common Core and the CCSS Reform Package that includes the standards, as well as testing, teacher evaluations, longitudinal database, etc.  Make your comments as respectful as possible and as fact-based as you can.  In some of the recent articles, if people mentioned federal involvement, they were dismissed as not being informed, since the Federal government did NOT write the standards.  Sure, they coerced, bribed, incentivized and fully support the standards, but they did NOT write them.  Also, if you have concerns about particular assignments, make sure that they are required by the standards.  Too often, we are told that the standards are just standards, not curriculum.  If you don't like the assignment your kid brings home, we're told it's because the teacher isn't very good or the school district made a poor decision on what they chose for curriculum.  Most teachers, however, are choosing assignments based on the standards, but it is a tricky semantics game.  So, be very particular about what it is you say and how you say it.

A great analysis of the principles behind Republican opposition to Common Core can be found from the Utah County GOP Chairman, Casey Voeks, here: http://vimeo.com/97553651

I will list below two items: 1) The letter all school boards, superintendents and business administrators received this week, asking for our input on the standards.  You need to know that this email went out to about 300 people asking for input.  2) My comments on the three free-text boxes on the survey.  (Yes, there are some typos. I apologize, but that is what I submitted.)

Letter to USBA, USSA, and UASBO members on the governor's survey:
Good afternoon Board Members, Superintendents and Business Administrators –
The Governor is seeking feedback on a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards, as described below.  We have been asked to send this out to our employees, parents and parent groups, School Community Councils and others that have viewpoints and information to share on the Utah Core Standards.  Thank you for whatever help you might offer.

Subject: Governor's Standards Survey
Governor Herbert is asking parents, teachers, community members, and constituents to provide feedback in a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards. Respondents to this survey are encouraged to provide a general response on specific standards that they support, those they feel are problematic, or those that could be improved. 
The Governor's Standards Survey closes this coming Sunday, August 31. As of today, statistics show that 3,103 people have taken the survey, and the Governor’s office would like many more to voice their opinions. 
Please take a few moments to participate in this online survey and let your voice be heard. You will find the survey atutah.gov/governor/standards. Click on the dark blue section where it says, “Take the Survey.”
My comments on the Governor's Survey:

English Standards:

Too much of a focus on close reading. This allows for easy computer grading, but removes the reader from having an actual input into a selection. Also, not being able to bring in other metaphors or ideas outside of the text is not 'critical or higher-order thinking'. K-3 standards are developmentally inappropriate. The English standards overall are fairly vague. I'm not opposed to teaching argumentative writing, but supplanting persuasive with argumentative instead of teaching both is problematic. Both serve useful purposes. Also, reducing narrative writing isn't helpful. Finally, reading excerpts of classic works is not nearly as beneficial as reading the entire work. If the work is beneficial, the entire work should be read and studied. We make better writers from reading great writers. Informational text with the exception of the Declaration of Independence (or really anything from Jefferson) will, in almost every instance, be seriously lacking in writing quality when compared with the great works of Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Walt Whitman, etc. Finally, because of the requirement to include modern works, etc, it makes it difficult for a classical education model to be successfully implemented. Usually, classical models focus on time periods over certain grades. If you have to jump to some 20th Century author in the middle of your Greco-Roman period, you no longer have the capability to study in traditional classical fashion. Also, I'm not convinced that 20th Century authors are 1) better writers or 2) have deeper ideas than Socrates, Aristotle, Dante, etc.

Math Standards:

I could write pages on this. First, get rid of the standards for mathematical practice. These are standards that anyone fairly good at math will be able to do/demonstrate by solving a multi-step math problem. Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, Mathematics professor at Johns Hopkins, said that these practice standards are neither teachable nor testable. Second, there are many standards that contain pedagogy and curricular directives. These directives lean heavily toward the constructivist "Investigations" Math that was so controversial in Alpine district. Also, asking kids, especially those with a disability like Autism, to show multiple ways of doing the same problem or to explain how 2+2 = 4, is very frustrating and will serve to discourage them. The integrated math pathway that Utah (and Vermont) chose is very problematic for placement for kids that move in or out of the state. It also doesn't allow students who want to take Geometry and Algebra 2 concurrently. Next, the standards, especially in the high school integrated courses, are extremely incoherent. It seems like they took the standards from Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry threw them up on a dart board, and then just divided them into thirds. Many of the Algebra 2 concepts that are taught in 9th grade (e.g. exponential equations) with basic Algebra 1 concepts are not presented with any understanding of how to truly solve them in an algebraic manner, because the concept of logarithms (the inverse of exponents) is not addressed at all. So, the concepts do not build from one solid foundation to another concept that is within the grasp of the student to truly solve. Finally, where the average student used to have the opportunity to take Calculus as a Senior (starting with Algebra 1 in 8th grade), the only way to take Calculus as a Senior is to take the Honors grouping over three years. What this does is condenses 4 years of high-level math (Alg 1,2, Geo, pre-calc) into 3 years ( grades 9 -11) instead of 4 (grades 8-11) as it used to. As a math major and a programmer by trade, I do not believe I would have been able to master some of the more difficult concepts, especially in Algebra 2, if they had been condensed into 3 years instead of 4. So, we are making the path to Calculus more difficult for the average student who can do math, but who may not be exceptional. This will yield fewer STEM majors, not more. The focus on constructivist math practices will serve only to alienate students from their parents, as the parents struggle to help them with math. Even if the constructivist philosophy were phenomenal and backed up by research (which it is not), the role of the public education system in this state is to support parents, not replace them. If parents can't help their kids with homework, we send a subliminal message to their kids that parents are not the proper authorities to go to for. This directly violates State and Natural Law, and we should have no part in it.

General Comments:
I am opposed to national standards (which if you have a majority of states all implementing at the same time, you create de facto). We are limiting, through attrition, any other pathways for higher ed. The GED, SAT, and AP tests are all being aligned--this will force private and home schoolers into the same mix. The testing is the enforcement mechanism of the standards, and believing that a test, computer or otherwise, can more accurately measure and assist my child more than his/her teacher who spends 180 days with him/her is completely ludicrous. I see no evidence that 'critical thinking' can accurately be assessed by a computer. I would argue that human interaction, alone, would be able to assess this. The assessments also appear to measure process (see the reference to pedagogy and curricular directives in the math section) more than fact. As such, students who are successful will have to learn how to take these tests and answer them "properly", not just based on knowledge and information that can be gleaned from the wisdom of the ages. This is the exact definition of 'teaching to the test'. At this time, I do not see evidence that is what is being tested is necessarily what I want my child to know. Finally, the focus on 'college and career-ready' devalues the purpose of education--education does not exist to create good 'human capital' for the workforce. If we focus only on economic outcomes, we devalue all of our students who will not 'contribute sufficiently'. This is a highly distressing emphasis for parents with kids who have special needs and who may not fulfill that 'human capital' pipeline that the workforce is so interested in.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NCLB Waiver Letter to the State Board

Dear State School Board Members:

I can't thank you enough for taking the time to look at this important issue from all sides.  Regardless of the outcome, I appreciate the time, the thoughtfulness, and the deliberation that you have given to this issue.

I have read all of Utah's current ESEA Waiver, the Legal Analysis from the Attorney General, as much as I have been able to of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the bill sponsored by Senator Dayton in 2005, as referenced in the report from the Attorney General.  I hope that my comments will be of benefit to you.

I do not support renewing the ESEA Waiver.  The Waiver, as I explained in my comments in July, transfers power from our elected Congressional leaders to unelected people in the US Department of Education.  I believe we should always be wary when we transfer power from elected representatives to unelected people. 

Furthermore, NCLB specifically prohibits some of the assurances that the Dept of Ed (USED) is requesting as a condition of the Waiver.  For example, Sec. 9527 that is the trigger for Sen. Dayton's legislation requesting a waiver, prohibits the federal government from mandating curricula, standards, etc. 

It says: "Notwithstanding any other provision of

Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content

or student academic achievement standards approved or

certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance

under this Act."

I would humbly suggest that the requirement to have college- and career-ready standards 'common to a significant number of states' is a specific set of achievement standards, i.e. Common Core. Additionally, Option B requires a particular process that is external to state law for adopting 'acceptable' standards under the Waiver.  As such, I would submit that a process such as this, dictated by the USED, is a de facto 'certification' of standards.  In short, to adopt this Waiver, would effectively trigger Sen. Dayton's law to request a Waiver from the Waiver, as it requires a waiver request anytime Sec. 9527 is infringed upon. 

Additionally, the NCLB Waiver section does not contain any authorization for the USED to make additional requirements of states as part of the waiver process that are not already contained in the NCLB law, itself.  The requirements for the waiver are contained in Sec. 9401 and outline the following:

1. An SEA, LEA or Indian Tribe may apply for a waiver

2. Identify the programs affected and what we are asking to be waived

3. Explain how the waiver will a) improve quality of instruction and b)improve academic achievement of students

4. Describe specific, measurable goals and how those goals will be measured under the waiver

5. Explain how the waiver will allow the SEA, LEA, Indian Tribe to obtain those goals

6. Describe how affected schools will continue to provide assistance to the populations served while under the waiver.

There are no legal requirements for any additional assurances that can dictate teacher evaluations, standards, or assessment methods.  In fact, from reading NCLB, it appears that it was assumed the state would modify its plan on a regular basis.  As such, the Secretary is "shall not have the authority to require a State, as a condition of approval of the State plan, to include in, or delete from, such plan one or more specific elements of the State's academic content standards or to use specific academic assessment instruments or items."  The argument about the standards is the same as referenced above.  Additionally, this section discusses assessment instruments.  The assessment piece is one of the assurances, as well. 

Finally, it appears that the Waiver process is open to the State Board or any LEA at any point in time, and is supposed to be 'developed and submitted' by the SEA or LEA.  I would suggest that for us to adopt the Waiver provided to us by the USED (and just fill in the appropriate information), the Waiver does not meet the requirement of being developed by the SEA or LEA. 

I would, respectfully, request the following:

1. Please do not renew the current waiver.

2. Please either write a new waiver, specifically developed by the SEA or modify the existing Waiver application to remove the assurances.  All assurances would be preferable, but at the very least, those prohibited by the law, itself in Sec. 9527.

3. Please make a formal request/resolution of our legislature to restore the $26 million that will be made inflexible should the new waiver not be approved. 

4. Please make a formal request/resolution of our Congressional delegation to repeal or replace NCLB as soon as possible.

I recognize the biggest concern many of you have in not approving the waiver is the impact it will have on funding in our local schools.  As a local school board member, I cannot thank you enough for this.  It seems to be very rare that our local concerns rise to a higher level.  It is so very much appreciated!  However, I believe it to be far more important to be out from under the requirements being dictated to us, especially in regards to teacher evaluations being tied to testing, approval of our testing instruments, as well as our standards.  Alpine School District was able to finish the year with nearly $10 million in fund balance in our general fund.  20% of our Title 1 monies would be $1.8 million.  As such, while I would welcome the opportunity to use that money to reduce class sizes or to pay for more aides, I believe our children, parents, and teachers will be better served with more local control and accountability that will come in the absence of the current waiver.  I acknowledge that there will be difficulties, and going the waiver route would be easier.  However, if we just go along now, how do we know next year's waiver will not be more egregious? 

If we are able to receive a waiver without committing to the assurances, that would be fantastic!

Thank you so very much for your service!


Wendy K. Hart
Mother of 3
Alpine School District, Board of Education, representing Alpine, Cedar Hills, and Highland
Highland, UT

Principle or Practicality:No Child Left Behind Waiver

Tomorrow, August, 8, 2014 at 10am, the State Board will debate and decide whether or not to accept the US Department of Education's (USED) waiver for some No Child Left Behind (NCLB) penalties.  This is actually a huge decision, determining who will decide the future of education in Utah.

The Problem:
No Child Left Behind is a huge overreach of the Federal government into education.  It arguably violates the Tenth Amendment.  As of 2014, every student in every school is supposed to pass our statewide tests, no matter what.  If not, the Title 1 schools (low income) that receive Federal Title 1 funds will have to set aside 20% of those Title 1 funds to use in transportation to another (non-failing) school, before and after school tutoring programs, and professional development.  In Alpine, we will be receiving about $9 million in Title 1 funds this year, and so $1.8 million, instead of being used however we see fit in the schools, will need to be set aside for those reasons this year.  This is about 0.3% of our entire budget for this year.

The US Department of Education has (magnanimously) offered a waiver for these past two years, allowing schools more flexibility with that 20%.  They have done so, in exchange for our agreement to adopt Common Core Standards*, Common Core Testing (SAGE), School and Teacher grading that is tied to the testing, and a central database on students, teachers, test scores--called reduction of duplication or something.  Two years ago, our State Board decided they were okay doing these things, and applied for the waiver.  At this point, they have the option of applying to extend the waiver. 

The Solution:
Before I get into my analysis of the problem and why I believe not renewing the waiver is the appropriate course of action, let me give you my proposed solution. 

1. The State Board should develop its own Waiver that has similar flexibility arrangements to those the Dept of Ed is suggesting.  HOWEVER, they should not put any of the 'assurances' that the Dept of Ed wants to say are a condition of the Waiver.  They are not required by law, and in fact, probably violate both state and federal laws.
2. The State Legislature should allocate $26 million to the schools to cover the lack of flexibility that will occur until such time as a waiver is granted.  (So contact the Governor and your State Reps and get their commitment to doing this.  $26 million from the state budget is a small price to pay to get rid of this level of federal overreach.)
3. Local school districts would need to provide at least some of that money to the Title 1 schools in the short term, with the promise of receiving a reimbursement from the state after the next legislative session.
4. Contact your Senators and your local Congressman.  Tell them to repeal NCLB, right away.

The State Board has the right to request a Waiver from the Feds, at any time.  They do NOT have to accept the waiver that the Dept. of Ed is proposing.  The Waiver is allowed under NCLB and does not specify they have to accept any requirements that come from the Feds.  The State Board is to propose a State plan and justify why waiving certain penalties and requirements will allow them to make their goals more readily.  Under NCLB, the waiver is supposed to be entirely of the State's own creation.  Furthermore, the Feds are not supposed to have any say in curriculum, standards, testing, or teaching materials.  In short, requiring the Common Core standards or SAGE testing as a condition of the Waiver would, itself, violate NCLB.

Additionally, some State Board members have met with legislative leaders who were supportive about allocating an additional $26 million to the schools to offset the amount schools would lose in having to accommodate those NCLB requirements.  The only downside is that the schools would need to have enough in their savings to cover that amount until the legislature can make that change in their next session in January.  So, for Alpine School District, we would need to allocate $1.8 million from our savings to our Title 1 schools to make up that difference.  Then the expectation is that the State would reimburse us in June or July of next year.  Since we finished off our fiscal year with almost $10 million in savings in our general fund, this would be do-able.

My Analysis:
I am very opposed to NCLB.  I opposed it in 2001, when I first heard of it.  It is a classic case of federal overreach, unintended consequences, and quite probably, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. But, I do not want the State Board to extend our NCLB Waiver for another year.  So if NCLB is so horrible, why would I possibly want to not get a waiver and go back to NCLB?

Here is my answer, and it's based on principle, not on practicality.

: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something
: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens
: likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use
: appropriate or suited for actual use
Politics is interesting.  Too often, we focus more on what is practical than what is the principle behind the issue.  Many times in life, we find that sticking to principle is much more difficult than just doing what is practical, at the time.  Ideally, it would be great to always have principle and practicality linked.  But, that is what makes standing on principle so difficult--they are often on opposing sides of many things.  As the definitions above highlight, principle is about truth, about right and wrong.  It is the guide that is to direct your actions and your decision-making.  Practicality is about what is most likely to succeed; it's about results, possibly only short-term results.  In the end, you will usually find that violating principle leads to long-term consequences and only short-term benefits. 
The waiver, as it currently exists, dictates that Utah will do 4 things
1) adopt the Common Core standards* and a form of statewide testing, acceptable to the Dept of Ed,
2) adopt a system of school grading (accountability system),
3) adopt a system of teacher and principal grading tied to test scores,
4) reduce duplication, e.g. create a statewide database for students, teachers, test scores, etc. 
In exchange, Utah receives a waiver from many of the egregious penalties in NCLB, including the repercussions if all schools don't have 100% of their students proficient by this year. 
So, why is this even an issue?
1.) The first principle is Separation of Powers.  As Americans, we have been raised with the concept that all power in government should not be centralized, but divided into many hands.  This prevents any one group of people from taking control and power away from the people.  Thomas Jefferson said, "What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government that has ever existed under the sun?  The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body." (1816)
But isn't NCLB a classic concentration of powers?  Yes, it is.  But it contains a few things that draw a line that cannot be crossed.  In NCLB there is a section called: Prohibitions on Federal Government and Use of Federal Funds (Sec. 9527).  NCLB (as well as a couple of other federal laws) says that despite giving us federal funds, the US Government cannot dictate, sanction, determine curriculum, standards, teaching materials, or tests.  What standards we teach, what materials we use, and what tests we use to determine if we are successful, those things are NOT ALLOWED under federal law.  It is this line that the Waiver crosses.  While it is true that our State Board adopted Common Core (which they are, arguably, allowed to do), we have seen in other states, like Indiana and Oklahoma, that when they have tried to back out of Common Core standards, their Waivers have been threatened.  Washington State just lost their Waiver because of the teacher evaluation piece.  In short, the Waiver gets rid of penalties from NCLB in a classic Faustian bargain, in exchange for the soul of our education system--what it is we teach and how that will be tested.
2.) The second principle is Representative Government.  The Waiver essentially transfers power over what Utah does in education, not to elected representatives in Congress, but to unelected bureaucrats in the US Department of Education.  All it requires for us to shift power from elected people to unelected people is for us to go along with the waiver.  We then show the Dept of Ed that we are willing to be led around by the nose, as long as we get some relief from NCLB.  Additionally, there has been a lessening of the outcry for Congress to repeal NCLB.  With the waivers, the Dept of Ed has done an end run around Congress, and if, at some future date, we don't like what they dictate to us, we will be stuck.  It is a complete power grab.  It goes from elected people to the unelected in one fell swoop.  And that, should be something we should all be opposed to.   
3.) And finally, and probably most important, Local Control.  Parents need to be primarily in charge of their children's education.  This is in State Law.  It is Natural Law.  Working with teachers who see their kids every day, parents and teachers will make the best decisions about a child's education. It's bad enough if the state dictates to us, but when decisions are made from a top-down perspective, parents and local teachers are left completely out of the loop.  Local school districts become the implementation arm of federal programs decided by some people with Washington connections who have never spent time in a classroom.  At the end of the day, the ideas and perspectives of our teachers and parents will give way to what we need in order to go along with the waiver.  As long as we can work within their requirements, all will be well.  But as soon as we step outside what they are willing to allow, we will be punished.
In conclusion, we need to draw the line in the sand over how much control we are willing to give to the Department of Education.  Just because we can live with their requirements now doesn't mean it will go well in the future.  We give that power away under somewhat favorable circumstances, but it will be very hard to get it back once it's gone.
If you would like to oppose the Waiver, please sign the letter at: http://bit.ly/XFQkxG
If you agree with the Waiver, please contact the State Board and express your opinion.
Text of my comments to the State Board on July 17, 2014
While my comments do no reflect the Alpine School District's Board of Education, they do reflect the thoughts of myself, and my fellow board members, Brian Halladay and Paula Hill.
We are asking you to not renew the NCLB Waiver. The decision you have before you is really about who will control education in Utah. A prisoner has complete freedom to walk wherever he chooses, as long as he stays within the confines of his prison cell. So too, we have been promised complete freedom over education in Utah, as long as we stay within the confines of the dictates of the US Department of Ed. With each iteration of the waiver, the Department of Ed can change Utah's education system unilaterally. Also, there is little motivation to fix NCLB, since the Waiver is seen as an acceptable Band-Aid. More importantly, however, the Waiver empowers the Department of Ed to dictate education policy directly to the states, completely independent of Congress. All it takes is for us to voluntarily comply with their power-grab. 
Whether you agree or disagree with the intent, outcomes, or motivation of the Department of Ed, providing this amount of power over the education of students in Utah to an unelected body is not something any American should be comfortable with. 
For Alpine school district, Title 1 funding is 1.7% of our budget. From NCLB, it appears we would still receive all Title 1 monies. We would lose flexibility in spending 20% of it, or 0.3% of our total budget. Just three-tenths of one percent! This amount isn't lost, merely reallocated. Due to great management in our district, we finished the fiscal year with 2.5% of our general fund budget remaining--more than 5 times what we would need to allocate to comply with NCLB. Would we like the flexibility to spend that three-tenths? Yes. But not at the cost of abdicating our responsibility for educating our kids to the whims of the US Department of Ed.
One of the fears in standing up against this waiver is the threatened loss of additional federal funds. However, recently the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the federal government could not withhold funding from other programs if a state refuses one particular program. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled, “The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
We are asking you to help us act like a sovereign state. Reject the encroachment of the federal Department of Ed on Utah's children. Why do we assume that they know better what the children in Utah need than those of us sitting here, and their parents and teachers? To be blunt, they don't. We shouldn't give them the power act like it.
*Yes, I know it doesn't actually say 'Common Core standards', it says college- and career-ready standards common to a significant number of states.  Or Option B, which we haven't selected, says we would adopt college and career-ready standards certified to prevent remediation by our institutions of higher ed.  Either way, the Waiver is dictating what standards are acceptable and which ones aren't.  This is a direct violation of the Prohibitions for the Federal Government section (9527) of NCLB.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor: After the Fireworks

Like most of you, I spent today, July 4th, remembering our heritage of freedom, enjoying family, and watching a beautiful array of fireworks throughout my neighborhood.  I reflected on the opportunities I have because I was born in this land, and because of the rights and freedoms that were secured for me by the actions and the blood of so many patriots over the years.  Because I want to pass on an appreciation for our freedoms, my older kids and I have read the Declaration of Independence this week.  I was awed again by the logic and the eloquence of Mr. Jefferson; the beauty of the prose, and the self-evident truths outlined by this "masterful expression of the American mind."  And yet, I was struck by one thing more: what is my responsibility?  How do I show my appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifices, the risks, and the price that others have paid before me to secure these blessings of liberty?

I think we often believe that Freedom and America were a foregone conclusion.  Because we came 200 years later, we just accept it as being the norm.  Can we truly appreciate how novel a concept breaking off from the Mother Country, with its tradition of the divine right of kings, truly was?  Can we understand how overwhelming it must have been to see the military might of the British, especially compared to the farmers and merchants in the American Army?  When George Washington was appointed to the head of the Continental Army, he said, "I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with." It was not due to false modesty, but to a true appreciation of the almost hopeless situation he was facing.  As we celebrate with parades and with fireworks, do we know of the fear and trepidation of the Continental soldiers?  of their Commander in Chief?  of the Continental Congressmen who signed their death warrants under the banner of "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal"?

As Thomas Paine said,  “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”  Have we obtained our freedom too cheaply?  Do we esteem it too lightly? The Signers of the Declaration of Independence concluded their message to the world with these words "we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."  Many of them gave their lives, their fortunes, their honor, and some, even their children to the cause of liberty.  Many subsequent generations have followed in their footsteps.  It now falls to us, to our generation, to show our gratitude for their sacrifice through our actions, through our commitment to those same principles. 

In light of those who came before, is it too much for us to research the candidates for every election?  Is it too much to ask to vote, after having done our due diligence?  Is it too much to ask to attend city council or school board meetings? Is it too much to ask that we keep abreast of current events?  Is it too much to ask that we share a knowledge of the history of our Founding, but, most importantly, the principles of God-given rights that cannot be taken from you "without His wrath"?

As we go about our busy lives, I hope you will join me, in recommitting to civic duty that will show honor and gratitude for those who gave so much to secure our freedoms.

John Adams said, "Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it."

Let us be worthy of the lives, the fortunes, and the sacred honor so willingly given by those who gave some, and by others who gave all.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A $75,000 Party and the "Minority Voice": What this Election Really Means

Should $75,000 of your tax dollars be used for a 100-year birthday party for the school district?

Should $41,999 of your tax dollars be used to pay for dues for the school board and the superintendent?

Should board members tell you where they stood on these issues and the rationale behind them, EVEN IF they didn't agree with the majority?

Please watch this 5 minute video from one of our debates on the issue of HB250, a new law that requires boards to be accountable to their constituents, regardless of their obligations to their board. Then share it with your friends and neighbors. http://www.wendyhart4asd.com/video-hb-250-will-of-the-board-vs-will-of-the-people.html

To see what the video demonstrates, let's go back to the last board meeting, June 17, 2014.  The board approved spending $75,000 for our school district's 100th-year birthday party.  $75,000 would pay for one teacher and benefits.  This is a good example of the 'fine-tuning' that I think needs to be done with our budget.  It is also an example of how the 'minority voice' is currently represented, but won't be, depending on the outcome of this election. 

Let me explain. There are two schools of thought when it comes to the role of local school boards. (Yes, pun intended.)

"We Hire Good People and We Trust Them"
The first idea is that people in education are good people, so we don't really need oversight.  Yes, the school district is funded with tax dollars, but somehow, education is outside the norm.  School districts really just need boards who will go along and be supportive of everything that comes from either the district administration, or, more likely, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE).  The decision really isn't about any individual thing, so much as it is about whether or not there are good people at the USOE and in our district office.  Once you know they are good people, that's all that needs to be determined.  Then, it falls to the board to fund and to be supportive.  This way, all is well in Utah County.

"Trust, but Verify"
The second idea is that taxpayer money requires oversight.  It makes no value judgement on the quality of the people in our district or at the USOE.  It says only that the functions of government are to be overseen and verified by elected representatives.  As such, those representatives MUST be able to speak their mind, and to share their opinions, whether the rest of the board agrees or not.  As my esteemed colleague, Paula Hill said, "I didn't leave my First Amendment Rights at the door when I was elected. In fact, my election requires me more so to say what I believe." (To listen to the audio, select the link, download the first audio file.  Start at 1 hour,16 minutes.)

This is the fundamental difference that will be determined by this election.  Should school board members go along with the direction of the district, even if they believe that direction to be wrong?  Or should they be able to communicate their opposition to you, the voters and parents?  Is education a different sort of animal, in that the standard debate, discussion, and differences of opinion are not to exist?  I say, "No."  But in the 19 years prior to my tenure on the board, there was never a single "Nay" vote on the budget.  In fact, I was told I shouldn't vote no on a budget, or let you know if I did vote no on anything else.

Back to Tuesday.  I asked that we move the $75,000 for the party, $41,999 that you are paying for the board's and the superintendent's association dues (Utah School Boards Association, National School Boards Association, etc), as well as $25,000 that we pay for the BYU-Public School Partnership dues into the line items for Instruction, either teachers or aides, and their associated benefits.  Whether you agree with the use of those funds or not, you need to understand that I am not supposed to tell you about this now.  My substitute motion failed, and I am supposed to tell you that we are all very supportive of the 100-year celebration, as well as the use of your money toward our dues.  In fact, in all this time, you should not know of my opposition to anything, including Common Core.  If Common Core is an election issue for you, you would need to go back to the June, 2011 minutes to realize that I made a substitute motion to place funding for Common Core on hold until the board had had a chance to discuss it.  And that would be all you would know. 

Whatever else we may agree or disagree on, I hope you know that I believe that every, single elected representative, including those on a school board, should be open and honest with the people.  The Will of the Board or the Unity of the Board is not nearly as important as First Amendment rights and the responsibility I have to let you know where I stand on every single issue.  Every one.

Please vote tomorrow, June 24th, and bring two or three of your neighbors with you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

For Teachers Only

I met with the Alpine Education Association (AEA) last week.  I have appreciated their support and their collaboration with our district through some very difficult decisions.  I have been pleased to work with these very good people who serve in the AEA.

The biggest concern of the AEA was that teachers feel frustrated by my vocal, but honest, opposition to Common Core.  As a teacher, you have to implement Common Core.  The district has to implement Common Core.  (I did support funding for new textbooks for Common Core.) The AEA stated it has to put out fires when teachers and parents have concerns.  They wished I wouldn't say anything about my opposition to the Common Core Reform Package.  It increases their workload to have to address the questions of parents and fellow teachers who hear my concerns, I think.  It would be better for the district leadership (including those of us on the board) to not voice our concerns about Common Core when it just has to be done. Additionally, they added that if one of you were to be vocal about your opposition to Common Core, it wouldn't bode well for you, professionally, and those in the family of Alpine District would view you differently.

This is precisely my point.  As an employee, perhaps you can't speak out, if you find things amiss.  It's your job; you have to do it.  It's the same with my job.  Sometimes, you have to just put a smile on your face and do what needs to be done, whether you agree with it or not.  I completely understand that.  Do I wish it weren't the case? Yes.  But I acknowledge the reality of it.  Elected officials, however, are elected for a reason.  We can't be fired or lose our job for speaking out, except at the hands of the voters.  If anyone is going to stand up for teachers against a program that isn't good, it must be the elected officials.  And every new change, program, or implementation that comes along really should be debated, discussed, and vetted all the way along the line, especially at the local level. 

Let's take something we probably agree on: teacher evaluations being tied to SAGE testing.  This is wrong.  I've said so.  I will continue to say so.  It, too, is state law.  We have to do it.  But it's horribly wrong.  Placing so much of a teacher's evaluation and thus, his/her livelihood, on a single (pilot) test is absolutely the worst use of a standardized test.   Like Common Core, should we just go along with it and be supportive?  I know you all will do the best you can, trying to not focus overly much on the test and still teach as professionals, but it's got to weigh you down.  The direction we are going is that once all education and all educators are evaluated on a single test, funding will follow.  It's nice and simple, but still wrong.  I can't sit by and be supportive.  I have to find a way to scream from the rooftops that this can't work, and that it gives way too much authority to the test makers over teachers, over local boards, over HOW standards are taught in the classroom.

Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, my son had a phenomenal teacher.  He LOVED class, loved her lessons, enjoyed nearly every moment.  He learned a lot and enjoyed it.  She even expressed appreciation that he had shushed the rest of the class one time because he wanted to learn what she had to teach.  Do you think I cared what he got on the CRT's that year?  Nope.  I don't think I even looked at them.  He had a wonderful year with a wonderful teacher.  That was worth more to me (and to him) than any standardized test score.  And I am afraid that, despite her best efforts, that love and that thrill of teaching will be reduced to making sure she can keep her job by getting higher test scores.  (Note: She was/is his favorite.  But he's had many, many others who were just as wonderful, just as dedicated, and just as appreciated.)  I don't choose and evaluate my kids' teachers by their test scores. 

So, back to Common Core.  It is top-down, which violates the principle of local control.  A little bit of local control isn't local control.  And just to be clear, my opposition isn't just with the standards. The Common Core standards come in a nice little package along with tying test scores to teacher evaluations, courtesy of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver.  The other two parts of that package are 1) a longitudinal database on students and teachers and 2) "improving" low-performing schools (determined by the test scores and "improved" by shutting them down and bringing in private enterprises, and redistributing successful teachers to these "failing" schools).  The entire package is flawed, and it's flawed on principle.  You, as a teacher, need to be able to have the freedom to connect with your students--the freedom to do what you know is best, regardless of where the student falls on the 'testing' rubric.  The Common Core Standards are just one tree in that forest of standardizing everything: tests, schools, teachers, curriculum.  Already, there are calls to use the copyright of the Common Core standards to 'certify' curriculum.  And, in the end, if your wonderful lesson plan doesn't deliver the results on the test (even if it delivers the results you, your students, and your students' parents want), it won't be around for very much longer.

You got into teaching because you love kids, and you wanted to be able to affect their lives for the better through education. You have natural talents and professional training on how to make that human-to-human connection that makes teachers irreplaceable. We need more of the individual attention you provide. Common Core, with its associated numbers-driven, top-down, accountability to the state, not parents, can only take education in the wrong direction. The Common Core standards, and the rest of the NCLB Waiver package, will reduce teachers to standards-implementers, test-preppers, and data points. I realize this is your job, and you have to make the best of whatever is presented to you.  But that is why we have school boards and a political process.  It is my job to fight against policies that interfere with the parent-child-teacher partnership. I am happy to do this job. I hope you will understand that my opposition to Common Core and its "package" is to support you as the professional you are. Our community must stand strong and eliminate all obstacles that stand in the way of you doing your job and realizing the highest aspirations that originally brought you into education. You may not be able to do it, but I should.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Opted My Kids Out of SAGE testing

The primary principle in education is that parents and teachers must be the ones in control of what a child learns in school.  As the child gets older, more of the responsibility transfers to him/her.  But, parents, teachers and students are the three-legged stool of education. The dependence on SAGE scores removes all three legs.

I have opted my kids out of the SAGE, end-of-the-year state tests.  Here are the reasons why.
  • Eliminates parental/local control
  • Grading teachers and schools, based on a test is wrong
  • I don't agree the test is assessing 'critical thinking'. 
  • 'Fuzzy math' methods and answers are rewarded
  • A pilot test: no validity or reliability
  • I can't verify the test is actually testing anything I want; going on faith
  • No data privacy guarantees
  • Individual stress levels for a child
If you want more information on each of these bullet points, read on.

Tying teacher and school grades to SAGE scores eliminates local and parental control of education.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the use of the SAGE scores for teacher and school grading eliminates any other measurement of success.  For example, let's assume you are someone who wants a lot of focus on traditional math methods and standard algorithms.  As such, you request a teacher who you know has a very traditional leaning.  Since the Common Core standards are requiring, not just the traditional algorithms and math facts, but "how" you got to the answer and "communication" about math, a teacher who doesn't focus on these additional methods will probably have kids who score lower on the SAGE test.  The fact that you may want exactly what this teacher is providing is irrelevant.  Others have determined what this teacher must teach in order to be 'successful'.  A teacher who uses, as one educator calls it, the "closed-door veto" (a teacher who closes their door and does what parents want in spite of what they were told), will be subject to penalties for their test scores.  What used to work with facts, will no longer work with specific "processes" required by the tests.  The importance of what is taught and tested is being dictated to us at the state-level.  Parents will, eventually, have no choice over what their kids learn in any public school setting.  Tying teacher and school grading to the tests replaces accountability to parents and teacher individuality.  How to make kids get good scores on the SAGE test is the most important thing--the job of the teacher now, wrongly, depends on it.  Everyone is in favor of accountability.  But accountability to whom?  AIR and the USOE, but not parents.

Grading teachers and schools this way is wrong
There are so many factors that go into teaching and learning and testing.  To evaluate a teacher or a school based on how my child takes a test is wrong.  To elevate the importance of a test over the 180 days the teacher spends with my child is offensive.  The grades my child earns from his teachers indicate, much more, how my child is performing and learning than a single test.  We are trying to create a science out of what really should be an art.  Additionally, what teacher will want to teach the "more difficult" students or those with special needs who don't qualify for an alternate assessment?  If your job is linked to how your students do on the test, why would you teach special ed?   Is education just about how well you can contribute to society?  Or is education about the improvement of the individual?  This model is horribly wrong.   

"Critical Thinking" questions aren't
As I have gone through the sample questions, and seen the examples presented, I am not convinced the 'critical thinking' questions actually test critical thinking.  Instead of testing a division fact: 12/4 = ?, we ask students to take stars and put 12 stars into 4 boxes, showing there are 3 in each box.  Then, we provide the division symbol (the hardest part of a word problem--which operation am I using), and the students fill in the numbers.  To me, this is a counting problem, and a convoluted one, at that.  Just because a question is complicated or written out as words doesn't necessarily mean it is testing critical thinking.  It may just be convoluted and confusing.

Math questions are not testing math, but communication, and fuzzy math processes
The two examples given, so far, show that if a child knows basic math, it may not be important.  However, they need to know "the process" or how to "communicate" about math.  (Is it critical thinking about math?  I don't think so.  You may disagree.)  If a child doesn't complete the star problem, is it because he can't read or is it because he can't do division or is it because it took so many steps to get the answer, he gave up?  We don't know.  What about a child who speaks English as a Second Language or who has a disability?  It isn't uncommon for a child who might struggle with English to be very capable in math.  Are we testing their math skills or their communication skills?  Do we know? I'm opposed to 'fuzzy math', and I don't want to provide any legitimacy to a test that rewards fuzzy math methodology.  In it's bid to test 'critical thinking', we have moved from fact-based assessment, to communication and process.  And that means, SAGE skews the questions in favor of a fuzzy math methodology. 

No validity or reliability: This is a Pilot Test
SAGE is being piloted this year by the entire state's public school students.  The parent panel flagged about 500 questions, most of which were left in the test to see how they worked out.  Our children are being used as Guinea Pigs and free Quality Control Testers for the SAGE test.  Why should I have any confidence in the result? (While this article talks about the PARCC and SBAC tests, not SAGE, the process and the conclusion are the same: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/27/march-madness-millions-of-kids-being-used-as-common-core-testing-guinea-pigs/)

I can't see the test questions
Associated with the validity or reliability, we are trusting the people at the State Office of Ed (USOE), AIR, and the parent panel to make sure the questions our children are being asked are not problematic and  they are actually testing what we want tested.  Perhaps they are not blatantly objectionable, but if they are testing division by counting stars, I'm not impressed.

Data Privacy
I have no say over how, when, or with whom my kid's information will be used.  It might be okay.  It might not.  It might be okay right now.  In five years, will it still be okay?

Our contract with AIR, references FERPA (the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) when it comes to data privacy.  AIR also says they will comply with other state and federal laws (not sure what those are, if they exist).  FERPA is the only standard that is used to protect individual student records.  (It isn't the "Gold standard", but it was, at least something.)  In 2012, the US Dept of Ed, changed FERPA.  FERPA used to require parental consent for the use of student information.  Now, it is optional, and pretty much anyone can use or share personal student data with any other entity without parental knowledge or consent.  In short, the reference to FERPA provides no guarantees on what will or will not be done with my child's data.

Originally, our contract with AIR didn't contain any language preventing the sharing of student information with a third-party.  Fortunately, AIR signed an addendum to their agreement, stating they wouldn't share personal student data with a third-party without the USOE's permission.  (But the USOE isn't me.  So, I am still concerned and dependent on trusting the USOE.  If they are offered enough money, will they? Others have.)  Still, as a research organization, there isn't anything in their contract to prevent AIR from collecting and using any information passing through it's servers (including our students' responses to writing questions, personally-identifiable information, etc) for its own internal research.  They have provided a letter indicating the contract precludes this, as well as prohibits using behavioral indicators.  I have yet to find those references in the contract.  State Law does allow the use of "behavioral indicators" on end-of-the-year tests.
In conclusion, AIR is not prevented by state law or their contract from using behavioral indicators.  They are not prevented by state law or their contract from using our students' data for their own internal purposes, including research.  They are, currently, prohibited from sharing any personal data with a third-party, unless the USOE allows this in the future.  They have sent a letter stating they will not collect behavioral data.  I hope they will be true to what they promised.  I have no legal guarantee. 

The final issue is the amount of stress and concern this places on some children.  The first time I opted my elementary school child out of end-of-the-year testing, the response was one of overwhelming relief.  Even though the results of the tests would not have had an impact on the overall grade in the class, the amount of emphasis and preparation reminded me of studying for the MCAT.  A post-graduate test like the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT is one thing, but stress over a test in elementary school?  It's not worth it to me to find out my child's supposed "proficiency".  As I said before, the time spent with the teacher and the teacher's evaluation are infinitely more beneficial to me and to my child. 

In the end, I have to take everything about this test on faith.  My children, their teachers, and their schools will be evaluated by a brand new test over which I have no control.  I must have faith in the USOE and AIR.
  • Faith the test questions accurately assess the stated performance
  • Faith that the results are reliable for assessing the quality of my child's teacher and school
  • Faith that the USOE and AIR will protect personal information on my child
Faith, faith, faith. Instead of faith, I am looking for concrete information, black and white prohibitions, an actual validity and reliability study (which can't be done without a lot of student data).  I refuse to abdicate my parental responsibilities over my children's education.  I refuse to allow my children to be used as Guinea Pigs.  And I refuse to be complicit in grading our teachers with an unknown, untested evaluation tool.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SAGE tests: Will My Kid be Labeled 'Non-Proficient?'

The new state, end-of-the-year tests, called SAGE are starting in a week.  Parents have a lot of questions and concerns, and many parents want to opt their kids out.  "Can you opt your kid out?"  (Answer: Yes. For the opt out form from Alpine School District, click here.)

The biggest concern is: Will my kids be marked non-proficient, if they don't take the test?

Parents have a legal right to opt their kids out of taking the SAGE tests.  The State Office of Education doesn't want you to do this.  What they can do is coerce you into compliance by punishing your teachers and your schools (teacher and school grades are, wrongly, still affected), and threatening your student with a 'non-proficient status'.  But, what does a 'non-proficient status' mean?

Alpine School District will REMOVE the non-proficient score for students who are opted out!

The data Alpine School District receives back from the state, after the testing, will note that your student refused to test and the score on the SAGE tests will be a 1 (non-proficient) out of 4.  David Smith, Director of Research & Evaluation, indicated our district has been stripping this non-proficient score out of all the data for those students who opt out of testing. This is done before it goes into Alpine's computer system, Skyward.  (My kids have opted out the past two years and have nothing on their records for any of those tests.  The tests, themselves, aren't even listed.)  On March 11, 2014, David Smith promised that he would continue to strip that non-proficient information out for opted out students*.  He asked me to remind him in the Fall, should this not occur. I promised I would.

Universities won't see this score.  Subsequent teachers won't see this score.  You and your kids will never see this score.  It will not be used to grade your kid.  So, while it was originally used to discourage teachers from having kids opt out of testing, it is now being used as a bullying tactic to force parents to comply with what the State Office of Education would like.

In contrast, Alpine School District recognizes a parents' fundamental right to direct their kids' eduction.  Our district also acknowledges that assigning a 'non-proficient' score to a child based on a test they didn't take is ludicrous and does nothing positive for the education of that child.  While, Alpine School District (but not all of its Board) encourages parents to have their kids take this test, the parents must make that decision, and we, as a district, respect and honor that right.**

If you are not in Alpine School District, talk to your school board and administrators.  Ask them to strip the non-proficient status for students who are opted out.  If your kid doesn't take the ACT, does the school still label them as a non-proficient on the ACT?

Then contact the State Board of Education (http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Board-Members.aspx), and ask them to change their grading system.  They should not mark students as non-proficient who opt out and then use that number to incorrectly calculate the teachers' and schools' grades. It might not hurt to copy your legislators in, as well.  It is not law that your student be marked non-proficient.  It is the rule the State Board of Education has provided to the districts.  They can change it if they want to.  Let's ask them!

UPDATE: SB122 is waiting for the governor's signature.  It will prevent the State Office from punishing teachers and schools for students who are opted out of statewide testing.  Please ask the governor to sign SB122 right away!

For more Frequently Asked Questions on SAGE, click here.

*http://board.alpineschools.org/march-11-2014-board-meeting/  Click to the bottom under 'Additional Media', and listen to the Study Session audio.  Start at 55 minutes.  The promise is at 59 minutes. "If I forget, will you call me? I don't know any educator who says, 'This student doesn't know anything. He opted out of the test.'" "We have no data on that student"...Who thinks that 1 labels a child who opts out of the test?" 1:00: "We've told principals when this comes up. Well why? Those are the rules."

**After I wrote this, I re-read it, and I want to clarify that this is not an official Alpine School District statement.  It is my personal assessment of my fellow board members, our administrators and our teachers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New SAGE state test information

Tuesday, March 11 @ 4 - 5:30 pm at the District Office, 575 N. 100 E., American Fork!!!

We have new state tests, called SAGE.  The SAGE test is a computer-adaptive test, and this is the first year that it will be used to test all English, Math, and Science students from 3rd grade on up.

While I have many concerns about the data privacy and some aspects of computer-adaptive tests, I would highly recommend that every parent and taxpayer attend an information meeting on SAGE. The district will be holding these informational meetings at all the schools.  So, if you can't attend the one tomorrow, please call the schools nearest you and find the most convenient time to attend.  We will be posting the schedule on our website, and I will inform you as soon as I get the link.

A few things to take into consideration.

First, we are promised that this test will be measuring critical thinking.  I have a few thoughts on that point.  1) I have found that 'critical thinking' is a lot like 'hope and change', it can mean different things to different people. 2) In many discussions, it is presented as though critical thinking has not been taught in the past and is now, for the first time being taught and assessed in public schools.  3) In my opinion, as a computer programmer, I am unsure that a computer test could actually assess critical thinking.   4) What it does seem to mean is that testing fact and memorization isn't as important.  

Second, the test scores will be going down by almost 20%, it is predicted.  We are told this is due to the more rigorous curriculum (which the math, demonstrably, isn't) and more rigorous testing.  We are presenting this throughout the district so that parents are not alarmed when they receive the test scores.  My thoughts: 1) When you get a new test, the test scores always go down until the teachers learn how to teach to the test.  One teacher at a convention stated it takes about 3 years. 2) The test questions, from my observation, are more convoluted, not necessarily testing harder concepts, just worded strangely.  3) If you are homeschooling or using private school, so your kids aren't trained on this method of testing and answering questions, your kids will be at a disadvantage.  (The downside to this is the SAT is realigning to Common Core.  I assume that the SAT will look similar to some of these CCSS state tests--SAGE, SBAC, PARCC--which are testing process and communication over fact.) 

Finally, if you are opting your kids out of testing, like I am, I would still attend a meeting to find out what your tax dollars are paying for.  If you have questions on opting out, just let me know.  Here is a link to the district's opt out form. (https://docs.google.com/a/alpinedistrict.org/file/d/0B4LZ8teFSo0fcVBfei1tSGgwcDVjUWpKZTFQV0hXd1JxRjZz/edit?pli=1) Or you can simply write your own letter.  Please be away that everything is designed to make it difficult for you to want to opt out.   Know that the State Board of Education could change their teacher/school grading system to just simply not count those student who are opted out.  Instead, the teachers will be assessed as though the kids failed tests they never took.  I would encourage you to contact the State Board and ask them to change their grading system. 

I would also go to www.sageportal.org, login as guest, guest and take one or more of the practice tests.

See you Tuesday at 4pm!!