"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

No on Question1 and School Board Races| A Philosophy

Please vote NO on Question 1!  There are so many reasons why, but the most important is that it sets a very dangerous precedent.  I'll also discuss the school board candidates below [Spoiler: State Board 9: Avalie Muhlestein and Julie King in ASD 1 (Westlake HS area)].  Please study and be informed before casting your ballot.

NO ON QUESTION 1: A Dangerous Precedent
Question 1 is a polling question.  To my knowledge, we have never had an opinion poll on our ballots.  So, instead of paying lobbyists to lobby the legislature or to get signatures for a ballot initiative, you are being used by an organization that was unable to accomplish their objectives by either of those options.  If you can't change laws the regular way, and you're rich and famous, you try to find a way around the normal lawmaking process. Co-opting citizens to pressure lawmakers is now a thing.  

Question 1 doesn't change A SINGLE THING. But the proponents HOPE the legislature will increase gas taxes, and then play a shell game to get SOME of that money into K-12, (as well as Higher Ed and Roads and money for UDOT. Shhh!  Don't tell anyone that part.  It isn't as emotionally appealing as grade-school kids.)  Legislators also know that GAS TAX CANNOT be used for Education under our Utah Constitution (hence the shell game).   If lots of people vote yes on Question 1, then the Question 1 proponents can browbeat legislators into passing, supposedly, their version of legislation that they were unable to get signatures for to get on the ballot. (Of course, politics being what it is, there is no guarantee that what we end up with will look anything like what the proponents are selling.)

But we want more money in K-12 education!  Do the ends justify the means?  Never!  Why are legislators wary of raising taxes? Because the legislators must represent their constituents and run for re-election.  Gas taxes negatively impact those who are struggling, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and those who live farther away in rural areas than those on the Wasatch Front.  Legislators in those areas would be motivated to discuss and debate ways in which their constituents will be less impacted.  However, the majority of people in Utah live on the Wasatch Front.  So, Question 1 Proponents assume the majority of Utahns will support Question 1.  If you and your neighbors can feel good about "helping kids" (and college students and roads), then who cares if we make those who can least afford the gas tax increase suffer?  Majority rules.  And tyranny by the majority is becoming the way to get your pet policies passed into law, especially if you're rich and can spend tons of money to influence an election.

The solution: Donate RIGHT NOW to our Alpine District Foundation.  Don't wait for the legislature or Our Schools Now or a ballot initiative.  You can donate to:

  •  the district as a whole, 
  • an entire school (look to donate to our specialty schools like Summit, Polaris, Horizon, or Dan Peterson), 
  • a program: band, drama, history, or 
  • directly to a classroom at a given school.  
Your donation is tax-deductible and will go exactly where you want it to go.  You can also donate supplies or other materials as well.  Want to donate a set of trombones to the band?  You can do that.  And what's better than just donating directly to our schools?  You don't force others to spend more money on a gas tax that will help pay for roads and college students.  Imagine if those who have spent MILLIONS to finance the Question 1 ads had, instead, donated that money to their local schools!  (P.S.  For those in other districts, you have a foundation too!)

For more information on my concerns with Question 1, click here to see my video.  (Side note: did you know Utah spends the largest percentage (40%) of its budget on education, more than any other state in the country?)

In the future, if Question 1 succeeds in changing state law, mark my words, it will become the method of choice for those with time and money to circumvent the average person's voice. Just a reminder that checks and balances and separation of powers are the bedrocks of our freedom.  Direct democracy: going to the majority of the people and using them as the big stick to beat the legislators up with, violates those principles and disenfranchises those who don't have the time, money or power to object. This is an unraveling of the checks and balances that prevent that other "golden rule"--the person with the gold, makes the rules--from destroying freedom.  Success on Question 1 doesn't bode well for freedom in the future.  Please VOTE NO on QUESTION 1, and I promise you it doesn't mean you hate children.

School Board Races

State Board:
I, personally, like both District 9 candidates for State Board.  However, if you voted for me because of my support for traditional math and my opposition to Common Core, you will want to support Avalie Muhlestein.  I appreciate her outside-the-box vision for education, and her desire to get rid of so much state-level accountability that sucks up time, money, and other resources that could be returned to the local level to pay more for teachers.  At the end of the day, we have state-level accountability because we don't trust our local people and our local teachers.  I want to trust our local people and get the state out of the accountability and data collection business.  I recommend you read through her platform and her issues, and consider a donation to Avalie's campaign.

Alpine School District:
The West area is the only race for ASD where there is much discussion and debate (see below).  For the other 3 races, I predict Amber Bonner (my area--ASD2), Sarah Beeson (AF--ASD3), and Ada Wilson (W. Orem--ASD5).  I had actually hoped there would be more debate, discussion and involvement in these races.  But, unfortunately, very few people are willing to run for school board. (3 seats are up in 2 more years, so start thinking about public service.)  While it is often a thankless job, our society is stronger when people are willing to step up to the plate and serve their community in elective office.  I'm grateful for all those who have thrown their hats into this ring.

For those in my area, I will be voting for Amber Bonner. Amber is very active and involved, has kids still in the schools, and asks questions.  She thinks things through, and wants, more than anything, to have smaller class sizes.  And she find ways to support teachers.  I think Amber will do an excellent job as our representative.  And most importantly (to me, at least), Amber listens to different perspectives.  And even if you see things differently, Amber knows you can still "care about kids." (Our inside joke.)

In ASD 1 (Westlake area), again, I, personally, like both the candidates.  But, my endorsement goes 110% to Julie King (see here and here).  Julie is a tireless advocate for parents and for finding ways to make things work for those kids who just don't fit neatly in the "box".  Instead of trying to find ways to make everyone the same, Julie is actively facilitating parents finding the perfect match for their individual kids in our system.  Julie is a "doer".  She has been a District Community Council rep at our special needs school out west, Horizon.  On one of her first visits, she realized they had serious problems with the entry doors.  She took it upon herself to find a way to get those doors fixed. Julie is supportive of fixing math, getting better standards (not CC or NGSS), expanding Gifted and Talented options, securing Data Privacy, and PARENTAL RIGHTS.  My only regret about not running again is not being able to serve with Julie on the board.  We have served together on the State Board's Data Privacy Commission, and she always has such interesting insights from her experience in Social Work, with the Juvenile Justice system, and as a Foster Parent.  Whether you are in her voting area or not, please consider donating to her campaign.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"What Kinds of Human Beings Do We Wish to Produce?"

October 9, 2018: Study Session/Board Meeting at the District Office

1. Study Session (4pm): Social Emotional Learning
2. Board Meeting (6pm): Includes an agreement with Orem City for the School Resource Officers.  (pp.79-87)

All meetings are open to the public.  Public comment is available at every Board Meeting.


The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be 'what knowledge is of the most worth?' but 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?' The possibilities virtually defy our imagination. --John Goodlad

The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be 'what knowledge is of the most worth?' but 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?' The possibilities virtually defy our imagination. - John Goodlad

There are so many buzzwords in education these days: 21st Century Learning, Social-emotional Learning (SEL), GRIT, the 4-C's (or the 6-C's), Response to Intervention, Critical Thinking, STEM, Project-based learning, Guide-on-the-side, Engineering Design Model, Workforce, etc. etc. etc.  It's hard to keep up with them all or even understand what they all mean.

Social Emotional Learning or SEL first really made its appearance (from my perspective) in the Federal re-authorization of No Child Left Behind, called ESSA.  In additional to academic measures, the Feds want us to use "non-cognitive" measures to assess how well schools are doing.  It came to prominence with a focus on GRIT, and a TED talk by a professor who wrote a book on the subject.  Now SEL is everywhere.  The idea is that kids should learn, not just academics, but the skills and dispositions to be successful in the workforce (aka the 21st Century because human nature magically shifted in 2001, I guess).  So, the purpose of schools has shifted from basic academics to creating a comprehensive person.  The only problem is whose vision of that "correct human being" is being implemented?  And is that really what we want from public education?  Who should determine what kind of human being your child should become?  Who is the "we" in 'what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce'?  (Does the word produce come across as a bit creepy to anyone else?)

On one hand, I can appreciate and understand that we want kids to be well-rounded, kind-hearted, honest, and sympathetic.  On the other, what is the purpose of public schools?  Well that goes back to the age-old debate.  Everyone thinks of it as something different, and way back when, our district mission statement included "democracy" as the purpose of schools.  I disagree.  I think for public schools, the purpose should be academic excellence.  Everything else, should be left to the individual child and his/her family. That's not to say that teachers don't teach, especially by example, kindness and honesty.  They do.  But that's just part of being a good human being, right?  When we focus on dispositions, we necessarily remove our focus from reading, writing, and [a]rithmetic. Supposedly, we are doing both academics (what we are calling the Right Side of the Pyramid) as well as SEL (the Left Side of the Pyramid).  Our goal should be to educate, not to tell you what the purpose of that education is supposed to be.

The other problem I see, is who decides what the appropriate dispositions are for our children to possess?  And what are those definitions?  I've found, too often, sadly, that when someone uses a word that sounds good, their meaning may be completely different from my own.

In Alpine, we are focused on the 6 C's (4 of which are borrowed from the 21st Century Learning 4 C's).  They are: Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Character, Citizenship.  All sound great.  But what of the child who is introverted and Collaboration means lots of group-work projects?  She might do very well academically IF she's allowed to work alone, but in a group?  Not so much.  She is learning that she must go along with the group, and the knowledge she gains isn't as important as the "collaboration" with others.  It also puts young children in a very difficult position if they disagree with how something is going or what is being said.  Citizenship: what kinds of student advocacy do you want your child engaged in?  What if those citizenship perspectives differ from those of your family?  And Critical Thinking (also known as Higher-order thinking) has at least one definition in education that I would whole-heartedly disagree with.

...a student attains 'higher order thinking' when he no longer believes in right or wrong". "A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher´s ability to obtain affective [emotional] objectives by challenging the student's fixed beliefs. ...a large part of what we call teaching is that the teacher should be able to use education to reorganize a child's thoughts, attitudes, and feelings. --Benjamin Bloom

In short, it's wrong to be rewarding personality types instead of the knowledge that every child is capable of acquiring.  It's also wrong to possibly, modify a child's thoughts, attitudes and feelings, not through reason and the discovery of truth but by using emotional objectives to challenge their 'fixed beliefs', those beliefs instilled in them by their families.

If you agree with this shift, then you will be pleased.  If not, you may want to speak up about this dilution of academics with dispositions.


Take a quick look at the agreement (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1b8lY2ExcO10gchOSZ2hxb1U_whvH2_M2)  I have the following concerns.

1. Restorative Justice:  Restorative Justice, as I understand it, is where the person who is at fault is asked to "restore" what they broke in some way.  In some instances, this makes sense.  If you spray paint graffiti, it makes sense to have you repaint whatever you vandalized.  However, if you physically assaulted someone, the victim of your assault may be traumatized by further interaction.  In this case, Restorative Justice isn't a good idea.  AND, it may not be the best idea as a first recourse in even situations like graffiti.  It is interesting to note that the Parkland Shooter fell through the cracks due to restorative justice.

Excerpt from this article:

Schools also began replacing more traditional methods of discipline with student-led mentoring programs ... as well as “restorative justice” programs, a Breakfast Club-like fantasy where, instead of punishment, the bully or the violent offender engages in talk therapy and group discussions with the kid he or she has been harassing to seek reconciliation.
That sounds like great fun for the victim.
2. Reading Miranda Rights for those 14 and up without requiring a parent to be present.  I don't know about you, but if my kid is in the kind of trouble where he or she is being read their Miranda Rights, I think I should be present.  Also, what about children who have mental disabilities that, while chronologically 14 years old, mentally are much younger?  Shouldn't their parents be present?

3. Student Privacy.  FERPA is the Federal School Data Privacy Act from 1974 that is all but worthless.  Anything that occurs at school is subject to FERPA, whether health-related or juvenile-justice related.  That means these records can be shared with anyone for "an educational purpose" without parental knowledge or consent. 

I would be curious to know your thoughts on these issues.