"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, October 11, 2016

Election Season AGAIN: 2016

Dear Friends,

Three Alpine School District Seats are up for election: East Orem, PG/Lindon, and Lehi.  Only one of the incumbents is running for re-election.  I cannot stress how much more important I view the local elections than the national or even state ones.  If we were to hold our national representatives to the amount of involvement that they should have (under the Constitution), we would not be impacted by who was in those offices very often.  It is the failure of us, as a people, to maintain control at the local level.  Please encourage all your friends and neighbors in those areas to get involved, support and knock doors for the candidate of their choice, and to reassert the local community's interest in the education of our children.  If we are willing to stand up and desire that level of control, we would be able to wrest it back.  It would take some doing, but we have to show we are willing.   Please look for candidates who don't say we are willing to 'work within the system' when the system is broken.  Look for those who would be willing to tell the State Board or the Legislature or the US Dept of Ed, "These are our kids, and  we will be responsible for them." 

The biggest issue in the district right now is the bond.  Go here: http://alpineschools.org/bond2016/ for information on the bond.  I voted to place it on the ballot.  I am not sure if I will be voting for it, personally.  I do hope that all of you will contact your legislators and ask them to support allowing impact fees to be collected to prepare for school growth in advance, until waiting until it's crazy and a middle school has three lunches because they can't accommodate all the kids inside the main building at once.  There are 4 videos, along with charts and graphs and a list of bond projects.  There are public meetings being held, and you can always email and ask any questions you might have.

And finally, two years ago, when I ran for re-election, it was one of the most painful things I've endured.  It was a refining moment for me in so many ways.  I do not think I fully appreciated the difficulty that people operate under when serving.  When my predecessor left the district, she said in the meeting that a wise man once said, "When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God."  Not to offend those who don't believe in God, but you have to approach public office as service to your fellow beings.  And that service comes whether people agree with you or not.  By the same token, we get better government the more we are involved.  And that means every, single one of us needs to be informed and involved.  But it also means we won't agree and we will have conflict.  However, as long as we value the person with whom we disagree and do not assume their intentions are evil, we will be able to have greater discourse and find more solutions in the long run.  I am including my post from two years ago, during that 'fun' time of re-election.  I ask, again, that no matter what side you take on an issue or on a candidate, do not assume that someone who disagrees with you does so from a point of moral inferiority.  http://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2014/10/you-dont-care-about-kids-civil-discourse.html

Thank you for your support!  Get involved and invite your neighbors to get involved as well.  If you don't know how to get involved, I'm happy to help direct you!


"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.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Learning is Earning...and our Bond Hearing

Tomorrow, Sept. 13, is a very busy day for education in our state and county: Competency-based Ed conference, Prosperity 2020, and Bond Hearing.

The Public Bond Hearing is @ 6pm @ the District Office in AF. Generic public comments are first, standard business stuff, and then the official Bond Hearing.  The bond will be on the ballot in November, for $387 Million, no tax increase, new buildings due to growth, rebuilding due to age.  I voted to put the bond on the ballot.  Our area will get 1% of the total amount of the bond.  Here's the agenda: http://board.alpineschools.org/2016/09/09/september-13-2016-board-meeting/  And here is information on the bond. http://alpineschools.org/bond2016/

On to the 'new visions' for education.  Lots of it has been in the works for a while, and some things are just rebrands of what has gone on before.  Full-disclosure, I'm not a fan of most everything that we are seeing proposed for 'ed reform': Competency-based ed, Workforce alignment, Digital Badges, GRIT, 21st Century Skills/Learning, etc.  I believe most everyone involved in these projects are well-intended and are proposing these visions and ideas with the goal to help our children.  But many who are involved in these reforms do focus primarily on workforce training, not education. 

Education is a much broader vision than simple workforce training.  Don't get me wrong, I want my kids to be gainfully employed, but I believe the well-educated individual will never be an anachronism in the workplace; they will be capable of seeing the consequences of actions due to a vast general knowledge and understanding.  The specific skills related to a job, with a few exceptions, can be learned 'on the job.'  And there's evidence that these supposed 'skill sets': collaboration, critical thinking, communication are directly related to the specific subject-matter at hand.  I may be good at thinking critically about a mathematical problem, but fail miserably when it comes to architecture, mostly because I lack the foundational knowledge allowing me to think accurately about a particular issue.  And collaboration works very well with experts from various fields; not so much with amateurs with similar backgrounds.  And sometimes, like in the case of Steve Wozniak inventing the Apple computer, collaboration is completely unneeded, unnecessary, and probably wouldn't have worked.  (Einstein: Theory of Relativity; Newton, Kepler, how much collaboration did they do?)

So, without further adieu....

At 8am, there will be a Joint Legislative Conference talking about Competency-based ed at UVU--essentially, kids with computers designed to streamline credentials for workforce.  The discussion is not and never has been: Should we do Competency-based (or mastery learning or whatever)?  The focus tomorrow is how to implement it and how to overcome the obstacles (including, I'm sure whe'll hear about those 'people who just don't like change.')  Some of the focus is very appealing: don't make kids who already understand something sit through a semester or a year to get credit for it.  The question comes down to WHO decides what the criteria are for determining competency?  Is it a national organization dedicated to global citizenship?  Is it the local community college or the local school district?  Is it American Institutes for Research, SAGE test designer and behavioral research organization extraordinaire?  A newly-established and funded comptency-based ed board?And therein lies the rub.  Who is in charge?  I can guarantee it won't be parents.  Granted, my kids are taking online learning courses--specifically for the mostly brain-dead courses the legislature requires in order to 'check a box' to say they've done it.  While I would love for them to be able to test out of a lot of this garbage, I think the real answer is for the legislature to not impose arbitrary courses on to the locals.  I know that requires a lot of faith in your local school board, teachers and administrators and, most importantly, parents and taxpayers.  But, WE are obligated to chart the course to determine what our kids need.  If Park City thinks their kids need something different, so be it.  Why should we care?  Unfortunately, we live in an age where 'the experts know best', and parents are seen as obstacles in providing a child with 'real' education.

Back to the conference, many of you remember Marc Tucker, famous for his School to Work ideas during the Clinton Administration and the Dear Hillary letter (cradle-to-grave workforce development system.)  Mr. Tucker was the keynote speaker at last year's joint legislative conference.  This is Part Deux (part two).  This is Mr. Tucker's vision, and all the focus on Workforce as the end goal of education was enhanced by Mr. Tucker and his National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).  It's always fun to think of my children in terms of their 'economic potential', as 'human capital'.  And dare are I ask, what happens to those humans who can't be turned into capital? 
Here is a link to a video that ACT and others have put together to show what competency-based ed is projected to grow into.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zssd6eBVfwc
Play the game, make the future. 9am March 8 - 9pm March 9 CST www.LearningIsEarning2026.org

And commentary from my favorite, liberal education blogger, Peter Greene (language warning).   http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-ledger-lab-rat-america.html

For those who don't want to read through Mr. Greene's blog, here are some excerpts:

Learning is earning.

Your Ledger account tracks everything you've ever learned in units called edublocks.
An edublock represents, supposedly, one hour of learning in any subject-- which brings us to our first mystery, which is exactly how one breaks down learning into hours.


Your profile displays all the blocks you've earned. Employers can use this information to offer you a job or a gig that matches your skills.

The Ledger will track the money you make from those gigs and use it to evaluate the edublock sources; ultimately every edublock source will carry a rating that shows which sources led to people earning the most money. Because in the world of the Ledger, money is the ultimate yardstick by which all value is measured. You can even market yourself as a commodity, bartering for free edublocks by offering a share of your future earnings in return. The video does not say anything about what happens if you do not provide a sufficient return on the investment, and I'd rather not imagine how that particular "collection" goes. [My note: See?  I'm not the only one who wonders.]

Does ACT have a plan for getting not one, but several governments to sign off and join up on the Ledger, so that the program can have access to everything, every last bit of data? Because this whole plan would seem to require that a corporation and governments join together to provide a more user-friendly computer-based surveillance state.

Who is going to create all the tasks that will measure and certify certain skills? It doesn't actually matter that much, because the bottom line is that all jobs and skill sets will be broken down to the simplest possible set of tasks, a simplification that guarantees that all nuance, complexity, and higher-order thinking will be kicked right out of the system.

Exactly what task will certify that you have acquired one hour's worth of critical thinking?


This is not education. This is training. This is operant conditioning for the servant class that also provides the upper class with tools that let them trickle even fewer benefits down to the working class.

In fact, I would say that this is just training rats to run a maze, but it's even worse than that, because ultimately even if we were to accept the premise that simply giving some job-ish training for the underclass is good enough, and even if I were to accept the racist, classist [b***sh**] that somehow ignores the immoral and unethical foundations of such a system, the fact remains that this would be a lousy training system. To reduce any job of any level of complexity to this kind of checklist-of-tasks training provides the worst possible type of training.


Do I think folks like ACT Foundation or Pearson (who also like a version of this model) can actually pull this off? It doesn't matter-- what matters is that this is their North Star, and even though you never get to the North Star, it still shapes the course you set. Worse, while I hope we never arrive in the world of the Ledger, these folks can do a huge amount of damage trying to navigate in that direction.

So, our legislators are being asked to start legislating competency-based ed stuff, so we can get on the Learning is Earning track without a public discussion as to why we're doing this and who will determine what is competency?  (And BTW, did you call your legislator to ask for this change?  I'm guessing you didn't.  Another 'brilliant idea' that comes down from some Think Tank somewhere that will be foisted on the public without any sort of pilot project, public demand, or scientific evaluation.  And then in 5 years, they'll say it wasn't properly implemented and come up with something else that's similar but somehow better that was presented with a nice PowerPoint at some conference somewhere.) 

At 4pm at the District Office, Prosperity 2020 will be giving us a 15 minute presentation.  I'm not sure what they will be presenting, but they have a similar focus on the economic outcomes of education. 

Here is a quote from the Utah.gov website about Prosperity 2020.
"Great businesses are built with human capital—well-trained and educated workers."

Again, I think those involved are motivated by a desire to have well-educated kids, and they are seeing some deficits, I assume.  They want to 'bridge that gap.'  But I would argue, it's doing things the wrong way.  If there is a market for certain skills, the market, using supply and demand, will pay more for those skills.  People will jump through whatever hoops are necessary to gain those skills, in order to get a job that pays really well for those skills.  Public education should not be seen as a publicly-funded job-training program.  And your kids and mine should NOT be seen as human capital that can be used to promote the economic bottom-line of a corporation or the State of Utah. Central planning to match job skills with workers and 'training' (education) sounds so 1980's USSR to me.  So, I will try to keep an open mind (it will be hard) for the presentation.  But at the end of the day, my question will still come back to: Who decides?  In public education, it's supposed to be the parents and the taxpayers, not Marc Tucker or the Chamber of Commerce. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Feds and Bonds: Summer Happenings

There are two items of importance for your consideration and action: ESSA public comments (the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind has a set of regulations open for public comment.  Hint: They are the textbook definition of overreach and federal control) and the proposed Bond for 2016.

The ESSA public comment period has a deadline of Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.  The bond will be voted on by the Board Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

ESSA Regulations
In December, 2015, Congress passed the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), nicknamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  At the time, I said I was opposed to it, due to the 1 step forward, 2 steps backward attempt at 'removing' federal control in education.  I still believe ESSA to be a net negative (Yes, as bad or worse than NCLB).  However, those members of Congress who voted for it, generally, see the regulations that the US Dept of Ed have put out on ESSA to be an egregious overreach of the law, itself.  (Find the Regulations here: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/index.html?src=essa-resources)

The biggest area of concern (and there are many) is the recommendation that schools with high opt-out rates of  Common Core testing be penalized.  See this article: http://longisland.news12.com/news/us-education-secretary-john-b-king-penalize-schools-with-high-rates-of-common-core-opt-outs-1.12031057  In June, I attended a training session on ESSA presented by the National School Boards Association (aptly titled: A New Federalism).  The presenter, an attorney, recommended that we work with our legislators to remove the ability of parents to opt their kids out of state testing.  The consequence, she said, would be to jeopardize our federal funding under ESSA.  So, the one avenue parents have to protest and to protect their students is under attack by the 'new' supposedly kinder, gentler, less-federal-encroachment law.  Additionally, I asked how they would be able to do this when some states, like Utah, for example, have opting out codified in state law, the state law predates ESSA, and under the 10th Amendment, the states would have jurisdiction in this area that the feds clearly do not.  Her response, paraphrasing, "Since the monies in ESSA are 'voluntary', you will not be able to get someone to challenge it on 10th Amendment grounds."  In short, by taking the federal monies from ESSA, we are subverting state (and natural) law--voluntarily. 

Also, the ESSA includes the 'Family Fixing Policy' as it is described by education blogger Peter Greene.  I wrote about this at the end of last year: http://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2015/12/jan-4-2016-deadline-to-support-family.html  Nothing we want taking place in our state.  The concern is that if the Feds have the ability to (which it appears they do) to force states to do what they want, then the State Board will have no options (other than rejecting federal funding) in creating their 'Family Engagement Plan'.  It will have to come very close to what the US Dept of Ed has proposed. 

Incidentally, the NSBA presenter mentioned that the regulations overseeing how Special Education students are dealt with under ESSA were, to put it bluntly, a nightmare.  She said they were not out for public comment yet, but they were on the US Dept of Ed website.  I haven't found them yet, but if you do, please let me know. 

Take Action on ESSA:
1. An organization, US PIE (US Parents Involved in Education) has as its goal the elimination of the US Department of Ed.  They have drafted a letter to send to Congress.  You may add your name by emailing afew@uspie.org and asking to be added to the letter.  Include your name and title and state.
2. Comment on the US Dept of Ed regulations BY AUGUST 1 (MONDAY)!  https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=ED-2016-OESE-0032-0001
3. Contact your members of Congress and make sure they know the Dept of Ed is over-stepping it's bounds.
4. If you like twitter, use the hashtag #ReignInTheKing and #StopFedEd

ASD 2016 Bond
The Board will vote on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016 on whether or not to place a bond on the ballot for your consideration in November.  This bond is proposed to be $386 Million and cover projects over the next 4 years.  There will be no projected tax increase for the average $250,000 home, due to the interest rates, project schedule, and retirement of existing bonds.  For more information on the bond, go here.  (The 2011 bond was $210 Million.)

Originally, there were many items included in the bond, like technology infrastructure and key-card-security access, but they seemed to take a back-seat to the growth and maintenance of schools.  As such, those items were removed and the proposed projects can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzUjUSlTes-4TjhBQXUtQlFjdjA  I would appreciate your comments as soon as possible on these items, as there is not much chance for public feedback at this point.  You are welcome to come and comment on the 16th, but by then, it is mostly a done deal. 

Personally, while I like Clear Creek, I think we should focus our resources on more school buildings instead of Clear Creek. I believe the parents who have kids in overcrowded schools would prefer more day-to-day school buildings than the benefit of Clear Creek. Additionally, I think we could probably get funding from other sources (corporate and personal donations), to determine the exact benefit our parents find from programs like Clear Creek.  (I, personally, enjoyed Clear Creek with my daughter, but I think when it comes to prioritizing our bond projects, more schools outweighs the benefits of Clear Creek.  You may disagree, but that's why I'm asking for input.) 

My take:
I will, most likely, vote to put the bond on the ballot.  There are serious growth concerns in Lehi and the West that I can't see being able to fund in the short-term without bonding.  Our district has a great track record of keeping its promises on bonds, getting the best interest rates, and keeping tax rates low.  So, if you must use a bonding model, I think Alpine School District and our Business Services Department do a great job!

However, in the Highland, Alpine, and Cedar Hills area, bonding is probably not a logical choice.  We have a few minor items that are included in every bond, but we are essentially paying for building and maintenance in the other areas across the district.  (For Alpine/Highland/Cedar Hills: 2011 bond: 1% of the bond.  2016 proposed bond: 1% of the bond.)  I've been told that not wanting to pay for others' buildings is selfish.  But, my response is simply this.  Property taxation should not expand beyond those who are receiving the benefit of the property tax; otherwise, any meaningful checks and balances on property taxation are lost.  So, like in this instance, there are enough people in the rest of the district that want/need what is being proposed on the bond they can force those in the other areas to pay for those needs.  (And I remind you I don't think those buildings are a bad thing.  They are truly needed.  It just goes back to self-sufficiency, and the need for checks and balances on government processes.) This is one of the difficulties in bonding over a large area, like our district.

The other possible downside is in the high-growth or older areas that require more building, the bond dollars have to be spread around in order to have broad support.  If you are in Lehi, it would probably take much less time to get all those buildings done because you wouldn't have to pay for Orem or AF or Eagle Mountain..., and the question is whether or not the cost to Lehi would be significantly more than spreading it over the entire district.  Since Lehi is a high growth area, arguably, the increased property values in that area might equal the increased need in buildings.  These are questions I don't have the answers to.  But they are questions we should be asking. 

So, as an example, take Highland City.  It seems every year the City Council raises taxes to fix the roads, and every year, the residents pass a referendum to prevent it.  It's the check and balance that is needed.  If residents prefer to drive on lousy roads in order to keep their property taxes low, then that is their right.  If, however, Highland residents could expand their tax base out to Alpine and Cedar Hills and make them pay for Highland's road construction, there might be less resistance from Highland residents.  But would that be right?  Property tax exists to allow residents of a particular community to tax themselves for a particular benefit.  They pay the price, but they also receive the benefit.  If you are paying more than you are receiving in benefit or vice versa, then the checks and balances are misaligned.  And you will find people voting to take money from others to pay for their needs, instead of bearing the burden themselves.  If we want to help other areas of the district, in the long term, I believe working with the legislature to do the following would be better governance than bonding across the district every 4-5 years.  (Note: these items might not eliminate bonding, but they are better models for government and the bonded amounts would be smaller and more targeted, I believe.)

1. Change the law to allow impact fees to be used for school buildings.  (Impact fees are charged to developers for things like sewer lines and water.  15 or so years ago, the legislature, when the Senate President was a realtor, banned the use of impact fees for schools.  This means we don't have a way of getting more funding to build school buildings in growth areas other than property taxation and bonding.  We don't get to plan in advance and assess monies for schools to be built as cities grow.  And the growing areas are dependent upon the rest of the district for funding/bonding, as well.  The argument against impact fees is that it increases the cost of new developments.  However, to me, that's like saying we can't charge impact fees for water because it would increase the cost.  If you are building, we are obligated to provide you with water.  If you are building, we are obligated to provide schools. Without impact fees, we are reacting to growth instead of being able to plan in advance and prepare.)

2. Remove (or reduce) 'special programs' like technology grants and so forth that limit what funding can be used for at the local level.  Special programs and state grants turn the legislature into a super school board--dictating what projects are of most value in their eyes.  If we had the chance to get money for technology or for school buildings, each district might choose differently, but that is why you have a locally-elected school board--to decide how the money should best be used.

3. Reduce or eliminate the amount of income tax money funding higher ed.  Once upon a time 100% of our income taxes went to K-12 education.  The legislature changed this to allow a portion to also go to higher ed.  Over time, the percentage going to higher ed has successively increased, and reduced K-12 by the same amount.  We are obligated under our State Constitution to provide a free, public education for all our students K-12.  We are not obligated to subsidize higher ed.  If we want to subsidize higher ed, the money should come from outside the income tax amounts and should probably be reduced.  If we can't provide places for our K-12 children to learn, but we are subsidizing higher ed, we have our priorities backward. 

Please share this information with your neighbors.  Ask them to comment on the ESSA regulations, as well as on the bond, and any proposals to deal with growth and maintenance issues going forward.  Our district can represent you, but only if you are willing to weigh in on the things that matter to you!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Money, Money, Money: Budgets and Bonds

Today, June 21, 2016, is our annual budget hearing at 6:00 pm at the district office in American Fork.  A public hearing will take place for 1) the final budget for 2015-2016 and 2) the proposed budget for 2016-2017.  Most of the time, very few people come to comment on the budget unless there is a tax increase proposed.  But if you have comments about the budget, you can comment at the appropriate time.  If you have comments on other issues, there will be a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, as well.  Here is a link to the budget: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4LZ8teFSo0fNUd1WEVYZzZRekFLQ1JSQ3hQWXU2U1BlSUZj/view

A few things to note:
p. 8: Great Graph on 1) Where the money comes from and 2) How it is spent.  Total federal funding this year is 6.32% ($39 million total federal revenues)
p. 15: General Fund: This is where most of the 'school-related' activities are funded: teachers, principals, etc.
p.23: District Leadership: The board and other district leadership have their association dues paid for by you.  The vast majority of this total amount ($57,999) is for dues for the Board's Utah School Boards' Association. (Note: Only teachers do not have their dues paid for by the taxpayers.)
p. 23: District Leadership Supplies and Materials: This amount is significantly higher than last year because we will be including the Superintendent's discretionary spending fund (for items that arise during the year that only he can approve) here for greater transparency. 
p. 39: Nutrition Services: This is where a huge chunk of our federal revenues come in.  51.74%  ($11.472 million) of our food budget is federal.  Note also, this pays for the free school lunches in the summer, as well.
p. 51: Tax Increment Fund (RDA's): This is the amount of taxation that is being diverted to developers under the RDA sections of state code, to incentivize development in exchange for reduced tax rates to those entities that can successfully lobby us to give them tax breaks.  This is a new requirement from the State Auditor's office.  This year, $15 million is projected to be given back to developers.
p. 57: Alpine self-insures for medical workers' compensation.  This outlines the spending and revenues for that program. 

Non-budget items that may be of interest:
p. 66: Enrollment projections through 2020 (hint: 80,885 students by 2020)
p. 71: Actual employee counts, per department, over the last several years.
p. 73: New employee counts for this year specifically.

Additionally, on June 27 @ 12:00 pm at the District Office, the Board will meet to discuss the various bond projects that we would like to see on the upcoming bond.  The vote on the bond will take place at the August board meeting.  If you have bond projects that you support, want to see included, or want to see removed, please let me (and the rest of the board) know before the 27th.  This is the time to weigh in.  If you wait till August on your opinion of the bond, it will be too late, in all practicality, to influence it.

My personal opinion is we should not include technology infrastructure in the bond.  Most infrastructure for technology has a short 'useful life' and should not be financed over 17 - 20 years.  It was included, in part, because the bond survey indicated a strong preference for increased use of technology, especially from our male respondents. We have put the cart way before the horse in thinking technology is the silver bullet of education. We are not fully aware of the vast implications of so much technology use in our children's lives. 

As an example, here is an article that every parent needs to read. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy?utm_source=FacebookPost&utm_medium=FBPost&utm_campaign=FBPost)  The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 2 hours per day of screen time for kids up to age 18.  I think technology can be useful in some circumstances, but it is by no means the end-all, be-all of improving education and our children's lives.  And, in fact, might be harmful, depending, as always, on its use.

And one more about how we are creating children who can't disagree. (http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/02/bill-gates-admits-on-education-tech-we-really-havent-changed-outcomes/) “The digital delivery of teaching materials across Australia has had a powerful normative effect,” he [Dr. John Vallance, Headmaster, Sydney Grammar School] observed. “It’s making it quite difficult for children to learn how to disagree, how not to toe the party line, because they can’t question things – the possibility of questioning things has been taken away from them.”
Please share this information with your friends and neighbors.  We are only 7 board members, and we need your input on how you would like to see our district managed.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Thank You,Governor, for Request to Move Away from CC

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gary Herbert sent a letter to the Utah State Board of Education requesting they move away from the Common Core standards and work to eliminate SAGE testing from high school.  I think it is a great first step. Your involvement in the possible update of the standards will be essential going forward.

To read his letter, you can go here

In response, some local board members from around the state wrote this letter of thanks to the Governor. We are supportive of the Governor's call to revisit the Common Core standards and SAGE testing.  Whether we are supposed to have local control or not, parents who have children who are struggling realize all too well, how this isn't working for their children.  Those children are the collateral damage that Common Core is responsible for.  

Since the Governor's letter, a lot of editorials, websites, and facebook pages have come out criticizing the Governor's move, as well as, those of us who have been opposed to Common Core from its inception. Meetings with teachers, superintendents, etc have been scheduled to make sure that we don't deviate.  (Interestingly, in Feb. 2014, the State Board was told by the Secondary Math Education specialist to "Stay the Course" on the math because we didn't have enough data to know whether it was working or not.  Glad to know that my kid was an experiment.)  

It is understandable when so much money has been poured into Common Core, there are many powerful, well-connected people who have a lot to lose if states start doing their own thing again.  Imagine how lucrative it is when you can write a single set of materials and have it completely accepted in 45 out of 50 states.  Or as children struggle, these organizations can provide "new and better" professional development sessions, webinars, etc.  In short, student success doesn't sell, but student failure certainly does.  Why would any educational vendor not want Common Core, right? And that's the point.  The rich and powerful and well-connected like it. Those who worry about 'competing in a global economy' and (falsely) believe that Common Core will help, like it too.  The parents who are working with their kids, seeing them struggle, and wondering who came up with these stupid ideas, they don't.  So, now that the Governor has asked the State Board to reconsider, all those who stand to lose something are coming out in force.  But there are a whole host of kids who are being harmed by this experiment on our kids.  And that is what it is: an experiment.  It was adopted out of whole cloth without any testing, scientific research, or piloting.  The standards were 'informed by'.. the 'spirit of' those standards in other countries.  And the research I was cited by USOE at the beginning of the implementation was "we have anecdotal evidence."  

Next time, let's use something that has some evidence behind it, not just slick marketing, good funding, talking points, and empty promises about 'higher standards', 'international benchmarking', and 'college and career readiness,' all of which have been shown to be *untrue.  

A couple of thoughts going forward.  Massachusetts has a 13 year track record for their English and Math standards pre-Common Core.  We could look at theirs; the standards and the associated tests are in the public domain.  California experimented with Investigations Math before their General Assembly outlawed it.  They then developed A-rated Math standards, pre-Common Core. Both states 'dumbed down' their standards to Common Core in order to get the federal Race to the Top money. Indiana, Massachusetts, and California all had English standards SUPERIOR to Common Core, as rated by Fordham Foundation.  In short, there were 13 states that had English standards superior to our own and were equivalent or BETTER than Common Core. (Download the report from 2010 here.)

Utah's previous math standards (which by all accounts prohibited Investigations Math as a stand-alone method) were rated an A-minus, EXACTLY the same rating they gave to Common Core's Math (along with receiving Gates' Foundation money to promote CC). BUT, from reading the review, Utah's standards sound superior.  

Here are some quotes:

Utah’s [2007 Math] standards are exceptionally well presented and easy to read and un­derstand. They cover content with both depth and rigor, and provide clear guidance. There are a few weaknesses in whole-number arithmetic. The high school content is exceptionally rigorous. 
Utah’s standards are beautifully presented and generally both clear and specific. They receive three points out of three for Clarity and Specificity 
The standards are generally very strong and cover most of the essential content with both depth and rigor. The high school standards are particularly strong. There are a few weaknesses in the development and prioritization of arithme­tic. Some minor problems result in a Content and Rigor score of six points out of seven (see Common Grading Metric, Appendix A). 

The Bottom Line 
With some minor differences, Common Core and Utah both cover the essential content for a rigorous, K-12 mathemat­ics program. Utah’s standards are briefly stated and usually clear, making them easier to read and follow than Common Core. In addition, the high school content is organized so that standards addressing specific topics, such as quadratic functions, are grouped together in a mathematically coherent way. The organization of the Common Core is more diffi­cult to navigate, in part because standards dealing with related topics sometimes appear separately rather than together....[emphasis mine]

First, I have to say that this wasn't a concern when the State Board jettisoned the 2007 math standards, that had just begun to be implemented 3 years later, in 2010, in hopes of receiving federal funding.

However, I really do feel for the teachers who for the past couple of decades have had to modify what they're doing every few years just to keep up with the 'latest and greatest best new thing' in education.  However, if we ever started looking at the actual research, maybe we would find that truth, real truth, doesn't change.  Sure, there can be fun, new ideas, but 2+2 = 4.  Let's allow teachers to have some semblance of constancy about those pieces of knowledge that are actually constant.  Let's allow teachers to use the lesson plans that they have found, by experience, are working.  I envision greater autonomy for our teachers who can find creative ways to work with all our kids, but who needn't be subject to the 'latest and greatest educational fad.'  

We often hear that Common Core is wonderful; it's just the implementation that was poor. Every, single failed educational idea is always blamed on poor implementation.  More than a decade ago, Alpine School District implemented Investigations Math (a precursor to Common Core's methodology).  To this day, the failure of Investigations Math is blamed on implementation.  The reality is that parents don't want a lot of what Common Core teaches or the way it requires teachers to teach it. (And yes, the standards do include teaching methodology.)  It is important to note, there has not been one state out of the 45 that originally signed on to Common Core, where widespread 'failure of the standards' has been cited as the problem.  Instead, it has been noted, in those 45 states, that the blame lies clearly with the implementation.  It begs the question that if 45 independent states all implemented the same standards, and all 45 have had similar problems with parental backlash and teacher support dropping (70% down to 40% in 2015), could it be possible that maybe the problem is inherent in the Common Core standards and testing themselves, and not the implementation? A good system leads to good implementation. Much like a good tree yields good fruit.  The Common Core standards have shown by their 'failure of implementation' that they are not good at their core.  (Pun intended.) 

I am cautiously optimistic.  I hope we will go forward looking for things that will work and embracing true freedom in education.  My fear is we will pursue the 'next latest and greatest fad' to replace this botched one. And, like with Investigations Math, the fault will be placed, yet again, on the 'implementation.'  Unfortunately, like other states who have 'gotten out' of Common Core, we will probably end up with a rebranded failure to foist on the next generation of kids. 

Should the State Board reconsider the standards, I HOPE you will be actively involved in reviewing them, writing, commenting, and, most importantly, asking for evidence.  The Common Core standards have failed this generation of kids.  Only we, the parents of those kids who were short-changed, can help prevent it from continuing.  

*As a side note, I highly recommend this $5 e-book written by a long-term teacher with a Psychology degree.  https://www.amazon.com/Perfectly-Incorrect-Psychologically-Cognitively-Unsound-ebook/dp/B00Y7BM2OA  In short, there is no research to back up Common Core.  There's a lot of research to indicate that it's the exact opposite of what will work to teach kids.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Focus Closer to Home

Tonight (Thursday, April 14, 2016), the State Board's Finance Committee will be discussing a request to expand their data collection to include addresses for every public school student in Utah.  Currently, the local boards/charters do not send address information to the State.  (There is, arguably, some information sent as part of the transcript program, according to one board member.)

Here is a link to the memo about this change: http://www.nga.org/cms/home/news-room/news-releases/page_2009/col2-content/main-content-list/title_common-core-state-standards-development-work-group-and-feedback-group-announced.html

My problem is this is such a horrible idea, I can't even imagine why this isn't a non-starter.  Of course, as a database analyst, I completely understand how easily this additional information could be compromised or used to correlate additional information from other databases. I would like to state for the record, again, there is no longer any data privacy on students.  There are too many databases, with too many pieces of information to assume that much of anything is private anymore.

But most people aren't concerned about data privacy.  The question, though, is more fundamental: Who Is In Charge?  or rather: Who Should Be In Charge?  That answer is parents.  We have never, in the history of the world, been in a situation where so many unknown entities had access to so much information on our children and were empowered to use that information to make determinations about our child's "best interest" without going through those who know them best and love them, or in more and more cases, who have ever even met them.  Our children are reduced to data points, human capital, figures in a ledger (or a database), dots on a graph.  They are proficiency scores or the reason a school is getting a low grade.  It is truly hard to assume we are talking about living, breathing, human children anymore.  

The thing that sticks in my craw is the memo states that the changes to allow address collection 'could be done easily within a week.'  Why that infuriates me so much is that two years ago, my then State Board Member addressed the issue of student privacy and opting out of SAGE with then-associate superintendent Judy Park.  The issue was that if my child is not taking SAGE, all his/her data is uploaded to the SAGE database on the testing-vendor, AIR's servers.  So, despite my desire to protect my student's private information, AIR has everything on them except their test answers anyway.  It would be a simple procedure to create a button on every local student database that I'm aware of to allow parents to check whether or not they wanted their kids opted out of SAGE. If they opted out, then the UTREX and any other process could be modified (I could personally do it in 5 minutes...and offered...for free) to exclude that information from going to AIR.  But now, because this is something that the bureaucracy likes, it can be done in a week.

But back to addresses, there are a couple of reasons as to why this is a bad idea besides the data proliferation and the fact that the USOE really should have no right to the level of information on my kids than it already has.

The argument in favor is two-fold.  

1) Some charter schools are not properly reporting their students' District of Record (DOR).  This has financial consequences for the districts.  However, unless kids are starting out at the charters in Kindergarten, the districts are already aware of kids moving to charters, through academic record requests, etc.  If the charters are doing it wrong, then the State Board is authorized (since it is state law) to create a policy with penalties for non-compliance.  Target those who aren't doing it right, instead of asking everyone to submit to more supervision by the state.

2) The AG's office wants to have this information to find out if there are kids at home when they serve No-Knock warrants.  I'm pretty sure there are already legal means (subpoena's etc) that would allow them to get this information from the local district.

In short, I'm much more comfortable with this information staying at the local district level and even being tracked at that level, rather than at the state level. 

Here are some additional concerns with this change.

Foster parents/Custody battles/Domestic Abuse: There are some sensitive situations with certain families where errors at the local level are just compounded at the state level.  Arguably, the local school will know the ins and outs of a sticky family situation, e.g. kids in foster care, and loss of custody by biological parents.  Given that, they would be able to screen any potential issues before giving access to everyone who is associated with that child's record, even if it may not have been classified correctly.  (A friend has experienced this exact situation, so it's not that things like this don't happen.)  At the state level, it is just names, faces, addresses.  There is no context, and so, there are situations where information could be shared, improperly, with the wrong people, causing serious harm.

Security: Right now, to get student address information for a hacker or an ad guy, you have to hack all the different districts' and charters' systems.  You'd have to be very interested in order to do so.  At the state level, it's a single database.  Which are you going to choose?  The more information the state has, the greater a target it places on our kids' information. 

Family Engagement Plans: Conveniently, the new replacement for No Child Left Behind includes the requirement for a state Family Engagement Plan.  (Irreverent commentary from a leftist education blogger found here.) The federal plan recommends home visits for every child.  This will make it very easy for the state, should they choose to follow the federal plan, to already have addresses.  I find it not the least bit ironic that when former State Superintendent Martell Menlove was asked about data privacy at the state level, he used the example of those kids who got perfect ACT scores. He wanted to send them a congratulatory letter, and he had to contact each local district to be able to send those letters to the students.  This was his 'proof' about how little information the state collects on your kids.

Third-party sharing: FERPA (The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) modified the requirements for sharing data with a third-party.  As long as you can justify it as being for an 'educational program', data can be shared with any third-party without parental knowledge or consent.  If the data is kept at the local district/charter level, then parents need to make sure the locals are not sharing this data.  Once we, the locals, send it to the state, then parents need to make sure the locals and the state keep their children's data private.  Is it easier to control your locally-elected officials and administration or the state-level ones?

Email the State Board of Education (board@schools.utah.gov) and ask them to leave address information at the local level where it belongs.  Even better, come to the public comment portion of the board meeting tomorrow (Friday, April 15) @ 8am.  To sign up in advance for public comment, contact Board Secretary Lorraine Austin (lorraine.austin@schools.utah.gov or 801-538-7517) prior to the day of the meeting, or sign up at the meeting by 8:00 a.m. Priority will be given to those that sign up in advance.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Thankful Heart Is the Greatest Virtue: Informed and Involved

'A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.' --Cicero

I want to start by thanking all of you for your support throughout these past 6 years for the principles that I have tried to stand for.  It was especially felt during this past legislative session with the numbers of calls, texts, and emails that were sent to our legislators.  I am grateful to all of our legislators, even those I vehemently disagree with, for taking the many hours of time and energy and the mocks and scorns of the populace that they are oath-bound to represent.  But I am even more grateful to you, the many moms and dads, everyday people, who are willing to take a little time out of your day to defend the family, protect parents' rights, and demand that parents and teacher decide what knowledge is of most worth.

I am writing to once again enlist your aid: To Run for Public Office or to Support Another Who Shares Your Principles.  You can FILE to run up to THIS THURSDAY, March 17, at the County Elections Office (in Utah County, that's in Provo).

The point of running for office is about the principles that you are willing to stand up and defend. Do you want to defend the family?  Do you want to defend individual freedom?  Do you want to support parents and teachers deciding what knowledge is of most worth to pass along to our children?  If so, you qualify.  The goal of a government 'of the people, by the people, and for the people' is that the people are the ones who are involved, overseeing it and running it.  If you haven't served as a state or county delegate, if you haven't attended a caucus meeting, if you haven't filed to run for office, think seriously about doing so.  You are who we need in the country, not those who seek office for power or glory, but who seek it to maintain freedom and liberty.  

FIRST, for school board.  Abraham Lincoln said, "The philosophy of the school room in one generation is the philosophy of the government in the next."  I would argue that who is elected to Local and State School Board positions could have a greater impact on the direction of our country than the president.  (And as the Founders understood it, it really should.)

Alpine School District, ASD4 (PG/Lindon), ASD6 (Lehi), ASD7 (East Orem).  The only incumbent seeking re-election is Scott Carlson in ASD6.  I do not believe that any office should go uncontested, and certainly, any office where those running do not share the vast majority of your principles.  If you have ever thought, "Why don't we have anyone I like running for office", that is a call to arms.  You should be running.

In our predominantly LDS culture, we are used to taking upon ourselves leadership responsibilities and rotating that responsibility around to different members of the ward family.  In a similar manner, our Founders felt that public office should be rotated around to the different community members as a sense of civic obligation and personal duty.  It was assumed that most people would be willing and able to serve 2 - 4 year terms, and then return home to their families, their farms, and their livelihoods. Politics was never supposed to be a professional occupation.  And if you've ever wondered about why we are headed in the direction that we are, I would emphatically argue it is BECAUSE average people don't run for public office.  Many years ago, William F. Buckley, paraphrasing, said that he'd rather be governed by the first 535 names in the New York Phonebook than by the members of Congress. And yet, THAT is exactly what our Founders envisioned: everday people, representing their neighbors, their families, and their friends.

Opportunities for public service are just that, opportunities for service.  Here are several that I would ask you to seriously consider.

1. Attend your party's caucus meeting on March 22.  (An excellent article on the caucus is here.)

2.Vote in the Presidential Preference Poll (this IS the presidential primary for Utah).
3. Run for State or County delegate at your precinct or support someone who shares your principles.
4. Run for Public Office yourself, unless you find someone who shares your principles.  Then campaign on their behalf.  (Money is good, but time is better.)

Some Public Offices that are up for election this year. For more information, go here.

ASD 4, 6, and 7: If you are in one of those areas, think seriously about running for office.

State Senator
State House
Utah County Commission, Seat C

State School Board (My specific area is not up, but half the State Board seats are.  In UT County: 11, 12, and 13)
State Attorney General
State Auditor
State Treasurer
Governor/Lt. Governor

US House of Representatives (all seats)
US Senate (1 seat)

Most people are unaware that every two years 100% of the US House of Representatives and 33% of the US Senate are up for election.

In Utah, 100% of the State House of Representatives and 50% of the State Senate are up for election.

We, the People, have the opportunity to completely change the direction things are going every two years, or to reinforce what is being done.  And sometimes we reinforce it by our apathy.

Informed and Involved is the only way to maintain freedom.  And it isn't once every four years by voting for president.  The most important elections are those closest to you!  It is our responsibility to be informed and then to be involved.

Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,.. it expects what never was and never will be.  If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

Monday, February 15, 2016

More Possible State Laws: Parental Rights Under Attack

Update: Feb. 16, 2016: The House Ed Committee voted against passing HB164 out of committee and on to the rest of the House.  Please thank Reps Fawson, Coleman, Lifferth, Christensen, Noel, Gibson, and McCay for their Nay votes!  And thanks to all of you who wrote letters and to those who commented during the committee hearing!

Our parental rights are being challenged as our legislature is in the midst of its 45-day session.  What there is no dearth of is possible laws regarding education, and some of them directly impacting your responsibilities and rights as a parent.

It's important to remember that the role of government is to protect rights, to not to 'create common good' or to 'facilitate good outcomes and the best of intentions.'  Please remember what Road is paved with good intentions.  A quote usually misattributed to Voltaire reads, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'  In making laws, it is important to put yourself on the receiving end of the penalties of the law.  If you are supportive of SAGE testing, please imagine if the tests were changed and you were not supportive.  How does someone else not having their child take the test impact your ability to raise your child as you see fit?  It doesn't.  This is what freedom looks like.  It isn't all of us agreeing all the time on what is 'good' or 'right' or 'best.'  It is allowing others 'maximum latitude' to live their lives in such a way that you don't interfere with them and they don't interfere with you.

HB164: Opt Out of Testing is being limited
Please email and, if possible, attend the committee hearing, tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 at 2 pm in House Building, Room 30.

This legislation does three things, all of them wrong.

1. Allows the end-of-year testing (aka SAGE summative) to be used for student grades and grade promotion (going from 3rd to 4th grade?  Not if you fail this test.)

2. Limits parents' ability to opt out of all software/testing packages purchased by the state, like everything on SAGE (summative, formative, and interim), as well as things like Utah Compose.  Anything where the state contracted directly with a vendor, then state is directly responsible for data privacy, terms of use, and so forth.  Since there are no state privacy directives, the current law allows parents the ability to just avoid any 'questionable' data-mining programs provided by the state.  HB164 will still allow you to opt out of end-of-year tests, but all the others will result in possible negative consequences for your child.

3. Allows the State Board to create incentives for students who take the test.  Imagine, for a moment, that you have decided to opt your child out of SAGE testing.  Your child's best friend takes the test and gets a reward.  Your child, of course, KNOWS that his/her friend got this reward for taking the test.  This creates a positive home environment that supports you as a parent in what way?  I'll just leave it at that.

Here's a link to the bill.  http://le.utah.gov/~2016/bills/static/HB0164.html

(One note: underlined words are what the bill is adding.  Strike-out words are those being removed by the bill.  All the other words are what is currently in the law and will be left alone.)

Email addresses for the House Education Committee:
blast@le.utah.gov; vlsnow@le.utah.gov; lavarchristensen@le.utah.gov; kimcoleman@le.utah.gov;
brucecutler@le.utah.gov; seliason@le.utah.gov; justinfawson@le.utah.gov; fgibson@le.utah.gov;
ehutchings@le.utah.gov; dlifferth@le.utah.gov; dmccay@le.utah.gov; csmoss@le.utah.gov; mnoel@kanab.net; mariepoulson@le.utah.gov;

Please keep your remarks respectful and to the point.  My letter is listed below.

Additionally, Alpine's Board has asked our Assistant Superintendent, Rob Smith, to assist us at the legislature with bills that we all support or oppose unanimously, as well as, to articulate the principles upon which we have unanimity.  You can keep abreast of things that the Board supports, as a whole, at this link on our district's website.  http://alpineschools.org/legislature/  Since our board is quite diverse, I believe it is very important and impactful when we all agree on an issue.  We have, a few times in the past, weighed in on legislation, but are trying to do more.  Mr. Smith has an excellent rapport with our legislators, and I am pleased that he was willing to assist us in this manner.  It has been determined that Mr. Smith will discuss the board priorities and principles, but will not state that the board is supportive or opposed to any legislation in which we are not 100% agreed.  I believe this is an excellent position for us to take. 

SB38: Unanimous opposition by Alpine School Board
One of the bills that our board unanimously opposes is SB38, school funding amendments.  While many of us are supportive of charter schools, SB38 creates a scenario where the legislature decides charters need more money, and then takes it from the district schools.  As a result, the board will raise property taxes to compensate.  I expect to give a much broader description in the near future.  But, suffice it to say that I find it wrong for one entity to essentially delegate the consequences of their actions to another, e.g. make the local boards raise property taxes while the legislature washes its hands of it.  There are many more transparent options, if you find that charters need more money.  (On that, not everyone is agreed, including me.  From what I can tell, Alpine gets less money per student than the charters we would be giving our money to  Again, that's wrong.  While the charters in our area may get less money than the districts statewide, they will not be getting money from those districts, just Alpine.)

The following bills are ones I oppose that are generally not supported by the full board, but probably not as heavily opposed for their content as just for the idea of why should we have more programs with more strings instead of giving the money to the local districts and charters and letting us decide, based on your input.

SB67: More Family Replacement/Data Gathering Infrastructure
This bill creates an infrastructure for data gathering, and a three-way partnership for funding between private entities, the state, and the feds.  I'm sure there will be no problem with determining who is to blame for any failures when there is no real consistent overseer. (Sorry, for my sarcasm.)  I will go into more detail on this one, as well.  But the data collected, that includes physical and mental health information, can be shared with pretty much anyone who can claim to be part of an educational program.  Additionally, some of the 'pilot' schools and United Way are already asking parents to sign away their privacy rights under the Federal privacy act (from 1974) FERPA (which is mostly meaningless to begin with).  Health data is usually protected by a much broader law, called HIPAA.  At the very least, even if you believe that this program will be awesome (it sounds very nice and will help), student medical information should be protected at the higher HIPAA level.  The bill should be amended to require this level of protection. 

HB277: More technology grants
This bill 'allows' local districts and charters to apply for state grants for technology. More strings because the state can't trust us at the local level: board members, parents, and teachers, to do what they want.  So, they will call it locally-led, since we can propose what we want to be in the grant, but it does limit what we can do with it.  We have to apply for the grant (more paperwork and administrative overhead), administer it with the appropriate 'accountability' to the state, and next year, it might all go away, so it can't be anything very long term.  On the flip side, they could just take that money and put it on the WPU (Weighted Pupil Unit), which is how the state pays each school per student that they educate.  The money on the WPU, the more flexibility we have as a board to spend the way you would want.  The biggest issue in our district seems to be class sizes and building new schools for growing areas.  In short, it is possible that the best use of that money in Alpine would be for reducing class sizes, not giving everyone a Chromebook to be used in a class of 35.  But if HB277 passes, then the state has decided that there is no circumstance where this money should be used for anything other than what they think it should be used for.  The sad thing is that chances are we would use it the way they want, for the most part.  But it is NOT local control (despite what was said in the committee meeting).  It's the same as allowing you the ability to walk anywhere you choose...within the 9x9 confines of a prison cell.  And even if you never would want to walk outside those 81 sq.ft., there is no freedom in not being able to. 

Oh, and there is some evidence that this program nicely matches the technology initiative that is being pushed by the White House.  One parent's well-documented concerns to this affect were dismissed with a question about whether or not President Obama had helped write the bill.  You don't have to have the feds write something for your "plan" wherever it came from to 'fit' what they are proposing (good or bad).  A substitute motion to prohibit the use of federal funds or incentives in funding this program was rejected in the committee. 

Following legislation during this period is very important for maintaining our freedom and our liberties.  The best place to go is: www.le.utah.gov.  You can search bills by number, sponsor, or topic.  Every bill will go before a committee.  If passed out of the committee, it goes before the full body (either House or Senate, wherever the bill originated).  If it passes, then it goes to the other chamber's committee.  If it passes, then to the full body of that chamber.  If it passes, then on to the Governor for his signature.  So, there are many steps along the way in which we can weigh in, and help support or prevent legislation.  You voice can make a BIG DIFFERENCE with our legislators.  And be aware that so many other organizations have lobbying arms, including the Utah School Boards Association, Tech Firms, etc.  There is no lobbying organization for you.  So, be involved and make your voice heard.

And when it comes to your rights as parents, I leave you with the wise words of our Former Supreme Court Justice, Dallin H. Oaks, ruling in Re: JP in 1982.

The rights inherent in family relationships—husband-wife, parent-child, and sibling—are the most obvious examples of rights retained by the people. They are “natural,” “intrinsic,” or “prior” in the sense that our Constitutions presuppose them, as they presuppose the right to own and dispose of property....
The integrity of the family and the parents' inherent right and authority to rear their own children have been recognized as fundamental axioms of Anglo-American culture, presupposed by all our social, political, and legal institutions. “To protect the [individual] in his constitutionally guaranteed right to form and preserve the family is one of the basic principles for which organized government is established."... This parental right transcends all property and economic rights. It is rooted not in state or federal statutory or constitutional law, to which it is logically and chronologically prior, but in nature and human instinct....
We conclude that the right of a parent not to be deprived of parental rights without a showing of unfitness, abandonment, or substantial neglect is so fundamental to our society and so basic to our constitutional order that it ranks among those rights referred to in Article I, Section 25 of the Utah Constitution and the Ninth Amendment of the United State Constitution as being retained by the people... 
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. Much of the rich variety in American culture has been transmitted from generation to generation by determined parents who were acting against the best interest of their children, as defined by official dogma. Conversely, there is no surer way to threaten pluralism than to terminate the rights of parents who contradict officially approved values imposed by reformers empowered to determine what is in the “best interest” of someone else's child.

My letter to our House Reps on the Education Committee asking them to OPPOSE HB164.

Please vote no on HB164 for the following reasons.
1. It allows end-of-year state tests to be used for individual student grades or grade promotion with no proof that the tests are valid or reliable or should even be used in such a fashion. 
2. It creates possible incentives for test takers, so the child who is opted out can watch those who did take the test (like the state told them to) get rewarded.  Does this not create a situation where a child is to be shown how 'wrong' their parent's decision was?  Furthermore, the child becomes the pawn between the schools and the parents.  It's really 'blackmailing' parents to 'encourage' them to allow the testing, so their child doesn't think they are mean and won't let them have the reward for test taking.  Since state law says that parents are primary and the state is secondary and supportive, I fail to see how this is supportive of the parent's wishes. 

3. It limits parents' ability to opt their kids out of anything but the end-of-year tests.  There is not demonstrable protection for student privacy and any sort of understanding as to how student data may or may not be used, as per the contract with our testing vendor, American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Not allowing parents to opt out of all versions of this testing, does not resolved the original data privacy concerns that parents have.  Those still exist.
If you'd like more information, please see below, or feel free to contact me at your convenience.
Even if you think there is no concern with SAGE testing, we should allow parents who do have concerns to protect their children as they see fit.  To limit this ability is to limit parental rights and to place the wishes and 'needs' of the state above that of the parents, and the individual child.  This is wrong, even if done with the goal of improving education. 
Thank you so much for your service to our state.
Wendy Hart
Alpine School Board, ASD2: Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills
More information:
1. SAGE testing has never been validated.  In 2014, I and two of my fellow board members, Brian Halladay and Paula Hill, requested information from then associate superintendent Dr. Judy Park regarding validation and privacy (see below) concerns, and received no response.  The state of Florida, which purchased its test questions from Utah, attempted to do an independent validity study on Florida's version of SAGE.  There is some question about the validating organization truly being independent, there is some interesting information that we should be aware of.  Florida currently requires passage of this test for graduation and certain grade-level promotions. However, one of the conclusions was that Florida's test was not valid for individual student grades or promotions. 

I appreciate that teachers are being evaluated based on test scores.  I believe it is wrong (even if the test was valid) to use this as part of the teach evaluation process for many reasons that I won't cite here.  But teachers are adults.  It is more wrong to penalize minor children who don't pass the test and potentially impact them for the rest of their lives. 

Also, setting the proficiency scores was a very subjective process that began, not with an analysis of the content of the questions, but with a straight list of which questions had more right answers.  (The analysis of some of the questions, came later.) The assumption was that those with the least right answers were the most difficult.  That may be true in most cases, but it could be equally true for confusing or invalid questions, as well as those with incorrect answers.  Then the test was 'normed' to make sure there was a 40 - 45% proficiency outcome to match the NAEP and ACT tests. So, we created a target where 60% of the kids would be considered failing, and then we hit it.  If we know that our goal is to have 60% of the students fail, and we set the bar that way, how is it fair to then allow those scores to be used in student grades?
2. This sets a very dangerous precedent where the state is allowing parents to be set up to play the 'bad guy'.  Creating a possible rift between parent and child, even in the short term, should never be something the state sanctions, let alone agrees to. 
3. The SAGE platform comprises three types of testing: a. summative (end-of-year), b.interim (same or similar questions to end-of-year, not seen by the teacher, but can be given multiple times a year for practice and benchmarking), and c. formative (a software system that includes a databank of questions that teachers can select and/or contribute to for chapter tests, daily assignments).  Of the three types, the formative tests are the most insidious for data collection.  The VP of AIR, Jon Cohen, told a member of the parent panel that every mouse click and latency measures (how long it takes for the child's actions), as well as the actual submitted answers are being collected on the formative platform.  There is a huge amount of data being collected on every child that logs on.  Our contract does not limit what can or cannot be done with that data outside of their not sharing it with a 3rd party without the USOE's (not a parent's) consent.  AIR has over 20 subsidiary organizations that are involved in policy-making recommendations and other functions at the national level.  There would be no limitation placed on any of them or their employees on how that data was used in their own internal research or analysis.
My main concerns with the SAGE tests are: 1) there is no validation to show that what we are told is being tested, actually is what is being tested. 2) no guarantee of data privacy. In 2012, the US Dept of Ed changed their privacy regulations, allowing any personal student data to be shared with a 3rd party without parental knowledge or consent, as long as it was for an 'educational program.'  It's important to note that the term 'educational program' is undefined.  As a database analyst, by trade, it is important to note that there is so much data being collected on our kids in education, as well as other areas, these days, that it makes data privacy almost a mythical creature.  If I, as a parent, choose to limit that data collection on SAGE, I should have that right. 
The summative tests are the only type of SAGE testing that is being retained for parents to opt out of without consequences.  I spoke with Sen. Osmond (the previous sponsor and author of the current language in state code) about these three types of SAGE testing, and it was his intent to allow parents the ability to opt out of all three versions of SAGE without naming it specifically.  At the end of the day, we are, again, assuming that the state knows best, and parents should not be allowed to protect their children as they see fit.