"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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Jan 4, 2016: Deadline to Support the Family vs US Dept of Ed

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable vacation.  My family enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and we are looking forward to 2016.  I apologize for interrupting what should be family time, but I felt this information was extremely important.

As many of you know, the replacement law for No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was passed in December.  As part of that law, the states must come up with a plan for education that includes a 'Family Engagement Plan.'  Also, the US Dept of Education (USED) is supposed to come up with their own Family Engagement Plan that states MAY adopt, if they don't want to do their own homework.  The USED has placed their plan on their website and is inviting comments until JANUARY 4th.  (It's almost as if they didn't want public comments, since they put this out over Christmas break, but I digress.)  Here is the link for comments: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/families.html#family-engagement-draft-statement

I would especially encourage you to read pages 13 -14. 

Utah State Law says that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children and that the state's role is to be secondary and SUPPORTIVE to the parents' role.  The Family Engagement piece is anything but supportive to the parents' role.  It does have a lot of nice-sounding stuff to blur the lines of you being allowed to 'partner' with the Feds/State as they raise your children.

I could go on with my own diatribe, but I found this from left-leaning education blogger Peter Greene that accurately assesses what a lot of the problems are with this 'plan'.  http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-federal-family-fixing-plan.html  I appreciate the fact that this plan is so appalling to average, normal people that it is not a left/right issue, it is a parents vs bureaucrats issue.

Please take a few minutes to weigh in.  Once this train is on the track, we will be told it's too late. 

Here are some samples:

Implement a vision for family engagement that begins prenatally and continues across settings and throughout a child’s developmental and educational experiences.

Develop and integrate family engagement indicators into existing data systems 

Local schools and programs should track progress on family engagement goals, as detailed in family engagement plans.

Just remember this when we adopt something egregious as part of our state plan.  The mantra that things like this can't happen in Utah hasn't been applicable for far too many years.

And a public thank you to Reps Chaffetz, Love, Bishop, and Stewart, as well as Sen. Mike Lee for voting against ESSA and it's horrid intrusion into the autonomy of the family!

Happy New Year and thank you for all your support and involvement!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

No Child Left Behind: More of the same, but probably worse

If you hate No Child Left Behind, or Common Core, or Federal Government Expansion, or too much testing, or teachers being held to teach to the test, or government passing bills so you can see what's in them, or...

Call CONGRESS RIGHT NOW, don't even stop  to finish this post, and ask them to VOTE NO on ESEA Reauthorization.  The vote takes place at noon EST or 10am MST.

  • Phone: 202-224-3121, general number: ask for whichever representatives you'd like
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz: (202) 225-7751, (801) 851-2500
  • Rep. Mia Love: (202) 225-3011, 801-996-8729
  • Rep. Rob Bishop: 202-225-0453, 801-625-0107, 435-734-2270
  • Rep. Chris Stewart: 202-225-9730, 801-364-5550, 435-627-1500
  • Sen. Mike Lee: 202-224-5444, 801-524-5933
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch: (202) 224-5251, (801) 375-7881

  • Moms and Dads, everyday Americans, are up against organizations that stand to benefit in some way from this legislation.  There is so much out there, but here are just a few things you should know.

    1. The House Education Committee has put out unsourced talking points as to why this bill is a Republican victory.  Here is the rebuttal.  My read of the legislation supports the rebuttal. http://www.flstopcccoalition.org/blog/rebuttal-us-house-ed-committee-talking-points-essa.htm

    2. The bill language was released on Monday, the vote is today.  It is 1000+ pages.  It is wrong to rush this through in short order.  None of our reps have been able to read and analyze this bill, let alone evaluate it. 

    3. Some of the best information, and also a lot of fun to read, is this analysis of the first handful of pages, detailing the methods to the bill's madness. https://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/this-is-the-moment-congress-we-are-watching-you-vote-and-we-know-whats-in-this-bill/

    4.  Summary from some of the moms and dads I've been involved with over the past two days in reading this bill, top 12 problems (some have been discussed briefly, like the process)


    Process of forwarding conference report echoes the process of (Un) Affordable Care Act “You have to pass it to see what’s in it” – that is. Congress won’t be reading it.

    1. HEAVILY INCENTIVIZES STATES TO MAINTAIN COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS: As a requirement of the Act, states must “demonstrate” to the Secretary that they have adopted standards that are aligned to the same definition of “college and career” standards used to force states into adopting Common Core under NCLB waivers.
    2. ASSESSSMENT OF NON-COGNITIVE ATTITUDES, BEHAVIORS, and MINDSETS: Bill will maintain momentum for increasing non-academic data collection of student and family information into statewide longitudinal data systems.
    3. PARENT RIGHTS: The Salmon Amendment in HR5 that allowed parents to opt out of high-stakes state assessments is no longer included. Students whose parents opt them out of the test, must be included in the 95% participation formula.
    4. EROSION OF STATE POWER OVER EDUCATION: The state accountability system must be structured as per the federal bill.
    5. FEDERAL CONTROL OF STANDARDS CONTENT: Bill language appears to require standards that align with career and technical education standards, indicating that the standards must align to the federally approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
    6. NO CHECKS ON FEDERAL POWER, FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS JUDGE AND JURY OF ITS OWN ACTIVITY – NO SUNSET OF LAW: The framework would only "authorize" ESEA for four more years, as opposed to the typical five, but, there’s no sunset provision in the bill, so it could go on in perpetuity.
    7. EXPANSION OF GOVERNMENT ROLE IN CHILDCARE/DISINCENTIVE TO ACTIVELY SEEK EMPLOYMENT: Bill is said to expand Head Start to childcare with Child Care Development Block Grant Act of 2014 so that no work requirements will be expected of low income parents to access grant money to pay for childcare.
    8. ADVANCES PROFITING BY PRIVATE CORPORATIONS USING EDUCATION DOLLARS THAT SHOULD GO TO CLASSROOMS: Increasing the education budget to fund private investors to implement government- selected social goals is outside the scope of improving education, and outside the authority of Congress as described in the U.S. Constitution.
    9. INCREASED ESEA SPENDING: ESSA authorizes appropriations for fiscal years 2017-2020. Spending authority will increase by 2% each year.
    10. EROSION OF LOCAL CONTROL: The conference report language encourages states to form consortia that, without congressional approval, may be determined illegal.
    11. DATA PRIVACY: Language in the conference report appears to rein in the Secretary of Education’s power and protect student data by inserting prohibitions of collecting additional student data, but makes no attempt to reverse the harm already done by Secretary Duncan’s modification of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
    I believe that this quote by C.S. Lewis accurately sums up my thoughts on this legislation.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will;”

    Monday, November 30, 2015

    ESEA Reauthorization: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

    Please call Congress 202-224-3121 and ask them all to Vote No on the reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act).  It will take 2 minutes.  Are your parental rights worth 2 minutes?

    Today, Monday, November 30, Congress will release the language of the reconciled* No Child Left Behind reauthorization. So many of us are frustrated with the level of federal overreach in No Child Left Behind that we can't wait to have Congress get rid of it. However, in our zeal to throw out the bad, we are trading bad for worse...and Congress is doing it be taking shortcuts in the transparency and public involvement part of the process. 

    Before Thanksgiving, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called out the reconciliation process saying:
    “So, from the surface it will still look like the conference process is happening, is unfolding in the manner in which it is supposed to, but beneath the surface we know that all of this has already been prearranged, precooked, predetermined by a select few Members of Congress working behind closed doors free from scrutiny, and we know this vote was scheduled on extremely short notice so it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the rest of us to influence the substance of the conference report through motions to instruct.”
    This bill is going to be at least 1000 pages long, based on the two versions of the bill that have already passed.  The vote in the House is probably scheduled for Dec. 2.  That keeps changing.  But there's no way to read and study 1000 pages and then vote, all the while receiving and considering the input of your constituents all in 2-days' time.  For no other reason, they should vote no.  I was told by my then-state representative that he was often the only Nay vote on some apparently 'decent' bills.  However, if you don't have the time to read and study and understand the implications of what you are imposing on people through the force of law, it is your duty to vote NO.  If representatives would consistently vote no by default, we would start to see them (and us) get much more time to review bills and to fully study and learn about them.

    This bill claims to get rid of Common Core and the process whereby the US Dept of Ed (USDOE) coerced states into adopting Common Core.  Common Core was adopted by having the USDOE establish a program stating that you get 'more points' for college and career ready standards common to a significant number of states and then clarify that significant number means 15, which then leads states to the ONLY set of standards that meet those qualifications, i.e. Common Core.  Now, the Secretary is prohibited from giving direction on what he would like to see in a state's plan.  However, he can still veto a state's plan.  So, at some point, the state will find a way to find out what the Secretary WILL actually approve, and that will be some other subset of national standards and testing that the Secretary wants to see implemented in the states.  It changes the process from the Secretary directly saying what he wants from the states, to the states playing "Mother, May I?" with the USDOE. 

    "USDOE, may we adopt our own science standards?"  Rejected.

    "USDOE, may we adopt the Next Generation Science Standards that are not Common Core but were developed by the same group that gave us Common Core?"  Approved

    The bill also expands the federal footprint into Preschool.  It's not enough that they are controlling K-12 education, now we need to allow them input into Preschool, as well.

    Testing is still required at 95%.  So, even thought Utah has an opt out law that prohibits negative consequences from parents opting their kids out of state testing, the opt-out amendment passed in the House didn't make it into the reconciled version.  So, states will have to develop their own punishments for those schools who have more than 5% opt out.  Does that sound like support for parental rights and increased freedom?

    Please call Congress 202-224-3121 and ask them all to Vote No, including the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who promised greater transparency.  Let's hold him to this!


    • Phone: 202-224-3121, ask for whichever representatives you'd like
    • Rep. Jason Chaffetz: (202) 225-7751, (801) 851-2500
    • Rep. Mia Love: (202) 225-3011, 801-996-8729
    • Rep. Rob Bishop: 202-225-0453, 801-625-0107, 435-734-2270
    • Rep. Chris Stewart: 202-225-9730, 801-364-5550, 435-627-1500
    • Sen. Mike Lee: 202-224-5444, 801-524-5933
    • Sen. Orrin Hatch: (202) 224-5251, (801) 375-7881

    • Bill Language Read-a-thon: If you are willing to take a portion of the bill, when it comes out today, to read it and report, please contact me.  A group of us, nationally, are making sure that some of us have read the bill before it's voted on.

    More references:

    • Letter from many national groups, including 3 of us on the Alpine School Board--myself, Paula Hill, and Brian Halladay--detailing the overreach that exists in the House and Senate versions of this ESEA reauthorization.  http://bit.ly/1Lj6uz5#sthash.YLc0t0ki.dpuf

    *Bill Process Primer.  The House and the Senate each passed bills modifying the existing No Child Left Behind 'law', which was just an extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally passed in 1965.  Because the language in both versions of these bills is different, a conference committee gets together to reconcile the differences between the two bills.  Then, the House and Senate vote on the reconciled language, and that is what is sent to the President for his signature to become a law. 

    Tuesday, November 3, 2015

    Utah's New Science Standards: National and Lower Quality

    You have until Monday, November, 9th to comment on the proposed Utah Science Standards that are, essentially, the Next Generation Science Standards. 

    Please watch and share this video, and then comment for our State Board. 

    Why The Next Generation Science Standards Are Wrong For Utah

    Comment here: http://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/science/Revision.aspx  Even though, the form requests specific comments on specific standards, it is perfectly acceptable to provide general comments on the standards as a whole or the process as a whole.

    Unless massive amounts of people speak up, the adoption of these standards is already a done deal.

    The legislature has made public comment and parent committees a requirement, since We, the People, complained about this lack when the Common Core standards were adopted.  Take advantage of the opportunity to weigh in on what our children should learn about science in this state, and how much of it should be exactly the same as every other state.  (Just curious how we get diversity of thought in scientific inquiry, if everyone is taught the same things in the same way?)

    Here is a link to the Next Generation Science Standards that, if we adopt grades 6-8, will almost assuredly be adopted throughout K-12.  http://www.nextgenscience.org/  For fun, search certain terms in their search box to see where the emphasis of the K-12 standards would be.  Make sure to put things in quotes, e.g. "digestive system" or "climate change" or electron to look for those words as a pair.  Utah has made some adjustments, but if they are essentially NGSS, rest assured that all the materials that will be used in the classroom will be based on NGSS.  The changes Utah has made will have minimal impact.

    Every set of standards, of late, that has been adopted or considered has been based on national standards.  There is no evidence that national standards improve education, but it is true that parents have less say and less impact on what is taught in their local schools the further away they are from those who make the decisions.

    For more information on the standards, see my previous posts.  Please share with 5 of your friends and submit your comments to the State Board!

    State Board needs to Prove the new standards are better: http://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2015/05/state-standards-burden-of-proof-rests.html

    Science is Absolute, but Man's Understanding of Science is what Shifts: A Parent Letter

    NGSS and SEEd: National Science Standards?

    VOTE Today: Nov. 3, 2015

    VOTE TUESDAY (today)  in your municipal elections and on the Proposition 1, transportation tax increase. 
    Polls open at 7 am and close at 8 pm.
    Many people do not vote in municipal elections, and yet, these elections have the greatest potential to impact us on a day-to-day basis.  Please become informed and involved on a local level, and come out to vote. 
    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's make sure that Mr. Adams doesn't feel the need to 'repent in heaven' for giving us this amazing opportunity for self-government.

     Additional thoughts from Rod Mann, Highland City Council, on selecting candidates.  http://mannkindperspectives.blogspot.com/2015/11/selecting-candidates-for-office.html#more
    I will be voting NO on Prop 1.  40% of the tax revenue will go to subsidize UTA.  UTA has been repeatedly criticized by the State Auditor's Office for fiscal mismanagement.  Despite anything else, it is foolhardy to send good money after bad by giving additional funding to an entity (UTA) that has shown little ability to manage the precious taxpayer resources it already manages.  If we are willing to essentially 'bail out' UTA for fiscal mismanagement, this sends the wrong message to our elected officials and other bureaucrats: "Spend our money poorly, and we'll still keep giving you more." 
    CEDAR HILLS CITY ELECTIONS: http://www.cedarhills.org/node/4021
    For those of you in Highland, we have 4 men of good character running for three city council seats.  You may vote for up to three candidates, but you can submit a ballot with only 1 or 2 candidates selected. http://www.highlandcity.org/index.aspx?nid=431

    I will be supporting Tim Irwin and Tim Heyrend. 

    Mr. Irwin (http://votetimirwin.com/) is an incumbent with a record that matches my principles.  He has been firm in working to pay down our debt and cut expenditures that don't meet the high standard of what funding should we appropriately force from our neighbors.  While firmly focused on safety issues, he is clear that the debt pay-off must be a major priority.  Every year, Mr. Irwin has gone through the city budget, line by line, looking for things that could be reduced or changed.  For me, an incumbent must earn my vote through their record.  You must give me reasons to vote FOR you, not just keep things 'status quo'.  Unless an incumbent has shown, through their voting record, a consistent match with the principles they espoused (and with which I agree, largely), then my hat tip will always go to a newcomer to public office.  In this case, Mr. Irwin has a record I am pleased with.  He stands on Constitutional principles and his votes match those same principles.  He has "re-earned" my vote.

    Mr. Heyrend (  http://heyrend4highland.com/Home/) has a background in and is currently employed as a civil engineer.  His experience will be helpful in dealing with many of the infrastructure issues that we have in the city.  He is committed to paying down our debt and has stated he will focus on cost-saving road repairs to keep our expenditures low while maintaining public safety.  I believe the experience he brings to these issues will be quite valuable.  As my precinct chair, Mr. Heyrend has made efforts to keep our precinct informed of the activities he has been involved in as chair, and has also invited our participation for votes and other important public/community events.  I expect that trend to continue if he is elected. 

    The other two candidates are:

    Ed Dennis (http://www.eddennis.com/ )
    Brian Braithwaite (http://www.brianbraithwaite.com/
    Polling Locations:
    Highland City Hall ~ 5400 West Civic Center Dr.
    •             Precincts: 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8
    Highland Community Center ~ 5378 West 10400 North
    •             Precincts: 2, 3, 6, 9 and 10
    Precinct Maps:

    Wednesday, October 28, 2015

    2015 Community Meetings and Attendance Follow-up

    Two Issues:

    1. 2015 Community Meetings
    2. Follow-up from Oct. 27, 2015 Attendance Discussion with Judge Bazelle

    2015 Community Meetings
    District personnel will be holding community meetings at every school in the district over the next month.  The purpose is to provide information about the projects that were part of the 2011 bond.  Where we are, and what was done.  It is also to provide information about our growth situation and to provide the community information about how we plan to address those needs.  One of the options would be a bond next year.  The board has not yet decided on a direction, but this is a good opportunity to see what the concerns are, and to voice your opinion on these issues.

    In my area, two of the schools, Ridgeline and Highland, have already had their meetings.  The rest are as follows. 

    Thursday, Oct. 29, 10:00 am: Lone Peak HS
    Thursday, Oct. 29, 1:30 pm: Mountain Ridge JH
    Thursday, Oct. 29, 1:30 pm: Timberline Middle
    Thursday, Nov. 5, 1:30 pm: Deerfield Elementary
    Friday, Nov. 6, 10:00 am: Cedar Ridge Elementary
    Thursday, Nov. 19, 10:00 am: Westfield Elementary
    Thursday, Nov. 24, 10:00 am: Alpine Elementary

    Here is a link to all the meetings taking place in the district.  Feel free to attend whichever one is the most convenient for you.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzUjUSlTes-4QlZEV1dHZ2xYc0k/view?usp=sharing  I ask that you share this information on the community meetings with at least 5 of your neighbors. 

    To provide follow-up on the meeting, please use this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1pqI5BzSttELzPm0dED0frhCltcf05U5H1AWr75bc48M/viewform

    Attendance Policy Follow-up
    Quite a few people showed up for the Study Session last Tuesday for the discussion with Judge Bazelle about our Attendance Policy.  We had 9 people comment in the public comment portion of the Board Meeting, 7 of those specifically on the current Attendance Policy. But all commenters, including those who came about the Cherry Hill ALL program, were in support of keeping our current attendance policy as it is.  I appreciated all the comments from my fellow board members about keeping parents in charge.  The Judge also said that it has been shown that the Judicial system should be the path of last resort because those that can be helped out prior to getting into that system are better off.  She would prefer that the schools work through a non-judicial process for helping any children that might need it. 

    It is important to note that the Obama Administration has an attendance initiative.  And a lobbying organization, Attendance Works, regularly lobbies the state legislature to pass laws tracking chronic absenteeism, not just truancy.  It is important to keep this in mind and to follow these developments.  I greatly appreciated the comments last evening because it will help our Board should we need to weigh in on any proposed attendance legislation come from the State or the Feds. 

    One final note on attendance, most studies either do not include parent-excused absences or they don't separate them out to see whether there is any difference between parent-excused absences and truancy on academic outcome.  Of the three studies that I have found that do delineate between excused absences and truancy, there was not any correlation between excused absences and performance.  None!  In fact, one study said they couldn't tell whether the academic performance drove the absence or the absence drove the academic performance.  In short, if a parent is excusing their kids, there is no risk, despite what you are hearing.  Please confirm this for anyone who is concerned that there is no difference.  There is no difference for the majority of the studies because they failed to track excused absences separately from truancy. 

    Friday, October 23, 2015

    Attendance Policy

    This Tuesday, Oct. 27 @ Deerfield Elementary (4353 West Harvey Blvd, Cedar Hills), the Board Study Session will include a discussion with Juvenile Court Judge Bazelle about the current attendance policy.  The Study Session begins at 4:00pm, and the Judge will be there at 4:30 pm.

    The regular board meeting with public comment will take place at 6:00 pm.

    Why should you care?  One major issue that keeps coming up from parents and taxpayers is attendance.  I have had many complaints about the strictness of our former policies, and the inconsistencies of the application of our current policy.  Some parents have sent their kids to a different school specifically because of the harshness of some of the attendance policies.  I have not had anyone complain that our attendance policies are too lax...until now.

    State Law allows certain things as valid excuses: illness, death in the family, etc.  It also allows "any other excuse established as valid by a local school board, local charter board, or school district."  In our district, our policy says, "The Alpine School District Board of Education has determined that the parent or legal guardian of a student can excuse an absence for reasons they deem necessary."

    At our board meeting on Sep. 22, Board Member Taylor reported that in a meeting with Judge Noonan (who oversees that Orem area), concerns were raised that our policy is working great for about 95% of our students, but there are 5% that they can't help because our policy is too lenient.  (To listen to the audio, go to http://board.alpineschools.org/2015/09/18/september-22-2015-board-meeting/, click on 'Additional Media', and the second audio file is the Board Meeting.  The report begins about 1 hour into the meeting.)

    While I have found that our district policy is not being implemented as stated, that is more of an internal issue.  However, at the end of the day, we passed the attendance policy in order to support parental rights.  We do no one a service when we try to insert ourselves into the realm of the family, prematurely, where we actually do not belong. 

    In other states where there has been no distinguishing between excused absences and truancy, many children have become 'collateral damage' to a system that is hoping to make sure that increased attendance is the ultimate good. But how many innocent parents and children will be harmed in the process?   http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2011/12/chambers-family-in-bed-sick-at-school.html

    The question I have is whether we can find a non-judicial way to help those families that may need that help, without jeopardizing the rights of the rest of our families.  Those who find themselves in extreme circumstances do not need the added concern of the County Attorney looking for reasons why they are unfit, if the only indicator is attendance.  Attendance alone, if excused by parents, is insufficient to predict negative consequences for kids in school or later life (current internet talking points notwithstanding.) 

    At the end of the day, how many good families and how many parental rights are we willing to sacrifice?  Do we start with the premise that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, unless they have children in our school system?  I think the same standard needs to apply.  Can you imagine the pain and heartache in your family if you were threatened with the loss of custody of a child?  Do you believe that only the 'bad parents' are possibly at risk? The evidence shows otherwise.

    Justice Dallin H. Oaks, ruled, "Family autonomy helps to assure the diversity characteristic of a free society.  There is no surer way to preserve pluralism than to allow parents maximum latitude in rearing their own children."

    Parents have the fundamental right to manage their children, including their education. Until that parent has violated that trust (and it has been proven, with evidence), the state does not get 'veto' power over parents.  The laws come from We, the People, not The State.  We either value parental rights and support them, or we subject ourselves to the power of the State.  This is an important discussion for us to have.  Please join me on Tuesday!

    Wednesday, October 7, 2015

    SAGE: Florida tries to validate Utah's test

    Florida has done what Utah has been afraid to do. They have performed a validity test on the SAGE test administered by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on the assessments of grades 3-10 ELA, grades 3-8 math, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.
    The validity test, performed by Alpine Testing and EdCount, was performed to test whether or not the test scores were valid for a specific use. In other words, does the test work or not?
    Once the validity test was completed, Alpine Testing and Edcounts reported their findings to the Florida Senate K-12 Committee on September 17, 2015. The full video can be seen here.
    What significance does this have for Utah? As can be seen from the video (and in their report) the field testing wasn’t performed primarily on Florida’s test. They used Utah’s test (thank you, Florida, for paying for Utah’s validity test.)
    What Alpine Testing said in their comments to Florida is astounding. We have outlined some key points from the video. 
    • At 44:50- Many items found in the test didn’t align with the standard that was being tested.
    • At 47:70: Test scores should only be used at an aggregate level.
    • At 48:15 – They recommend AGAINST using test scores for individual student decisions.
    • At 1:01:00 – They admit that “test scores should not be used as a sole determinant in decisions such as the prevention of advancement to the next grade, graduation eligibility, or placement in a remedial course.”
    • At 1:20:00 – “There is data than can be looked at that shows that the use of these test scores would not be appropriate
    Alpine Testing was the only company that applied to perform the validity study for Florida. Once awarded the contract, they teamed with EdCount, the founder of which had previously worked for AIR. What's surprising is that, regardless of their being questionably independent, they STILL recommend against using the test scores.
    So, what we have is a questionably independent group stating that this test should not be used for individual students, but it’s ok for the aggregate data to be used for schools and teacher evaluations. If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is. If it’s been shown that this test isn’t good for students, why would we be comfortable using it for the grading or funding of our schools and teachers? The sum of individual bad data can’t give us good data. Nor should we expect it to.
    What more evidence do you need to determine that our students shouldn’t be taking the SAGE test? This test is a failure. How much longer will our children and our state (and numerous other states) spend countless time and resources in support of a failed test, or teaching to a failed test?
    Utah's children deserve more.
    Brian Halladay and Wendy Hart
    Alpine School Board Members for districts A4 and A2

    Tuesday, June 9, 2015

    Parent Letter on New Science Standards: "I believe that science is absolute, but man's understanding of science is what shifts."

    We are nearing the end of the 90-day public comment period on the proposed Utah Science Standards (that are a direct copy and paste of the Next Generation Science Standards).  Please take the time TODAY to read the standards and to fill out the survey for our State Board of Education.  If you don't comment, you get what those in power want you to have.  The NGSS were adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education.  A lawsuit was brought against them, stating that the NGSS violated First Amendment rights by promoting an anti-theistic worldview.  The lawsuit was dismissed, stating that, "parents and children who are plaintiffs as “bystanders” whose injuries from the standards are abstract, rather than concrete and particular, opponents argue."  You may like the standards, but you have to wonder if parents and the children who are subjected to these standards do not have legal 'standing' then who does get to sue about standards?  So, the answer is to weigh in before they are adopted!

    You can see Grades 6 -8 here: http://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/science/Revision.aspx  The NGSS standards are located here: http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards And (MOST IMPORTANT), the survey can be found here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SciencePublicReview You can make comments about the process, as well as the specific standards, even though the survey doesn't mention the process.  For my concerns, go here

    I am sharing with you a letter from Julie King, a mother, a trained social worker, and involved parent about her concerns with adopting the NGSS.  It is reprinted with her permission.  Please note, she uses anatomically correct terms and discusses concerns with the national human sexuality standards, as well.  I find her human sexuality standards discussion relevant, but will leave it to her letter to explain why.

    Dear State School Board Members:

    I wanted to share my thoughts about the science standards.  I have several concerns with the standards.  First, my greatest concern with the standards is our own reliance on our limited human understanding.  I believe that science is absolute, but man's understanding of science is what shifts. I remember being taught in college that infants do not feel pain and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Guess what? That was recently found to be false. But up until about 1987, it was common for infants to be given paralytics for surgery, but no pain medication. It sounds pretty barbaric.

    We are constantly learning things we had no idea about from neuroplasticity to whether or not Pluto is a planet.  We used to believe that cigarettes were great and that nicotine was not addictive.  Once again, the substances or science did not change, our understanding of it did.  Part of science curriculum should be addressing these limitations, learning about how we have made mistakes and corrected them, as well as studying scientists such as Madame Curie, Galileo, and Edison.

    Second, I have a problem with the USOE presenting the SEED as Utah-created when it is plagiarized from Next Generation Science Standards.  Plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.”  As far as I can tell, the only adjustment to the NGSS has been renumerating the standards for SEED as well as removing 2 words.  Other than that, it is a word-for-word paste and copy.  In addition to that, Fordham recently evaluated our current standards as well as NGSS.  Utah standards were given a B and NGSS was given a C.  Why are we trading our science standards for poorer ones?  If we need to update our standards, we should do that and not take a color-coded science standard and assume it is superior because it is a national standard.

    Third, there are holes in the NGSS.  There is a lack of computer science as well as chemistry and the lack of any human anatomy is what raises a red flag for me.  Why would we completely eliminate human anatomy?  Here comes the crazy conspiracy theory- because once that hole in the standards is “discovered,” we will be able to patch it with the National Sexual Education Standards.  But that is crazy, right?  Utah would never adopt national sex ed standards.  Just like we were told repeatedly we would never adopt national science standards.   This is actually my field of expertise.  I am a social worker and have taught child abuse prevention programs to preschoolers up to PhD candidates.  I have worked with abused children and sex offenders, rape victims and domestic violence victims.  I have also been a foster parent.  I am not a prude.  My children have learned and used anatomically correct terminology since they learned to speak.  My sons learned that they have a penis and my girls learned they have a vagina.  They have also been taught about what is appropriate and inappropriate touch.  I have no problem being forthright with my children.  We talk about everything from date rape to roofies.  Those are hard conversations and best answered by parents in their home, articulating their belief systems and principles.  I have been trained in how to talk to children about sexuality and appropriate boundaries.  This is what the standards say-“By the end of 2nd grade, students should be able to:  use proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy.”  This standard is actually a K-2 standard which means that this content can be introduced in kindergarten.  My kindergarten-aged children were able to do this without a problem.  But this was taught at home.  Now imagine that Johnny blurts out that Uncle Jimmy touches his penis.  The other kids laugh, the teacher reacts in a shocked manner, and Johnny feels ashamed.  Johnny is teased on the playground and called names.  When we put teachers in a place to teach something this sensitive when they are not trained properly, we revictimize kids.  Do I want Johnny to disclose this abuse?  Absolutely!  But I want it to be done in a way that makes him feel safe and does not revictimize him.  And throwing in a professional development once a year about teaching sex ed standards is not enough.  The potential to damage our children with sex ed standards when not taught appropriately is astounding.  And our most vulnerable children-those who suffer abuse-will be the ones who pay the highest price.

    Fourth, there is obvious bias in the standards.  By only looking at the grade 6-8 standards, we lose the overview of what NGSS truly is.  We need to look at the K-12 standards.  Let’s be real-we are not going to adopt NGSS for 6-8 and not the rest of the grades.  I was taught evolution and I have no problem with teaching about global warming or climate change.  But I also think this goes back to my first comment that what we understand about science constantly changes.  In my sex ed class in high school, I was taught that watching porn is a normal and sexually healthy activity that everybody does.  We are now starting to see how addictive and poisonous pornography is.  We need to be aware of what we teach as fact and what we present as theory.  One of the points in science we should focus on is asking why? and constantly questioning what we feel we know.  Part of true science is being willing to question things and doubt.  We need to look at what our focus is.  When they are over 50 mentions of climate change and only one reference to electric circuits, we are overemphasizing one idea and excluding others.  Am I ok with my kids learning about climate change?  Absolutely!  But I am not OK with my kindergartener being asked to solve global warming .  The following is a kindergarten standard:
    Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of human impact on the land could include cutting trees to produce paper and using resources to produce bottles. Examples of solutions could include reusing paper and recycling cans and bottles.]
    Do you know what kindergarten science should be?  The five senses, weather, and the life cycle of a butterfly and ladybug.  Maybe planting seeds and learning about how plants grow.  That’s it.  When was the last time when you were in a kindergarten class with 25 active children?  With less than 3 hours a day, kindergarten should largely be about reading and learning to follow rules.  Rules like keep your hands and feet to yourself and take turns.  Not about rationing paper so that less trees are cut down.

    I hope that you seriously consider the feedback from parents as we are often in classrooms and see the challenges that teachers and their students face when we apply top-down approaches to education.

    Julie King
    Mother of 4 children (ages 16, 13, 11, and 8)
    School Community Council representative for an Alpine School District School and a charter school (UCAS)
    PTA member and Westlake council president-elect

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    State Standards: Burden of Proof Rests on the State Board

    Below is my letter to the State Board regarding the adoption of the NGSS standards for science in Utah.

    IMPORTANT: Please make sure you comment on the science standards.  You can see Grades 6 -8 here: http://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/science/Revision.aspx  The NGSS standards are located here: http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards And (MOST IMPORTANT), the survey can be found here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SciencePublicReview We were informed last Wednesday (May 6) that even though the comments are set up to discuss specific standards, we are free to include philosophical, process, and other concerns in our comments.  Please comment as soon as possible, as there is only a 90-day comment period. 

    My Letter:

    Dear State Board Members,

    I am asking that you restart the entire process of science standards adoption.  There is a very real, very large deficit of public trust on the issue of standards.  While I appreciate the parent review committees and the public comment periods, it really is the perception that this was a 'done deal'.  The subsequent release of the Fine Arts standards that are identical to the national fine arts standards indicates a desire by either this Board or the USOE or both to completely align everything we do to a national set of standards created by a national set of 'supposed' experts in these fields.  The assumption that national (or broadly-adopted) standards are inherently superior is flawed, as is the assertion that a lack of national (or broadly-adopted) standards will  prohibit individual students to grow up to be successful, educated individuals.  Some high-performing nations have national standards, but about the same number do not. 

    Here are some of my concerns and requests.

    The most major concern is that of creating uniformity and centralization.  Education is not something that can or should be standardized.  We like to think that there are certain basics that all kids should know, and there may be, but they are very broad and many must keep the individual child in mind.  In point of fact, that is why we have teachers...to customize and personalize this process of every individual.  Our system of education has been extremely successful when we harness the power of the individual, and not try to fit everyone into the same mold.  I realize with accountability measures, this is a very difficult thing to do.  But it doesn't get easier when we buy into the idea that we will be left behind if we don't keep up with the national standards group du jour.   While that may be true, we will never have the opportunity to excel either.  And, I'm afraid, that is the intent.  When we have no risk, we have no chance of failure, but we have no chance of success either.  Centralization removes the flexibility of adaptation and change.  Even if we have the power to change, in a few years, we will lack the ability due to SAT, GED, ACT and textbooks all aligning.  We have to be completely sure that these are the very best standards and that we will NEVER want to change without the rest of the states going along. 

    Additionally, adopting national or broadly adopted standards has been touted as allowing teachers greater resources.  I have heard this repeated over many years as justification for national or frequently adopted standards.  We have felt slighted in the past for having had our own standards.  However, I hope you understand that in trying to find non-CC textbooks and materials, right now, it is virtually impossible.   You have to order out-of-print materials and lots of things on eBay.  Common Core was officially adopted by 46 state only 5 years ago.  So, while you may have a lot of materials to choose from that are aligned to CC, they are really shades of gray.  Bright colors and pastels no longer exist.  There are no laboratories of education that are trying different ideas and finding success or failure.  There is no compelling free-market interest to create or to continue to supply textbooks and teaching materials to the small private and homeschool market and the 5 states that didn't sign on to Common Core.  It's a boon for the textbook suppliers--one set of standards equals one set of teaching materials that can be moved around and modified, but, ultimately, stay the same.  (Bill Gates predicted as much, and was quite excited about it.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=323WQrPHslg )  It has been suggested that because of this lack of resources, we MUST align our standards to those of other states.  With all due respect, we will then be hastening the demise of diversity and options.  We are walking directly into that trap and helping set the bait for others. 

    At the end of the day, each of you has the burden of proof, as our elected representatives, to explain the following to us, the parents and citizens of Utah, for every set of standards that you adopt. 

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

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

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

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

    5.) What are the pieces that are missing from the current standards?  For example, the NGSS does not address Life Systems, specifically body systems, or Computer Science.  Climate change is heavily emphasized, but electric circuits are briefly mentioned.  While I appreciate both climate change and electric circuits being taught, it appears, at least to me, that there is an over-emphasis of one at the expense of others.  It is usually easier to find problems in things that exist.  It is much more difficult to take the time to determine what isn't even there.  (This concept is why the request to point out the standards one doesn't like doesn't work.  I can point to those I don't like, but I can't point to those that do not exist but should.)

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

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

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

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

    Having attended the Provo meeting last night, I heard a lot of promises and things that sounded really good.  I have heard all those things as they relate to Common Core and Investigations Math.  In both instances, the promises did not materialize.  Please do not adopt standards based on promises.  Please adopt standards based on fact, and knowledge, and proof, not just the opinion of 'experts'.  Sometimes 'experts' are wrong or have their own agendas too.   

    The burden of proof is not on the people to show that the standards are bad, or wrong, or insufficient.  It is up to you to demonstrate to us that adopting these new standards will provide the opportunity for each, individual student in Utah to live up to their potential, to be free to choose their own direction in life. 

    Thank you for all the long hours that you spend in our service and your willingness to listen, even when we disagree.  It is greatly appreciated. 


    Wendy Hart
    Mother of 3
    Highland, UT
    Board Member, Alpine School District, Alpine/Cedar Hills/Highland
    Business Owner

    Additional thoughts on the NGSS.

    As mentioned in my last post, the NGSS are controversial because

    1) They are rated lower (C) than our current science standards  (B) by Fordham Foundation (who regularly rates standards).  This is important because Fordham is a big supporter of Common Core and all things national standards-like.  I think it's important to note, in the Fordham review, the specific concerns, rather than just the grade overall. 

    2) These standards were developed by Achieve, Inc., the same group that gave us the Common Core standards

    3) These 'national' standards will allow us to use the same tests for science as a lot of other states; thereby ensuring that Utah no longer has control over what we teach in our classrooms, since the testing will dictate what is taught. The biggest problem with all these 'national' concepts is the idea that there is one single set of standards that everyone, everywhere should be taught and that whomever developed these standards (Achieve, Inc.) is the repository of all that is good and right with education.  Science is science, and we should have no dissent, debate, or discussion.  Furthermore, if parents have concerns with what their children are being taught, it is because, as one U of U professor said, they are 'Luddites'.

    4) These standards are touted as being able to guarantee that we are not left behind in Utah.  Just an interesting side note, Utah is one of a handful of states that provides the ACT to all Juniors.  (What that means is that our scores will be lower than those states where students self-select whether or not to take the ACT.)  Of those states that test 100% of their students, Utah scores higher than any of them on the science portion of the ACT.  Utah also has a higher science score than the national score overall, including all those states where only the 'smart' kids decide to take the test.  So, the idea that we are 'falling behind' other states, doesn't seem to add up.  At least not by this measure.  And there is no evidence that these standards will make us even better....None.

    and finally..

    5) The State of Kansas was recently involved in a lawsuit over these standards on First Amendment grounds because it was alleged that these standards (taken as a whole, not just specific standards) and the required evidence of mastery would prohibit a theistic world view.  And this is where the "Luddite" comment is coming from.  The thinking is that if you oppose these standards, it is because you are a religious zealot who doesn't want your child to understand real science.  It's not that you want to have science left open to what we know and what we don't know without promoting or dismissing one worldview over another.  School should not be teaching religion, but it should not be anti-religious either. If we teach a worldview that prohibits a belief in a Creator, then are we not, essentially, teaching religion?  We are told that with these new standards, our kids will know how to ask questions better.  However, if you read all the materials, you find that the questions our kids will be asking will be limited and directed into a particular worldview.  77% of the population of the US considers themselves Christian.  Why is it necessary to prohibit this worldview in a science class?  Why must any worldview be adopted in science class?  Why can't we just provide for what we know, what we don't know, and teach the scientific method?  And we should NEVER, EVER try to convince children that science is settled, that there is no room for questioning or that there are only a certain set of appropriate questions.  But that's what I see.  We are using the cover of science to manipulate the beliefs and values of our kids, not to teach them how to become scientists or to understand the world around them. 

    Wednesday, May 6, 2015

    Walks and Talks like National Science Standards But....Really an Ostrich

    Come Wednesday, May 6  @ 7pm to the public comment meeting for Utah's Newly Proposed Science Standards being held at Provo School District Office, 280 West 940 North, Provo, Utah, 84604. 

    The new science standards are All That and a Kit-Kat.  (or that's what you're supposed to believe).  In point of fact, there are a lot of problems with the standards...starting with the fact that they are a cut-and-paste version of a set of national science standards (designed to not be exactly Common Core science, hence the new name, but created by the same organization anyway.) This is the chance to make a difference.  In a couple of years, when you see the problem, it will be much harder to fix. 

    The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the next set of 'state-led, not national, but adopted by lots of states, nationally, standards' that aren't really Common Core; although, they were developed by the same organization (Achieve, Inc) that started us off on the Common Core standards for English and Math.  (If you call them Common Core Science Standards, you will be ridiculed.  They changed the name....walks like a duck, talks like a duck...Ostrich--with webbed feet and much smaller!)

    In May, 2009, a concern was raised by State Board Member Kim Burningham, that the adoption of a national set of standards (Common Core) in a couple of subjects (English and math) would lead to subsequent adoption of additional subjects. (Audio, May 1, 2009, National Common Standards)

    In July, 2011, this same concern was raised at our Alpine School Board retreat, after the adoption of Common Core.  I was, personally assured we wouldn't adopt another set of national standards, by then-Curriculum director at the State Office, Sydnee Dickson, "I do want to address, Wendy, one of the comments you made about science and social studies. Our board has been very clear, that if national standards are developed, or even a consortium of states come together that we will not adopt those because there are just too many philosophical variances within those, and so, they've just been really clear, up front, that we're not going there." (1st Audio file @ 38:45: http://sbs.alpinedistrict.org/cgi-bin/WebObjects/eAgenda.woa/wa/displayMeeting?meetingID=850)

    At the beginning of the Common Core implementation process, we were repeatedly assured, from all sides, that national science and social studies standards would never be adopted by Utah...until now.

    While there are several concerns about the parent panel not knowing that these standards were, in fact, the NGSS, and how long it took to figure out that the 'science writing team' was really the science 'cut and paste from the NGSS document' team, the bigger issues are:

    1) Parental Control: Parents, during the public comment meetings, were told that not everything that exists in the NGSS has been presented to the public.  The teachers will get much more detail on what the standards actually are. "It would be too overwhelming" for parents to actually see and know and understand what their kids are being taught.

    2) Lower standards: Fordham Foundation rated Utah's current science standards 'Clearly Superior' to the NGSS standards.  Utah has B-rated science standards and NGSS are C-rated.  Why would we exchange our locally-developed/controlled, better standards for something sub-par, just to stay behind with other states? (Sarcasm alert!) Clearly, we wouldn't want to be known for our better standards and our superior science education, when we could have students held back to be common and below what they could be.  This way, we don't make the other states feel bad.  

    From Fordham's review:
    "Among the shortcomings of the NGSS is its acute dearth of math content, even in situations where math is essential to the study and proper understanding of the science that students are being asked to master." [emphasis mine]
    Oh, and Fordham LOVES national standards and Bill Gates' money.  These standards are so bad, that even they are not willing to endorse them for states like Utah.

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

     4) Slanted perspectives: And our own State Superintendent, Brad Smith, at an educational forum held at Westlake HS last Friday said that some of the topics in these standards present a one-sided view of an issue.  He is hoping to 'tweak' these standards to make them acceptable.

    5) Before-the-fact Training: All public school districts and charter schools were invited to send staff to a training at Weber State last fall to receive training in these new science standards.  Why train teachers/curriculum directors on something that might not happen?  Why are these standards so incredible that it requires a full-day seminar, before the fact, to properly train everyone?  Something smells like a duck too. 

    6) Controversial: A group in Kansas has filed a lawsuit, and is now appealing on the basis that these standards prohibit a worldview that is compatible with a belief in God.  Wyoming's legislature has blocked the adoption of NGSS.  This is not a basic set of science standards without controversy.  Could that explain the need for a Utah writing team and a different name?

    Please come tomorrow and comment.  Contact the State board and ask them to scrap this attempt at giving us lower standards in the interest of being the same as other states. Please do not accept the idea that we can tweak standards we don't want. 

    A friend of mine who analyzed textbook bias in college indicated that the hardest form of bias to spot is the one of omission.  You can see what is there, but you have to step back and see what is missing.  What is the picture of the world these standards are painting?  According to Mr. Wurman, one where kids are consumers of science, but don't have the abilities to be scientists, themselves....

    Oh, and they're not a duck....I mean NGSS or national standards or ....!

    Friday, March 20, 2015

    Veto SB235: Unless you only want black cars...

    Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
    --Henry Ford

    As Americans, we pride ourselves on our independence.  We like to do things our own way, in our own time, and for our own reasons.  We have become a model to the world in education and achievement, in large part, due to the freedom we have had to learn and grown and progress, not as a group, but as individuals. 

    Indicative of this individuality has been our education.  We have had a large system of mostly independent schools and districts educating each generation as their parents saw fit.  But, it has always been based on parents and teachers and the community, a bottom-up approach, not a top-down diktat.  SB235 effectively removes local control and determines all success, all failure, rewards and punishments at the state-level.  We drive different makes, models and colors of cars.  Our children are more varied than our cars.  And yet, we assume that a top-down mandate of testing and meeting those testing demands will make education better, more vibrant, and more colorful.  Just like our driving will be improved if we only choose black cars.  It works only if you already wanted a black car to begin with. 

    With the passage of SB235 S2 this past legislative session, we are taking the bad ideas of No Child Left Behind and making the state law.  So while our State Board is trying to get out from under NCLB, and our Congressional delegation is looking to repeal and replace NCLB, our state is going to adopt those bad ideas on a state level.  The Eagles sang, "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." I thought they were talking about Hotel California, and now I find out it's bad federal ideas in education.  We have one chance in the short term to reverse this. The Governor can still veto this bill.

    SB235 sounds like a nice idea.  You take the bottom 3% of our schools and you turn them around.  Who wouldn't want that?  No one.  The problem is in how you determine those 3% and what turning them around means.

    First, the 3% is determined, in large part by SAGE test scores...low ones.  My fellow board member, Paula Hill, has said, "Whatever is on the test is what will be taught."  This is a reality. It's well known corollary is "That which is measured improves."  If we measure it on SAGE, we will get better at doing it.  The problem is that we may not want that improvement.  The measurement may be invalid.  SAGE has had one year of pilot-testing.  It wasn't even adaptive the first year.  But everything is riding on the assumption that this test actually is measuring what success in education looks like. 

    Note: A school is  put into turnaround status as long as it's test scores are in the lowest 3 percent.  Once in turnaround status, a school will be subjected to one or more of the following: 1) hiring an outside consultant, maybe taking money from other schools in the district to pay for it, 2) turning control of the school over to the State, or 3) turning the school into a charter school.  All this, based on the assumption that SAGE is valid, reliable and adequate to our community's definition of success for our children.  All three of those assumption, in my opinion, are faulty.  For more information on my concerns with SAGE testing, see here

    Second, we like to make sure that the people have a voice in all aspects of government.  Education is no exception.  So, we elect school boards to oversee what is taught in our public schools.  Charter schools, in Utah anyway, have parent boards that oversee what is taught.  Under this legislation, any 'turnaround schools' can be taken from a local system of governance and put under either the State Board or turned into a charter school.  It's important to understand that, more than likely, this charter school will not be the parent-led charter schools that we are used to in Utah, but those with a track record for 'high performance' that are seen in many other states.  Charter school companies are popping up all over.  So, we will be turning our schools over to for-profit companies that do not have any accountability to parents and taxpayers.  Under this legislation, there will never be more representation at a local level in our schools than there is now.  In a period of 33 years, if no school is selected for turnaround status more than once, we can eliminate all local representation of our schools in the state of Utah.  

    Finally, saving the best for last, the US Dept of Ed has a Turnaround schools program.  And even before the governor has signed this into law, our state has been assigned to a federal 'team' for overseeing turnaround schools.  It seems to be true that we are not coerced by the feds when it comes to legislation; we adopt their reforms voluntarily.

    This bill has widespread opposition.  All members of Alpine School Board are opposed to SB235 and asking the Governor for a veto.  The Utah School Boards' Association, the Utah PTA, the Utah Educators Association, Utahns Against Common Core, and Locally-Directed Education are all opposed to this.  This is a case where various ideologies all see that taking power away from parents, teachers, and locally-elected representatives centralizes and standardizes what and how our children are taught.  Quoting one of my favorites, Jefferson said, "What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun ? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body..." (1816)

    Please contact the Governor at 801-538-1000 or http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_governor.html ASAP.  Ask him to veto SB235.  My understanding is that he will act toward the beginning of next week. 

    More references below:

    1. My email to the governor
    2. The USBA talking points
    3. Utahns Against Common Core article on SB235

    1.My letter to the Governor:

    March 20, 2015

    Dear Governor Herbert,

    As a member of the Alpine School District Board of Education, I ask you to veto SB 235 S2—Turnaround Schools. While the intent of the legislation is admirable, to improve our public schools, the method, the measures, and the outcomes are problematic.

    1. SB235 has the potential to remove all local, elected representation in our public schools within 33 years. Since every year, three-percent of the lowest performing schools may be placed under state or charter control, there will never be greater elected representation in our public schools than there is today. If the same few schools fall into 'turnaround' status every year, then we will just be spinning our wheels with this legislation. If, however, the 'turnaround' is 'successful' in improving test scores, then in the space of about 33 years, every single school in the state will be in 'turnaround' status which will remove all local representation. Parents want more say in their schools, not less.
    2. SB235 will standardize and centralize control to a single criteria set at the state, not local, level. The determination of success or failure is based on the school grading system. Anything that is taught or not taught in our schools will be determined by how it is tested at the state-level. As parents and teachers seek to help our children develop their own talents and skills, our education system is removing those who know the children best, and making top-down diktats as to what success in education actually means. Also, our major measure of 'success' is the SAGE test. This measure has only been pilot tested for a single year, and legislation for two years has been motivated by parents wanting their children to not participate in this metric. As such, this metric is highly questionable, and schools with parents who have the most concerns will be greatly impacted by this legislation. With the concept of parental opt outs, this metric is less than reliable. It could also be used to coerce parents into allowing testing against their wishes. As a representative dedicated to preserving parents' fundamental rights to oversee and direct their children's education, I see great potential for problems in this area.
    3. And, finally, SB235 implements the Federal US Dept. of Education's Turnaround program at a state-level. While our State Board members and our Congressional delegation are looking at ways to remove federal control via No Child Left Behind (NCLB), this legislation effectively takes some of the most egregious parts of NCLB and implements them as state law. We are not being coerced or bribed by the feds; we are adopting their programs willingly. In this instance, at least, we become not a bastion of independence and sovereignty, but a vassal to a federal department with no accountability to parents and voters.

    My overriding concern is the lack of local accountability to parents and taxpayers, much of which comes through the ballot box. I do not believe that education can or should be standardized. Parents want more say in what their children learn and how they learn it, not less. Centralizing what defines success at the state-level, effectively removes parents, teachers, and their elected representatives from having any authority to customize education to the individual student's and a particular community's needs.

    For these and may other reasons, I, respectfully, ask you to veto SB 235 S2.


    Wendy K. Hart
    Mother of 3
    Highland, UT
    Alpine School Board, ASD2

    2. USBA concerns with SB235
    Reasons to request a veto:
    1. SB235 S2 represents a major loss of local control in working with schools that are in need of improvement, and, at a time when graduation rates across the state have been steadily increasing due to the great work of local boards, administrators, teachers, parents and students in each community in the state (an increase of 7% since 2011). See: http://www.schools.utah.gov/data/Reports/Graduation-Dropout.aspx and http://www.sltrib.com/news/1941455-155/utah-graduation-rate-up-2-percent Local boards and their communities surely understand their schools better than anyone at the state level or any outsider hired by the state. And yet, while board members, administrators and teachers can certainly learn from one another and from outside experts and mentors, the mandatory use of state and local money for an outside provider denies local control. Let’s continue to allow our local communities to work on their student proficiency and graduation rates, as they have been doing so well in the past few years.

    2. The first use of additional money in education, in our view, should go directly to the student for individualized or tiered interventions, such as tutoring online or after school, to help the child overcome learning deficits. Instead, the first intervention the state wishes to put forward in sb235 S2 is to hire outsiders, to use vital school funding of $8 million for advisory personnel rather than for direct services for students. We cannot imagine this is what the Utah taxpayer has consistently expressed in their desire to see more money directed to their public schools. We believe the taxpayers want more money focused on the children, not on outside advisors.

    3. The bill in substitute 2 was not heard in a House committee meeting and thus, did not get the vetting necessary to fully understand the effects of the bill.

    4. The bill was written chiefly by non-educators and potential recipients of the resources contained in the bill http://cicerogroup.com/ and could easily be seen as, in part, a vendor bill.

    5. The bill may override the intent of, and direction of use of funds, as governed by local boards of education and even of School Community Councils. The bill has total disregard for districts that already prioritize resources based on need, per child, not necessarily per school. It may also introduce wider disparity and inequity, as, on line 138, local districts are required to take funding away from other schools and their students to enhance funding for the identified school(s). This is so unfair to students in other schools, some of whom may be struggling as much academically as are students in any identified school. This might well lead to legal challenge.

    6. Sustainable change is the goal of any school improvement, but as the grades in the school grading program can be readily changed through “teach-to-the-test” strategies rather than substantial improvements in student understanding/proficiency or school performance, the bill misses the mark of teaching/learning excellence.

    7. The metrics used in this bill are relatively-based rather than based on meeting certain standards, i.e., lowest percentage and grading points are relative to other schools and not grounded in meeting a quality standard.

    8. Rewards are not connected with quality changes based on meeting a standard, they are achieved by relative outcomes that can be gamed for certain ages, school sizes, and student body composition (see lines 336-351).

    9. The consequences for failure include less able and less successful alternatives, and have an inordinate focus on turning traditional schools into charter schools. There is no empirical evidence on student achievement in Utah or nationally to support creating more charter schools. A policy that recommends conversion to a charter school for any reason seems to be built solely upon politics, not upon data-driven decision-making or what may be in the best interest of a community’s school.

    10. A low performing school is defined as one in the lowest performing 3% of schools statewide (line 80), and thus, there will always be 3% of low performing schools in the state, even if all schools were to meet a certain quality standard. And, as consequences outlined in lines 316-323 are heavily weighted toward charter schools or for-profit management companies that oversee many Utah charter schools, if the lowest 3% are moved into such a consequence each year, how soon will Utah’s community schools be taken over by for-profit charter management companies instead of locally elected officials? Schools that are run by for-profit companies and no longer under the management and accountability of elected officials, may also no longer be as responsible to the public at large or to the parents they serve.

    3. Utahns Against Common Core Opposition