Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Boxcar bills" waiting until the last two weeks to start big education budget battles

I've been torn lately -- so much going on at the legislature and so little time to write about it. The small government loving Utah legislature has proposed 109 bills related to education for the 2011 legislative session. That is not counting the 19 abandoned bills at the bottom of the page or other education related bills not labeled as such like Rep. Draxler's bill HB 25 using "excess" oil and gas taxes to create "petroleum literacy" materials for elementary schools.

There are also numerous "boxcar" bills (meaning they have a name and a number, but the sponsor has not chosen to allow anyone to read the text of the bill yet with only 2 1/2 weeks remaining of the session ) sitting like timebombs, waiting to be sprung onto the floor "under suspension of the rules," which means they can be rapidly debated on the floor with no committee hearing to allow public comment and which also prevents the public and legislators alike from having time to read and understand the bill before it gets voted on. Some of these bills I've been watching finally received text on Monday, Feb. 21, Presidents Day.

There are multiple final education budget battles looming as likely candidates for last minute shenanigans, including again stealing locally voted funds for charter schools, de facto vouchers as "backpack" funding, funding for reading programs for K-2, actually funding growth instead of just moving funds around and claiming to fund new students, or completely removing the ability for local districts to raise taxes while increasing the sales tax on food, which is of course controlled and distributed by the state legislature. Watch Howard Stephenson who has a history of anti-education last-minute tactics and also has a bill tucked away intended to make school board elections partisan. Rep. Merlynn Newbold is his frequent partner in crime, initiating Stephenson's ideas as bills in the House -- like HB 313, an empty boxcar bill replacing the Charter School Finance Amendments bill Stephenson abandoned -- so it isn't as obvious how much Senator Stephenson is single-handedly manipulating education policy in Utah.

Here are some doozies to watch out for. These are all boxcar bills as of Feb. 21 if they are listed, unless I explain when the bill was made public next to the item on the list. You can sign up at the bottom of each link to receive email updates if and when these bills become active. Notice how many have vague titles about "amendments" and "modifications" which lets the legislator stick in anything they want at the last minute.

H.B. 65 Public School Funding -- Harper, W. Received text last week. Financial mumbo-jumbo that would usurp some local taxing control.
H.B. 123 K-12 Education Amendments -- Sumsion, K. Received text yesterday. This bill would totally change the whole basis of how the state distributes education funding, likely giving more to charter schools. It would also shorten terms for school board members. No big deal to hold it until the end.
H.B. 145 Education Amendments -- Eliason, S.
H.B. 151 Compulsory Education Amendments -- Briscoe, J. Received text last week. Would make kindergarten non-optional.
H.B. 290 Public School Transportation Amendments -- Wimmer, C.
H.B. 301 School District Property Tax Revisions -- Newbold, M. Received text last week. Another example of the legislature taking away local tax control and giving the power to themselves.
H.B. 302 Reading Program Amendments -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 307 Public Broadcasting Funding -- Herrod, C. Though Chris Vanocur has already revealed the liberal plot on this one.
H.B. 313 Charter School Funding Amendments -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 339 Charter School Enrollment Amendments -- Hutchings, E.
H.B. 346 Provisional Teaching Modifications -- Herrod, C.
H.B. 377 Higher Education Textbook Fairness Act -- Cox, F. Aimed at specific companies or increasing conservative leaning texts?
H.B. 388 Financial Oversight of Charter Schools -- Herrod, C.
H.B. 426 Education Funding Amendments -- Pitcher, D.
H.B. 427 Education Modifications -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 443 School Business Administrator Amendments -- Richardson, H.
H.B. 447 Modifications to Education -- Dee, B.
H.B. 455 Land Exchange Distribution Account Amendments -- Noel, M. Presumably related to this dust-up over HB 98 where Noel wants to further remove local control from counties. (Click on the Floor Debate audio file to hear his rant) Related to HB 400 yet another boxcar which Rolly references?
H.B. 464 State-Supported Voted Leeway Program Amendments -- Briscoe, J.
S.B. 4 Current School Year Supplemental Minimum School Program Budget Adjustments -- Buttars, D. C.
S.B. 78 Public School Early Graduation Counseling -- Buttars, D. C. Received text yesterday. Actually seems like an easy, good idea rather than eliminating 12th grade.
S.B. 163 School Restructuring -- Stephenson, H. Stephenson bragged on his radio show that this bill is intended to close down a set number of schools each year. No need to consult the teachers on this one, let alone the parents. Great candidate for a rushed debate.
S.B. 210 Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act Amendments -- Bramble, C. Received text yesterday. One of two or three bills Bramble is running about the regulation and taxation of private schools and training programs. I have no idea what these bills will do, but I smell a tax break for "economic development."
S.B. 217 Education Policy Amendments -- Bramble, C.
S.B. 224 Partisan School Board Elections -- Stephenson, H. Of course a "school board elections" bill run by the chair of the Senate Education Committee was not labeled education. Easy to miss this one.
S.B. 227 Student Based Funding for Public Education -- Liljenquist, D. "Backpack" funding. The PCE and charter lobbyists will hit hard for these pseudo-vouchers when this bill is unveiled in the near future.
S.B. 241 Tuition Waiver Amendments -- Hinkins, D.
S.B. 245 Higher Education Tuition Revisions -- Valentine, J.
S.B. 256 Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process -- Adams, J. S.
S.B. 263 State Board of Education Powers Amendments -- Buttars, D. C.
S.B. 265 State Charter School Board Modifications -- Madsen, M. Unnecessary due to SB 140?
S.B. 278 School District Modifications -- Bramble, C.
S.B. 292 Private Institutions of Higher Education -- Valentine, J.
S.B. 304 Bullying Amendments -- Okerlund, R.
S.B. 305 Economic Development Through Education / Career Alignment -- Stephenson, H. Stephenson's 2.5 to 8 million dollar career web app and chat room that will convince undergrads not to be dance majors. And of course, IBM developed this one-of-a-kind software prototype at his request (meaning no private company has seen promise in making a for-profit chat room developed around career information easily searchable for free already), but Senator Stephenson "doesn't know" if they would win a bid for this service. We have seen this before.
S.B. 316 Disclosure of State and Institutional Trust Lands Information -- Niederhauser, W.

I am 99% sure I have missed some boxcars or recently posted bills, but here are at least 36 education-related bills which have either not been posted for public viewing or only received their text in the last week. These last two weeks could get even uglier for education in what is already the worst session in recent memory...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Virtual Vouchers bill, SB 65 by Howard Stephenson, passes committee -- My notes of the meeting

I posted about the "Virtual Voucher bill" a couple of weeks ago. I was able to listen to the committee hearing for the bill yesterday, which went much longer than I expected.

Committee hearings are the background nitty-gritty of the legislature where 95% of the meaningful debate and education about bills occurs. Fewer legislators are present; those legislators have more leeway to ask questions and read supporting evidence about the bills; they have been in that ongoing committee and usually have more background and expertise on the subject matter than the legislature as a whole; and the public is allowed to comment which usually brings in further expertise and perspective not possible in the stilted parliamentary procedure of the legislative floor meetings tightly controlled by the Senate President and Speaker of the House. The floor debate usually just repeats talking points as a matter of course, very rarely actually changing anyone's mind. In the majority of debates, everyone already knows if the bill will pass or fail before it is brought before the body.

So the committee hearings are the place to get good background and info about a proposed bill. You can listen to the audio of the Feb. 8, 2011 meeting of the Senate Education Committee here.

However, it is over 90 minutes long. My notes will probably take you 10-15 minutes to read and cover all of the main points. They are definitely not perfect and I especially apologize to anyone's name I butchered. I listened to the hearing live and just tried to keep up as I took notes. If anyone feels my summarization misrepresents what someone said, let me know and I'll go back and listen.

I inserted a few comments of my own as I typed and a couple afterward as I looked over the notes. They are in brackets. Realize that there are two senators with similar names on the Senate Education Committee. Howard Stephenson is the sponsor of the bill. Jerry Stevenson is another member of the committee. My shorthand for their names will make sense if you know that.

My notes:
[Annoying because starts late with no warning, missed first part of Sen. Stephenson's comments.]

Stephenson - Some book says high school families will demand better than current.
Claims 3 time teacher of the year John Taylor Gotto said NY schools were intentionally designed for mediocrity because business bosses were threatened by social mobility and need for labor. System hurts kids. We can learn from that. We can respect learning styles much better than before.

Current factory model puts 30 kids in a cubicle and one adult trying to pour knowledge uniformly into different minds. Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences, no bell curve of intelligence. More efficient to teach to middle, bore some, lose some. Instead 3-D bell that is impossible for one teacher to reach. We can now respect diff styles through online learning. Brain research shows that self-directed learning is more rapid and deep than otherwise. Research in seminars. Synapses of brain connect when we make a choice and become a permanent connection when we receive feedback if we are correct or incorrect. If no feedback, synapses withdraw as if connection were never made. We need to provide immediate interactive feedback. Piaget said anyone could be highly proficient in math and science with immediate feedback. [A teacher online with no class size limit cannot provide this. A software program can only provide concrete answers and can't help much with process. Writing software is a joke.] Today it can be provided by computer. Tech is available today, bit not in classroom. Lack of vision for using these modern tools.

This bill allows students to get online instruction. Online provider is paid 60% at beginning of course, and 40% when student tests proficient. [Multiple choice tests?? Given by provider? Or will CRT be test?] We're trying to scale this in a reasonable way and not just open floodgates because we don't know how many will apply. So 2 credits available ion first year and more each year until reach 6 credits. Portion paid up front and remainder as competency proven.

Niederhauser asks for more explanation of provisions of bill.

Steph -- Definitions on pg. 4. Pg. 5 purposes of the program. Pg. 6 Option to enroll and phased scaling of program so ultimately option for student to get all credit through online means. this doesn't take away from fact there are established online schools. They will have to compete with other providers. Those I’ve talked with welcome the competition be/c can provide for other students that only want 1 or 2 course rather than whole year. Requirement for online providers to be authorized by law, State Office of Ed. Must be certified by State Board. Standards for online course providers. Then payment process. 60% up front, rest as competencies are proven. pg. 9 Plan for payment also identified. Requirement for course credit to be recognized. Then administrative things. Then we want to require a report on online course providers so we have transparency who is performing. Make available to public to decide who they want. Rule making by State board of Ed. Legislature will review results as ongoing.

Niederhauser acting as chair-- About 15 public people to talk about bill.

Superintendent Shumway -- I'm a strong believer that direction of this bill is the right direction. I appreciate intentions of sponsor. Is their a fiscal note? Or do you have any idea what it might be?

Steph: Not yet. I don't think it will be significant b/c not new funding. Takes current funding of students in schools.

Shumway: I met w/ Sen. Stephenson prior to meeting and discussed bill a lot. Primary area I hope Stephenson will be open to change is phasing language. To provide time to deal with problems I didn't anticipate. There are many options for phasing. I really hope you will be open to that discussion before going to floor.

Steph: I'm open. Currently, it was meant to not open floodgates. Dr. Shumway suggested to me with another way of phasing it. Maybe start w/ few districts and few providers.

Shumway: As my staff and I, I see significant rule-making and monitoring and support necessary. I want to do it in way that doesn't constrain intention of the bill to provide more online opportunity but provide for quality.

J Stevenson - I don't like idea of limiting, but I see necessity of making it not a burden on dept. of ed.

Shumway: I spoke with staff. Long line of things to be resolved: FERPA, transfers, special ed. Not to throw down roadblocks, but to work together on implementation.

Steph: This bill puts burdens on board to plow new ground with rules. 2 ways to get publicly funded school now: Online high school at state office and charter schools. I'm hoping we can expand as drastically as possible these opportunities. I believe making them make rules respects their constitutional prerogative to make rules over education.

Ashley Hanson: Student at open high school - I really love this school. Teachers, activities, getting to know people. Teachers email me back in 10 min. I can see my grades easily. Nied: All courses online? Ashley: Yes: Nied: When? Ash: Most of day until about 3:00.

Mother and teacher: My son went to 9th grade charter school in N. Utah, New Aims school. Sounded great. Big problem in first week with bussing. The charter school had to bus students from certain distance b/c was public school. [This seems fishy to me. Charter schools don’t have to bus students now. Have they ever?] Was a hard issue. If this is a charter school, taking public funds, is school responsible to provide internet access, computers, laptops, etc.? What if student wants online class and can't use school computer lab? Will online high schools be responsible for internet access and computers with certain specifications?

J Stevenson: New Aims is by Davis District and very successful.

Mom: They fell under state laws that they didn't understand.

Leslie Phillips, mother and electronic high school 4-yr teacher, 20-yr teacher overall: Teachers at elec high school have been discussing strengths and weaknesses of bill. I brought handout and summary of our concerns. I think one of the keys to online ed working is relationship w/ schools. We have great relationship w/ schools b/c we don't charge them. they provide computers, admin and counseling support. We share curric. Aims and Granite using our curric. If you take us out of service role and put us in competition w/ districts and schools, will hurt support and mean fewer opps to students. Example. I teach English 12, half are juniors who want to grad early encouraged by counselors. Law says can't discourage, but provides incentives to not encourage. Rigor of curric will also suffer. I teach eng and class is tough. My 1st duty is to students. But bring in for profit orgs and their duty is to share holders. 16-yr-olds will choose between easy and quality. For profit will play to those consumers and water down curriculum.

J Stevenson - Sen Stephenson has expressed worries about completion rates. Reason for 60 up front, but 40 after. What is elec high school completion rate?

Leslie - I don't know. Principal is here, she can tell you.

Kathleen Webb, prin of elec high school: Depends what you mean. In some online environments, they don't count students until in for a month., count all grades, including F as completion. We have in past measured since day in class, and whether they receive a credit. From 20% to 50%. If count as other online high schools, our grad rate would be higher.

J Stev: H Steph, what is your definition of credit?

H Steph: Get a credit.

J Stev: Based on that, what is rate %?

Webb: I don't know grad rate. We don't track that. About 7,000 students received funding last year.

Stev: That's uncomfortable.

Nied: Do you want to speak? No. How are you funded then?

Webb: We're a line item in budget. We received 3,000 FTE's. All courses of all students adds up to about 600 full-time students.

Jackie Warren w/ 14-yr-old daughter: My 14-yr-old daughter is in 9th grade. 6th grade honors after home school. Skipped 7th grade and went to 8th. She is in 9th. Her counselor suggested she go to online ed b/c she is too advanced. She is very frustrated w/ education system. She has ideas how to better school system in USA.

Nied: She should be legislator. (Laughs)

Warren: She's on her way. She wants to be a JAG officer in Marine Corp and go into politics form there. She has issues in school b/c 12th grade reading and comprehension level. 9th and 11th grade students don't know the word sarcastic. These students don't belong in school system. They don't know meaning of redundant or sarcastic. When counselor comes to me, that your student is too advanced, so go to online system, after I came to USA from Australia, which was bad--So we need online b/c US system is screwed up and we should go for it. But current bill doesn't allow that.

Female - ______ Meyer student: We are not currently retaining enough knowledge. Onoine school will help retain better, help slower do well and advanced accelerate, we should do it.

Laura Belnap, Principal of Online school Washington District: online ed for 9 years, my kids have used elec high school and other things, purchased software. Online ed is a complement to traditional. Traditional school is all or nothing, no options. Need flexibility, esp in cash-strapped system. Wonderful Bountiful photography teacher cut b/c of funding. Could do online. Provides options, ed w/o boundaries, but stable parameters. Online ed is no longer cutting edge, is now mainstream and probably the future. Thanks Sen Stephenson.

Elaina Tonks, direc of Open High School, one of 2 online charter schools: Misperception--charter schools are public schools. I take many calls from parents wishing one or two classes, especially health and biology classes. Schedules make this hard. Many advanced students don't fit into factory ssetem. Many others want a slower pace. We can leverage tech promise and meet the needs of every single student. At our school, we focus on student as individual. We have choices in every phase of our life. Can choose Harmans over Smiths, cars, gas, etc. Students and parents deserve to have a say in how their child is educated. Students deserve access to best courses and teachers. We put our stakeholder's report in handout w/ grad rates, scores, etc.

Kelly Broadbent, parent of Open High School student, former teacher, board member of school: My son Nathan had stumbling blocks in last school. Needed diff approach. This school provided a teacher who can individualize instruction. Teachers are inventive and passionate. Exciting. No busty work, every assignment has purpose. [She is reading a sales pitch...She likes it, but brother.] Get skills not offered at school, slower or faster paced courses. This bill would allow more flexibility and best time of day and day of week. More opps to learn and grow.

Former superintendent, Patty Harrington: I represent self, not school boards assoc. today. - I also love tech. We don't have enough in public system. We need to improve. I love parts of this bill. An interim study of WPU funding. What about students who go to school and do online after and use more than 1 WPU? Like planned site to connect providers, including private providers. I have concerns. I want report, lines 270-284, about accountability of providers. Do we need districts to contract w/ private companies? Tracking requirements are laudable, but almost impossible. We need to look at it. Much is already happening. Elec high school, 2 charter schools Davis and Washington District we heard from. Private providers. Colleges provide. I have discussed with Steph frustration with credits from online schools not being accepted. This is a voucher bill giving public money to support private companies.

Some lady they know (UEA)? [Ends up being Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh]: Sen. Steph, appreciate passion for online ed and multiple intelligence. I heard in approp. committee this morning. Deaf and blind begging for money, K-3 reading begging, transportation begging. I'm concerned about money without funding basic program. Lines 260-267 = vouchers. Pay to private schools. Completion rates--what about students not completing? Would 60% already gone be returned to LEA's? WPU would be sent, my tax dollars out of state to online providers? No limits on class size. No way to monitor quality of services. In light of budget cuts, not expand a program when trying to keep basic, minimum services at this point.

Carry Valentine, parent: I heard this afternoon and raced down here. I have 3 students. 2 in school, Jr High and Elem. Fit public school mold. My other son is in Utah Virtual Academy and fits that mold very well. Would a student be enrolled concurrently in public and private school? We had to withdraw our son. That sounds like logistical nightmare to administer student in both. How would my tax dollars provide both? Would my tax dollars already increase? How divvy up? How is this different than what is already provided? Can purchase more or less privately. Parents provide $ currently, not public. In light of current budget situation, seems redundant to provide things already provided when cutting. Let's look at direction of public ed like universities. Provide online option along with classroom model.

Victor Shanti: Board qualified psychologist from U of U, parent of student both online charters, traditional schools, and private schools. My son was not being challenged, given false sense of compassion for African American student, low expectations. Machine didn't have that bias. 2 types. Machine ?'s and instantaneous feedback and person teaching via computer. He raised reading level in 6 months. Better expectations. Standards of proprietary schools not necessarily lower than public schools. Our school had high standards, tracking, success rate. I know there is a conflict between retention of employees which cost a lot. Leverage one employee through machines can save a lot of cost. We put him in charter school after machine learning, now he is not in lower quintile, but in middle range at traditional charter school. I favor bill and expansion of online ed.

Mother of 3 children in Utah Public system: I have read bill many times in last week. I am favor of online ed and all possible choices. There are legitimate concerns. This looks like system behind times and unnecessary. We already have quality online ed, not perfect, but offered and available. Current system works in conjunction with pub schools w/o competing for WPU's or other money. The limits would limit students making up credit initially. Current system allows. [Interrupted here] Something about limiting private and homeschool students.

This would open door to WPU going to private services by choice of student. I support choice, but not pub money going to private schools. Accounting would be confusing to districts, cause conflict. Stephenson says bill would allow choice. I think bill would hamper choice and complicate things. He also said $ to private entities. This is simply a voucher proposal.

Nied: Last 3 people allowed to speak.

Stan Rassmussen, Sutherland Inst. We support SB 65 to help families. Need customized and personalized ed. This describes online ed. Avoids other requirements of time or place. Allows parents primary control over education of children. Doesn't require parents to meet schools' terms. Not driven by adults. Student can take some online and some on site. Develop social skills while avoid social problems. Study found students in online schools as well socialized, and not significant differences in bad social behaviors. Focuses on student learning. Study shows discussion between teachers and parents is focused more on learning than trad schools.

Judi Clark, PCE director: We heard v-word thrown around with animosity. This is not voucher program. Several districts are using private providers already. That is a concern for establishment. Puts emphasis on individual needs and helps digital natives. We love that funding is extremely efficient. These precious dollars will go to provider of student choice. Rather than protect systems that are entrenched.

Person in red Shirt: David Salazar, student at OHSU, charter school: Me being able to work online. I only passed public school b/c teacher was sick of me b/c I was causing probs and ditching school. Now I can't do that. They notify parents right away when I don't finish work. Now I know computer tech, Skype. These teachers actually helped me. My other teachers wouldn't help me when I didn't put in the work. Better than public school. My teachers contact me every day and I get help right away.

Back to committee:
Sen. Thatcher - I think everyone understands that online is great for those who choose and can learn that way. My concern is how track completion online? I know some children do not have self-motivation to complete online. How know students actually getting ed we're paying for?

Sen. Stephenson - The tracking of completion rates under my bill would change current paradigm. Elec high school was uncertain how to define completion rates. Get paid for completion. Tracking will be pretty clear. I have confidence State Board will make good rules. Miss Gee [That’s what I heard…] from UEA wanted 60% back if student doesn't complete. I support that, but also for high schools. If students doesn't complete, then high school gives back money too. [choice people clap] That's answer to question.

Thatcher - If completion rate is so low? How educate?

Stephenson - Best to now pay 60% to allow staffing other things, etc. Future we can make it all dependent and refund all on completion.

Thatcher: People willing to educate on conditional basis?

Stephenson: Now online schools only get $2500 for WPU, when average student, including capital outlay, uses $8500. [DISHONEST use of numbers. Same as voucher debate. No school being built in Saratoga Springs has its locally bonded construction funds divvied up among the students of Utah. I don’t get the funding now. The online voucher kids will get more than the WPU??!] Providers want to compete. Only online school concerned is elec high school [Of two that testified]. They get a line item in budget. I supported online high school. Now it's time for them to get funded on merit. Students will start to review ratings of providers. They will check ratings about support, other things. Provides transparency for online education.

Thatcher - I'd love to see adjustment made in implementation timeline. Allow children to excel, move quickly, but balance burden on schools. I want you to continue to work with Superintendent Shumway.

J Stevenson - I like discussion today. This is direction of future. Knowing Steph will work with Sup. Shumway, I move this be passed to Senate floor.

Steph: Thanks for input. I will work with Sup. Shumway. I think some exceptions will be provided for students who thrive in this environment. Let them take more than 2 credits.

[I don’t think all classes can be transmitted and experienced online. English? History? Debate? Not same experience. The goal of college readiness will not be improved by online education, although it definitely has an important role. Relying on it to spend less $ on public education and make a philosophical voucher beachhead of transferring funds to private schools is the true goal here.]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quick version without background: Utah is copying New York's school grading system, not Florida's

The Senate Education Committee is voting on SB 59 School Grading System today at 2:15.

I have more to add about the methodology and effectiveness of the bill and the newest information about Florida's school grade improvement but here is the book excerpt I will include again in a post today or tomorrow.

Diane Ravitch is an educational historian who advised both George Herbert Bush and George W. bush on education and was a strong supporter of “market based” reforms and No Child Left Behind. She explains in her book why she has changed her position on many of these reforms after reviewing results.

From The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The underlined section was underlined by me.

pg. 164
Another (albeit mixed) example of positive accountability can be found in Florida, where the state gives a single letter grade, ranging from A to F, to all public schools. This is a practice I abhor, as I think it is harmful to stigmatize a complex institution with a letter grade, just as ridiculous to send a child home with a report card that contained only a single letter grade to summarize her performance in all her various courses and programs. That said, after the grades are handed out, the state quickly steps in to help the D and F schools with technical support, consultants, coaches, and materials. As a result of the state's supportive response, most of the low-rated schools have improved. For nearly seven years, the state sanctioned F-rated schools by giving vouchers to their students, who could use them to attend a private or better-performing public school. In 2006, a Florida court declared the voucher program unconstitutional.

pg. 85-87
The accountability movement entered a new phase in the fall of 2007, when the DOE revealed what it called progress reports for each school. Each school received a single letter grade, from A to F. This approach mirrored the grading system introduced in Florida by then-governor Jeb Bush a few years earlier. Most of each school's grade was based on year-to-year changes in standardized test scores (its "progress"), as compared to a group of schools that were demographically similar; if a school's scores went up, it was likely to win an A or B. If they remained flat or slipped, the school was almost certain to get a C, D, or F.

Some excellent schools, known for their sense of community and consistently high scores, received an F because their scores dipped by a few points. Some very low-performing schools, even some schools the State Education Department ranked as persistently dangerous, received an A because they showed some improvement.

To add to the confusion, the city's grades were inconsistent with the ratings issued by the State Education Department in accordance with No Child Left Behind. If schools failed to meet their adequate yearly progress goals under the federal NCLB law, they were called SINI schools, or "schools in need of improvement." If schools consistently performed poorly, the state called them SURR schools or "schools under registration review." In the first year hat school grades were issued, the city awarded an A or B to about half of the 350 schools the state said were SINI or SURR. More than half of the fifty schools that received an F from the city were in good standing with the state and the federal law. The next year, 89 percent of the F schools were in good standing according to NCLB standards, as were 48 percent of D schools.

In 2009, the city's accountability system produced bizarre results. An amazing 84 percent of 1,058 elementary and middle schools received an A (compared with 23 percent in 2007), and an additional 13 percent got a B. Only twenty-seven schools received a grade of C, D, or F. Even four schools the state said were "persistently dangerous" received an A. The Department of Education hailed these results as evidence of academic progress, but the usually supportive local press was incredulous. The New York Post called the results "ridiculous" and said, "As it stands now, the grades convey nearly no useful information whatsoever." The New York Daily News described the reports as a "stupid card trick" and a "big flub" that rendered the annual school reports "nearly meaningless to thousands of parents who look to the summaries for guidance as to which schools serve kids best."

The debacle of the grading system had two sources: First, it relied on year-to-year changes in scores, which are subject to random error and are thus unreliable. Second, the scores were hugely inflated by the state's secret decision to lower the points needed to advance on state tests. Consequently, the city's flawed grading system produced results that few found credible, while the Department of Education was obliged to pay teachers nearly $30 million in bonuses--based on dumbed-down state tests--as part of its "merit pay" plan.

How could parents make sense of the conflicting reports from the city, state, and federal accountability systems? Should they send their children to a school that got an A from the city, even though the state said the same school was low-performing and persistently dangerous? Should they pull their child out of a highly regarded neighborhood school where 90 percent of the kids passed the state exams but the city gave it an F? The city had no plan to improve low-performing schools, other than to warn them that they were in danger of being closed down. Shame and humiliation were considered adequate remedies to spur improvement. Pedro Noguera of New York University observed that the Department of Education failed to provide the large schools with the support and guidance they needed to improve. "They don't have a school-change strategy," Noguera said. "They have a school-shutdown strategy." Chancellor Klein acknowledged that opening and closing schools was an essential element in the market-based system of school choice that he preferred. He said "It's basically a supply-and-demand pattern...This is about improving the system, not necessarily about improving every single school." But there was no reason to believe that closing a school and opening a new one would necessarily produce superior results; in fact, half of the city's ten worst-performing schools on the state math tests in 2009 were new schools that had been opened to replace failing schools. [My note: SB 59 has no provisions to assist "F" schools in any way. Howard Stephenson has a bill in the chute to close a certain numbers of schools each year. He apparently means to replace them with charter schools that can limit the number of students and online classes. The extra students who aren't accepted to the charter schools or who need more help than an online class can provide...drive further.]

HB 83 and SB 140 update: It's hard not to be paranoid

Update on my previous post about HB 83 and SB 140. One is apparently harmless and the other appears necessary even if it is annoying.

I was actually able to listen to most of the committee discussion on HB 83 Charter School Revolving Account, though it was short and I was interrupted a little bit. From the various organizations unanimously in support, it seems like a positive technical change. However, I was frustrated that no one actually explained what the difference was in the account designation beyond general statements like "It will now be in the proper place to do what the account was intended to do." Maybe it's detailed and boring, but I would appreciate even a one minute summary to give the public some idea of why these changes are being made.

SB 140 State Charter School Board Amendments appears to be a necessary change. I haven't been able to go back and listen to the committee discussion, but I read these two short summaries: Trib and D-News. For once, the Deseret News actually gave a lot more detail about the bill. For the State Charter School Board to effectively support and advise new charter schools, I agree it seems best to ensure there is more specific experience rather than just general experience on the board. Unfortunately, there is a relatively small pool of politically connected and lobbyist connected candidates who hold that experience, but I guess it's a necessary evil in this case.

It also appears I need to educate myself on the differences between the State Charter School Board and the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. They must work closely and have a lot of overlap, but I like that the State Charter Board appears willing to assist schools which the Association has moved away from.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Legalese: Serious question--What do HB 83 and SB 140 do? Put lobbyists into charter school code?

I think I follow the session, especially education related issues, as close as anyone not on Capitol Hill, but there are just so many laws and so many meetings that it is impossible to keep up. Plus, "education issues" encompasses a huge range of topics and I don't think anyone can understand the background and impact of every bill in every area.

This leads to my questions about two charter school bills from the Red Meat Regulators, Rep. Greg Hughes and Sen. Howard Stephenson. I just don't know enough about the technical twists of charter school funding and governance to understand the potential impacts of the bills. They will both be discussed in committee tomorrow, Feb. 2, 2011, and finding time to go back and listen to the audio after missing the live hearings will be tough for me this week. The written minutes of both the Senate and House Education Committees don't help either, listing the bare bones of who spoke for or against proposals. (As opposed to the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee--composed of both senators and House representatives who hash out the budget--which posts long, detailed minutes of debate.)

So, anyone interested, please listen and post here about the bills. I would love detailed summaries of debate, but I'll take even a quick snapshot. What is the rationale behind the bills? What are the claimed benefits? Who spoke in support and opposition of the bills?

1. SB 140 State Charter School Board Amendments -- Howard Stephenson
Senate Education Committee meeting, 9:00 AM, Feb 2, 2011
(The committees often start 5-20 minutes late. If you refresh the Meeting Schedule page I linked to, a Live Audio icon will appear next to the date when the meeting begins. You will need Real Player.)

There is already a seven member State Charter School Board that the governor appoints after receiving nominations from charter schools and the State Board of Education. I would not be able to explain very well what they do. This bill summary states that the bill:
"provides that of the seven members appointed by the governor to the State Charter School Board, three members shall: be nominated by an organization that represents Utah's charter schools; and have expertise or experience in developing or administering a charter school;

allows the governor to seek nominations from more than one organization that represents Utah's charter schools;

allows the governor to remove a member of the State Charter School Board at any time for official misconduct, habitual or willful neglect of duty, or for other good and sufficient cause;

What is the purpose of the bill? Looking at the bill text, I'm guessing it was fuzzy exactly who decided the nominations in behalf of "charter schools." The bill mandates now that the nominations will made by "organizations" that represent and manage charter schools. That seems like power is being given to the few charter school lobbyists and management companies who are almost 100% connected with conservative legislators and the Parents for Choice in Education voucher crowd. This City Weekly article treats the Utah Association of Charter Schools Board as the "State Charter Board." Is that accurate? If not, the association is another of the advocacy groups given power to pick the members of the state board. The article delved into the massive conflicts of interest on the association board, with legislators (Craig Frank) and board members profiting from contracts. 4 of the 7 members are are either directors or trustees of PCE, and most also run for-profit charter school contract management companies. The new board forced out the executive director of the association right after the previous article was written because he was providing too much "training and support" of charter schools, which of course conflicted with the business interests of the management company owners.

I have also written a couple of times about how Howard Stephenson purposely changed charter school law last year to allow conflicts of interest, and how at least one lobbyist/charter school board chair with ties to Howard Stephenson is now paying his sister's company $986 per student.

So I'm very suspicious that this purpose of the bill is literally to give board selection authority to lobbyists and relatives like Lincoln Fillmore, Jed Stevenson, and Carolyn Sharette. (Those are basically the only active charter management organizations in the state.) I would love to hear if I am wrong or right on this one.

2. HB 83 Charter School Revolving Account -- Greg Hughes
House Education Committee meeting, 2:00 PM, Feb. 2, 2011.

I just have no idea on this one. The summary reads:
eliminates the Charter School Building Revolving Subaccount within the School Building Revolving Account and creates the Charter School Revolving Account within the Uniform School Fund;

specifies the permitted uses of funds in the Charter School Revolving Account and procedures for making loans from the account;

and makes technical amendments.

Who knows the difference made by designating the Charter School Revolving Account as its own account instead of a subaccount of the School Building Revolving Account? Not me.

The bill's fiscal note reveals no costs. So what is the point? Is it just technical? Or does it change what the account can be used for? Other effects?

Please comment if you can. Thank you.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

SJR 1, SJR 9, HJR 15...Three different ways to give GOP leadership more control over education, but is the end game really partisan school boards?

Using the permanent, significant process of amending the state constitution to achieve temporary, political ends would normally be something conservative Republicans would oppose, but if involves giving them more control, especially over public education which they have made abundantly clear this session that they hate, their standards become more flexible.

Utah Republicans have proposed three different conflicting constitutional amendments this year. If they pass both the Utah Senate and the Utah House by a 2/3 majority vote, they will go on the ballot in 2012 for the public to vote on the changes. I don't believe Governor Herbert can veto proposals for constitutional amendments, but I am not 100% sure about that.

SJR 1 Joint Resolution on State Board of Education Authority, Senator Chris Buttars
This proposed constitutional amendment would give the state legislature control over curriculum in answer to supposed socialist teachings and law breaking by schools. Click on the link and then listen to the audio recording of the Jan. 26 committee hearing to hear the claims. This has already passed a vote in the Senate Education Committee.

SJR 9 Joint Resolution - Governance of Public and Higher Education, Senator Stuart Reid
This proposed constitutional amendment would give the governor "CEO" power over both K-12 and Higher Ed. for the entire state, including the ability to dissolve the State Board of Education or eliminate the position of state superintendent. Governor Herbert knew nothing about this proposed amendment until after the session started. The sponsor, Stuart Reid, does not know what effect this change would have on the large system of educational governance in both systems. He and Senator Stephenson speculated in committee that they could pass the amendment and then figure out a bunch of laws they will need to change afterward. Once again, this proposal has already passed a Senate Education Committee vote and the audio of the justification can be found at the above web page for the bill.

Governor Herbert opposes both of these proposals, saying the current system of governance by the State School Board "is actually working pretty well" and that the legislature would just become "a super school board of 104 personalities." (Two more stories on the proposed amendments and committee debate: The Trib and Channel 4.)

HJR 15 Joint Resolution Amending State Board of Education Provisions, Representative Chris Herrod
This proposed constitutional amendment would eliminate public elections of the State School Board. School board members and the state superintendent would instead be appointed by the governor "with the advice and consent of the Senate." This amendment was sent to the House Rules Committee Friday afternoon and has not yet been discussed. It will likely be sent to the House Education Committee next week. Keep an eye on the "Bill status/Votes" link on the bill's web page or subscribe to receive updates at the bottom of the page. You can listen to the committee debate live or after the fact.

If the legislature had an excellent plan, an optimal alternative to the current structure and authority of the State School Board that they thought was important enough to change the constitution rather than just tweak a law, there would have been one proposed amendment with a compelling reason for its existence. Instead, three conflicting amendments have been thrown against the wall to see what sticks.

What is the common thread between the proposed amendments? These three amendments propose three different ways to put politicians directly in charge of education. I think the desire to gain control over the check and balance of an independently elected State School Board is plain. The board strenuously opposed private school vouchers in 2007 and has often opposed other pet GOP leadership proposals since. Sen. Hillyard asked the cogent question to Sen. Reid whether he would be proposing the amendment if the governor were a Democrat. Reid replied "Absolutely," but do you believe that?

I have commented before that the public trusts educators much, much more than politicians. This may not be true of the Eagle Forum echo chamber that sees public education as a socialist plot to "bring down America," but they don't represent close to the majority of public opinion, even in Utah.

So I'm not completely surprised legislators would attempt any of these power shifts, but I don't see any of them as likely to pass a public vote. Why the glut of huge changes now? I don't know how coordinated these amendment proposals may have been, but there is at least a plan to take advantage of the fear they are generating. On Red Meat Radio today, State Superintendent Shumway was interviewed again and asked about the proposals, including the possibility of the State Board or Superintendent being eliminated. At the end of the discussion, Senator Stephenson pushed Shumway to state whether he would prefer the State School Board being eliminated or elected in a partisan election with Republican and Democrat candidates voted on in political conventions. Shumway was badgered into saying he thought both were bad ideas, but he would prefer a partisan election to complete elimination of the State School Board.

Was this the dry run for the line of reasoning that will be used in committee? Partisan school board elections will be the "good cop" after the "bad cop" threats of complete overhauls of the education system via constitutional amendment?

Running state and/or local school board elections through party conventions will basically accomplish the same goals of the three amendments. Vouchers failed statewide, even among Republicans, but state and county Republican delegates as a group share many more of the antagonistic views toward public education held by Sens. Stephenson, Buttars, Dayton, etc. The highly conservative candidates vetted in the Republican conventions would automatically win 90%+ of their general races simply by virtue of the R before their name. Within two election cycles, the State Board of Education would be taken over by candidates who do not represent the common views of Utah citizens. The legislature could run extreme ideas such as vouchers, converting traditional public schools to charter schools, and drastic budget cuts, and be able to tell people "the State School Board supports our proposal."

I've already shared my opinion about partisan school board elections and some excellent links to arguments for and against. (Further clear discussion at Utah Moms Care.) If the threat of a partisan school board election bill amendment doesn't happen as detailed in the post, Senator Stephenson has a bill of his own in waiting titled "Partisan School Board Elections."

Utahns overwhelmingly oppose partisan state and local school board elections by 66% and 72% counts. The legislative leadership has demonstrated they don't care about that, vouchers being only the most obvious example of knowingly pushing their ideology over the will of their constituents, and they know they won't suffer any repercussions at the ballot box after emerging largely unscathed from their voucher defeat.

I am worried. Really worried. The legislature has spent the first week of the session on an all out offensive against public education and they have more in mind than just insults. Follow these important education bills and contact your legislators. Encourage other constituents to contact them with a voice of reason about public ed. as well. Public education is vulnerable and strained to the breaking point already. Don't let it be turned into a political football based on rigid ideology rather than concern for kids.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Legislative rhetoric is running high in 2011 and excessive classloads are putting the accreditation status of many Utah high schools at risk

I have followed the legislative session fairly closely ever since 2007 and vouchers. The rhetoric behind vouchers and the following debate over the referendum when the legislature campaigned against the evil UEA and teachers who care more about adults than kids opened my eyes to the depth of ideological hatred against public education in a segment of Utah politics. The 2011 session has started out as openly hostile toward public education and maybe even more.

I listened to a good part of two education committee meetings today (1-26-11) and heard elected officials and invited guests openly and indirectly accuse teachers of hating America, families, and students. I think most people have no idea how organized and influential this anti-public education group of legislators and Eagle Forum members are among the legislature. Legislators need to hear from the majority who are not represented by this extreme faction styling themselves as the moral mainstream. Please listen to any committee meeting from the three main committees dealing with public education. You can listen to meetings live or listen to the recording afterward. You have to block out 60-90 minutes to listen to one, but I think it will be worth it in order for you to hear who is really shaping Utah education policy and using what claims.

The Joint Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee is composed of both Utah House Representatives and Utah Senators. It is chaired by Senator Chris Buttars. The next meeting is Jan. 27 at 8:00 am.

The Senate Education Committee is chaired by Senator Howard Stephenson. The next meeting is Jan. 27 at 4:00 pm. Here is the direct link to the audio file for the Jan. 26 meeting which made me so frustrated. Karen at the Utah Moms Care blog has already posted her summary of the meeting. She also comments on her surprise at the "level of disdain being openly shown toward the administrators of public education in Utah."

The House Education Committee is chaired by Representative Bill Wright. The next meeting is not currently scheduled, but you can find the audio for the last two meetings via the link.

Finally, I want to call attention to another potential cost to the severe budget cuts in public education. In December, three Wasatch Front high schools from three different districts were put under "advised" status in their accreditation evaluations because of too many teachers with student loads of over 180 students. They were Kearns, Bingham, and Timpanogos High Schools.

All schools have to be accredited by the state of Utah and high schools have to be additionally accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission in order to have their credits accepted by universities.

The state's accreditation standards do not have a student load threshold, so we are free to stuff as many students as possible into jr. high and middle school classes because no one is checking. Student loads over 200 are the norm for full-time jr. high teachers right now. I have my first classes of 38 this year in my core class, and next year the numbers are projected to be around 40 students in core classes. The "non-core" classes are seeing class sizes closer to 50 right now.

However, the high schools facing the Northwest Accreditation standards face a limit to how many teachers can have these enormous student loads. Kearns, Bingham, and Timpanogos got caught, but schools only go through the accreditation process every 3 or 6 years, depending how they did on the previous evaluation. There are many other schools that would earn an "advised" status if they were being evaluated this year. The three schools on advised status need to show they have remedied the problems observed in order to leave advised status and not endanger their accreditation. There is little chance for those schools to hire more teachers with 7% budget cuts currently slated for public education, besides the fact that the system grew by over 13,000 additional students this year with no new funds to pay for them and is expected to grow by almost 15,000 students next year. Plus, an additional 1/6 of schools will face accreditation next year.

There could be serious, longterm consequences for public education if these extreme numbers are not addressed.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rolly was too nice. Senator Buttars showed his ignorance, Stephenson covered for him

Paul Rolly just wrote a column about Senator Chris Buttars' misinformation in an interview with Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Greg Hughes on their Red Meat Radio Program. He beat me to it! I tuned in just in time the second hour and transcribed the interview as best I could and have just been too busy to write up my frustration. I thought I was the only one still listening to the show.

Rolly caught Buttar's first two easy mistakes. "Incarcerating" youth when discussing the supposed hidden socialism in Alpine District and being unable to identify Granite District. He actually called it Wasatch District until Stephenson corrected him. I suppose these errors, especially the first, can be chalked up to understandable slips of the tongue. I know my students enjoy catching me when I mix up words.

Rolly also did an excellent job of supplying the correct information about the Granite School Board's supposed UEA infiltration--one member, along with some dubious other connections like one person having taught 33 years ago, along with a real estate developer. I was actually surprised the Granite Board had even one teacher. I can't remember any teachers being members of the Alpine School Board as long as I've been paying attention. And just about every idea Buttars espoused was nonsense, from the secret socialism to the local school boards being special interests...while being interviewed by the professional lobbyist who serves in the legislature.

However, Rolly didn't mention the most egregious mistake Buttars made, the one that is more than a dumb misphrasing, but reveals his ignorance about basic, easy-to-verify information. First, he again couldn't correctly name the "common core" when they broached the subject. Stephenson corrected him after some stumbling around. Then Buttars claimed that the "Common Core Standards" recently adopted by Utah don't exist. Go ahead and click on that link for the list of 9 long and frankly boring pdf files containing the core standards along with appendices. Or type "common core" into any search engine. The three I tried displayed the core as the first result.

I wrote about this last week, when a commenter on another blog claimed the same thing, that the standards are not written yet, but somehow we know they will be written by bad people and forced to teach them verbatim. This despite the blog writer having prominently posted the link to the standards in her post. I can only assume the bad information used by both that commenter and Buttars came from the Eagle Forum. Buttars will ironically base major claims and policy decisions on incorrect information that he trusts because of ideology after ripping on school officials for not giving him correct information.

Stephenson even asked Buttars a leading question along the lines of "The new standards increase the rigor of math and English? That's not socialist is it?" Buttars sounded confused and replied, "Well, no." But after a pause, he went into a diatribe that these independently developed standards only appear to be uninvolved with Obama, and that they are not even written yet. On a timeline from 2010-2015, socialists will actually write the curriculum who "don't believe as we do" leading to a "change of doctrine." He finished by repeating that it was "disturbing" that the State School Board agreed to a core that has not been written yet and will be written by socialists.

At this juncture in my notes, I wrote "Long pause...." It was obvious that Stephenson knew the standards existed as he gathered himself in the silence and then completely ignored what Buttars had just said, instead changing the subject to the Education Budget Subcommittee Meeting. Stephenson may be unethical, but he's not stupid. Buttars is embarrassing. He presumes to lecture others while ignorantly passing on false information he gets from untrustworthy sources. He would flunk a high school sophomore writing assignment for presenting such faulty information, let alone an introductory college course.

Stephenson's enabling was further in display during the following interview with State Superintendent, Larry Shumway. Stephenson brought up Buttars' socialism claim about the common core to get Shumway's perspective, but he had to lie about what Buttars really said. It was actually a pretty funny conversation. Once again, my transcription is not perfect, but it's close.
Stephenson: Senator Buttars claims socialism is pervading the state public education system. Of course it's a socialist system.

Shumway's immediate interjection: "Public system."

Stephenson: Ahum. Well. What he meant is that the federal standards being pushed, the common core, is being developed by socialists. We asked him and he said the current math and literature standards are not socialist, only better. But he is concerned that future versions, for example social studies, will be.

Why did he have to make up words and ideas that Buttars never said? In my notes, I added "Covers for Buttars." Buttars did not say the core was better, and he never said anything about being concerned with the future social studies curriculum. He actually asserted that the existing standards had not been written yet. Even Stephenson was embarrassed to repeat his claims.

Superintendent Shumway also answered Stephenson's questions about some supposedly missing data that Buttars talked about with some fancy tap shoeing around a delicate insinuation that Buttars and his staff had not read existing reports containing those answers. "I was surprised that legislative staff and members of the committee were not aware of the reports..." repeated about three times.

It is very, very frustrating as an educator to be accused by someone so unwilling to educate himself.

Three final notes related to other content during the second hour of the Red Meat Radio show last Saturday.

1. Hughes and Stephenson made the point that "civility" is getting too PC and being used as a club to suppress views you don't agree with. I totally agree. (Though it comes from both sides. Conservative commentators and groups jump all over every little word of Democrats too.) They discussed a letter from the State School Boards Association to the legislature critical of Stephenson's comments about school boards which apparently compared his language somehow to the Rep. Giffords shooting. That connection is dumb and counter-productive. Now don't get me wrong, Stephenson's comments, which were repeated twice in the course of the hour, about local school boards being stupid and being led around by the nose by the superintendent, are ideologically idiotic. He means they don't believe in vouchers and think that school teachers should be replaced by computers, therefore they must not be as "bright" as him.

However, it is better to hear the criticism and know his position than suppress his ideas in the name of civility. The lack of trust he engenders by revealing his own thoughts should be the real consequence of such language. My post here could certainly be considered "uncivil" because of my harsh criticism of Buttars and Stephenson, but I feel my assertions are based on evidence and that it is important that the public really know these legislators as they make decisions and evaluate what they hear from them.

2. Superintendent Shumway is much better suited for his job than I would be. I am sometimes frustrated with Shumway for being too accommodating and uncritical of the blatant falsehoods some legislators perpetuate about education, but I can see he is needed. He, Hughes, and Stephenson had a lovefest of how much they trust each other's motivations, while all I could think was that I emphatically do not trust Stephenson's motivations. However, criticizing them openly wouldn't accomplish anything, and his diplomacy may hopefully at least moderate some of the extreme bills that will pass regardless of what Shumway or the State Board say. I was proud of Shumway for making the point that the hostile attitudes and mistrust of "some of the committee," (e.g. Buttars) were unfounded and actually hampered their work.

3. In the last minute, Stephenson proudly listed some of his pending bills to stick it to education. He mentioned the school grading bill, his teacher tenure bill, and a new bill about school accountability that I hadn't yet heard about. I'm assuming it's the unnumbered bill named "Public School Accountability" in his bill list. Stephenson said the bill would involve "dissolving" the 5 lowest public schools each year. The state would do an RFP for private management and the parents would vote on it. There were a couple other details I missed with my kids talking to me. This is another backdoor voucher scheme, and Stephenson and his association have financial ties with companies that would profit from this bill. He is determined to arrive at his goal of dismantling the public school system piece by piece, making a tidy profit as he goes.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Legislative Session 2011 begins....but it's not just about immigration! Will public education be harmed while no one is paying attention?

The illegal immigration debate is important. The state budget is important. But what will affect your children the most over the next couple decades? Won't the state of our public schools have a more lasting influence on the children of Utah? I am a parent and have as vested an interest in these schools as anyone, but it's also about the investment in helping the other hundreds of thousands of kids in the state. I believe the Utah public education system is a fundamental base to our society, as well as our economy.

The debate on illegal immigration policy in Utah will generate a lot of sparks and media attention this year, nationally as well as locally. With public attention diverted, and the difficult budget as cover, there are serious proposals to damage public ed. and divert public funds in the name of "reform." Basic funding is at a quiet crisis level risking the accreditation (i.e. whether colleges will accept their credits) of every high school in the state, but legislators currently DO NOT plan on funding almost 15,000 new students entering the system next school year (and that is net after accounting for seniors leaving) after not funding the 13,000 new students that entered this year. On top of that, many have pet projects favored by anti-public ed. groups to slice away even more of that money. Then when public schools struggle with the impacts of huge classes and little resources, those legislators will claim the worsening results justify further defunding the public system in favor of their connected donors poised to profit from the changes.

A large number of influential legislators--the ones who control the money--hold views on public education far outside the mainstream of the Utah public. Three examples just in the last week:

1. House Rep John Dougall explains in the comment section of this blog post about partisan school board elections that he thinks local school boards are uninformed, his new reading of the state constitution means that the state legislature isn't responsible for funding education, and that he thinks the entire public school system should be replaced by the free market.

2. Senator Howard Stephenson -- professional lobbyist, member of every possible education committee, and the sponsor of 15 education related bills in 2011 (no one else has more than 2...correct me if I miscounted) -- spoke to students at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. I learned this from Stephenson himself on Twitter (SenatorHowardS):

Had an awesome time speaking with students at the Hinckley Institute about Utah's public education system. #utpol 1:34 PM Jan 20th via TweetDeck

Also on Twitter, someone with the Utah House Democrats (utahhousedems) tweeted some highlights of Stephenson's remarks, including:

# Sen. Stephenson says difference between old Soviet farmers & Ut teachers is teachers care about their turnips--farmers don't. #utpol #utleg 12:46 PM Jan 20th via TweetDeck

# Republic Sen. Howard Stephenson calls state education planning "Soviet style" @ Hinckley Institute. What's his solution? #utpol #utleg 12:43 PM Jan 20th via TweetDeck

Stephenson has repeatedly made this comparison--public education is the same as Soviet-style communism. It's purposefully inaccurate and not representative of Utah.

3. Senator Chris Buttars, the new chair of the Public Education Appropriations Sub Committee, spoke at the Eagle Forum convention about his beliefs that Utah's schools are literally pushing a "socialist agenda" to destroy the country. "This is an entire program to bring America down and I want to tell you right now it's well entrenched in Utah."

This Deseret News article hits the nail on the head. It details how the the micro-managing legislature yanks public education back and forth every year, often in conflicting directions. They passed 42 bills about education last year. Forty-two! Stephenson admits he thinks he knows best and will run even more:
"We watched and realized that there are some things in education that simply have to change and be addressed," Stephenson said. "We feel we have to push the envelope now because there is so little action going on in certain areas."

Stephenson is in the process of writing bills about online high school programs, math initiatives, public school curriculum, charter schools, teacher tenure and more.

"Push the envelope" means radically alter or damage public schools in favor of his pet proposals that are largely unsupported by the public which supports our schools. Rep. Jim Nielsen speaks out in the article too, stating what anyone following public education policy debate in Utah can easily attest to:
Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, believes the legislature's role in education reform should be "relatively limited," as that is mainly the responsibility of the state school board and local school boards.

"I think we can do things to indicate what our priorities are and build financial incentives to reward schools that meet certain objectives, but I wouldn't go beyond that," Nielson said. "In my opinion, the legislature has overreached its authority during much of my lifetime."

Amen Representative Nielson! The legislature fights for local control...except when they disagree with you.

I can't go over the details of every bad education proposal in this post. Here's the link to the list of all the 2011 education bill, although most of them still are not available to the public to read less than 9 hours before the opening of the legislative session.

I have already commented on some of these issues in the past week. I will write more about many/most of these proposals later. They include:

Vouchers by a different name. Yes, seriously. They will only apply to online private schools (at first) and any legislator you question about it will wince and try to explain these are better approved private schools, but it redirects the state WPU per student funding to private organizations.

Hypocritically taking away local districts' ability to fund and tax, but increasing the state sales tax which is controlled by...the state legislature.

Senator Buttars' proposal in response to the secret socialism to amend the Utah State Constitution to take away the State School Board's authority over schools and curriculum and give it to...you guessed it, the state legislature.

Two bills aimed at converting traditional public schools to charter schools.

Increasing "socialism" by hypocritically taking away arbitrary "full measures" of locally voted district funds and giving them to charter schools in addition to the state funds they already get, but with no way for those local school boards to account for or recoup the money except by raising taxes...unless that power is taken away as mentioned above, leaving local districts defunded. (Which I suspect is the plan of some.) And if that bill doesn't pass and a district does raise taxes to make up for the charter subsidy, Howard Stephenson will then criticize the increase as waste through his Taxpayers Association bullhorn while touting how much more "efficient" charter schools are. (Stephenson is actually sponsoring the bill and apparently doesn't worry about hypocrisy or irony) The euphemism for this removal of local control is "backpack funding" as used by Parents For Choice in Education. Sen. Liljenquist's "Student Based Funding" may involve the same concept.

"Grading" public schools based on test scores by assigning one letter grade to explain every aspect of a school's performance. I have a lot of interesting information on this to post this week. They are following New York's utterly failed grading system rather than Florida's semi-supportive model, despite touting Florida's recent educational successes as only due to its school grading. (Which is also untrue.) This will apparently motivate those lazy teachers to teach better.

Removing due process requirements to get rid of provisional teachers. There basically aren't any already, so this bill puzzled me. (Plus, I can't read it yet.) But there will also be a bill to put longtime teachers back on provisional status based on their test scores. I think there is actually some merit in this concept by itself, but combined with the other bill, it appears that it's a disguised two-step method to instantly fire teachers without due process. Tough schools already have a much tougher time hiring good teachers. Who would work at a school in South Salt Lake with 90%+ low income and minority kids under this proposal?

A bill using "surplus" energy taxes to create curriculum promoting Utah's coal and oil industries.

5 more curriculum bills, 4 of them sponsored by Howard Stephenson. They involve Civics education, Engineering education, Honors Math Programs, and two ominous, unrevealed bills vaguely title "Curriculum in the Public Schools" and "School Curriculum Amendments." Once again, although the federal government is an over-reaching tyrant when it usurps local control via unfunded mandates, the state legislature and specifically Senator Stephenson who is proposing all these bills are virtuous defenders of good when they act as a political school board and usurp local control via unfunded mandates. Does the hypocrisy even bother them anymore?

So please, whoever you are, whatever your political leanings, pay attention to education this session!!!! It runs from Jan. 24 through March 10. You can click on this calendar each day for the schedule of committee meetings (the majority of time is spent in committees the first couple weeks) and general House and Senate floor time. When a committee or the floor is live, there will be little icons next to the lines on the calendar. You can click on them and listen live to committee meetings and actually watch live video of floor debate. The first education related meeting is the Senate Education Committee (chaired by Howard Stephenson) at 3:15 pm today, Monday, January 24. Listen for half an hour. Hearing the legislators' words and tone from their own mouths can help you cut through spin from various sides and begin to form opinions on who actually represents your interests.

Pay attention. Get involved. Contact your state representative or senator. Defend public education as a crucial part of our community and not as a fund to be drawn down and replaced by educational programs based on ideology and campaign donations.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Fight the socialists with Spam

I posted a couple of strongly worded articles Monday night (actually early Tuesday morning, Jan 18.)

Willful ignorance and fear about public education PART 1: The Common Core

Willful ignorance and fear about public education PART 2: Senator Buttars' constitutional amendment to give the legislature control over curriculum

Much of what I said was prompted by what I see as purposely misleading comments about public education at the Eagle Forum Convention last week. Some of those involved were also people who have accused Alpine District and BYU of pushing a socialist agenda, including Oak Norton.

Oak Norton very civilly responded to my post in the comments Tuesday morning (in part 2) and a couple other commenters supported his views that morning as well.

My blog email address is listed in the sidebar and I have infrequent communications with other bloggers/commenters. I don't use the address much, so I also don't get much spam.

I mention this because at 11:37 am, Tuesday, Jan 18, I received a confirmation of my blog email address' new registration on a gay dating website. This was closely followed by a registration confirmation for a website selling some sort of "make money at home" products. When I discovered this Tuesday evening, I opened the spam file and found I had already received over a dozen other offers. At least 2 of them mentioned my new registrations for their services or free offers.

Spam happens, and I always get more spam when I post more often. So for comparison, Gmail filtered 13 spam messages into my spam file from Dec. 21, 2010 through Jan. 17, 2011, with two blog posts during that time. From 11:30 on Jan. 18 through now, about 2 1/2 days and 4 blog posts later (counting the two posts early on the 18th), Gmail has filtered 46 messages into my spam file, including many thanking me for my registration, plus 5 additional messages from the gay dating site and the money at home site that got through the filter.

Let me be clear, I don't think Oak Norton had anything to do with this or that he would. But checking my website statistics, he must have forwarded my post to some friends, mailing list, etc. because I got a bunch of visits--many from northern Utah County--just to the second post all that morning and through the day after his posting.

So I guess my point is to ask the one person on the mailing list who hated my ignorant and/or socialist comments, can you see the irony in your retaliation against the supposed immoral, humanist agenda?

And the site traffic leads me to a further point that I think too many of the Eagle Forum/ASD conspiracy crowd are too reliant on their echo chamber sources of information. (e.g. Eagle Forum, Edwatch, Republican Party, etc.) The Common Core standards were specifically accused of being a further push of the humanist agenda at the Eagle Forum Convention, but less than 1/4 of the site traffic to the Part 2 website where I debated with Oak also looked at the Part 1 post about the Common Core. Hearing and thinking about opposing points of view is critical to teaching students and good thinking in general.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two different viewpoints on the Republican proposal to make school board elections partisan...plus mine of course

Currently, local school board elections are non-partisan and open to any eligible resident of the school board's boundaries to run for office.

The current system of electing members to the Utah State Board of Education is broken. It's not even strictly an "elected" position. A "nominating committee" of appointed individuals and legislatively mandated to be half-composed of "industry interests" (i.e. lobbyists. And no, I'm not kidding.) screens potential candidates in any state school board district where more than three candidates file to run for office. They meet and then eliminate any candidates they want based on whatever criteria they want, provided they leave at least three. The governor then selects two of the three (or more) candidates from those chosen by the nominating committee, or two of three from a district where exactly three people filed. Those two candidates are then the only people allowed to appear on the ballot. There is no independent mechanism for a candidate to run for this public office. Someone could run as a write-in, and even then you have to "file" as a write-in candidate which makes no sense to me, but that person would have no chance at actually being elected except in some set of very, very peculiar circumstances. The public can only vote for two candidates pre-screened by an appointed committee and the governor.

The process makes no sense, and Governor Herbert, to his credit, has said the confusing process should be reformed. (Though he also didn't endorse a plain old election...) The obvious and fair solution in my opinion is to make the state school board races just like any other non-partisan race. Interested and eligible citizens run for office, and the people vote. There will be a bill run this session to do just that, change the state school board elections to a normal election. Certain Republican legislators plan on amending the bill on the floor to change the state school board election, and possibly even local school board elections, to partisan elections like those for the legislature. This exact same process happened in 2009, with the partisan amendment failing on the House floor while the "normal" election bill passed. However, five unsurprising state senators voted the bill down in committee. (Bramble, Dayton, Hillyard, Jenkins, Stephenson)

I mentioned my opposition to partisan school board elections in a recent post addressing Senator Buttars' proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to give the legislature control over curriculum. Oak Norton and I discussed various points in the comments, and he linked to his post on why the state needs partisan school board elections.

Tom Gregory, the former State School Board member from my district, also chimed in on the proposal today, voicing his strong opposition to a partisan school board election. Among his reasons, he mentioned his conversations with state school board members from the few states that feature partisan school board elections.

So my bias is obvious. Here are two more sets. I think seeing the reasoning and contrast of both positions is valuable and will be useful to those evaluating the proposal.

We SHOULD make school board elections partisan -- Oak Norton

We SHOULD NOT make school board elections partisan -- Tom Gregory


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Virtual Vouchers -- Howard Stephenson and PCE put lipstick on the "innovative" future pig

I don't have time to go into this as much as it deserves. Howard Stephenson is convinced computers are they magic key to cheap education. Along with most bills, the text is not yet available 5 days before the start of the session. Looking at the pending bills dealing with education, I am assuming that the specific bill is the one titled "Online High School Program." He basically wants to run a free market voucher plan -- institutions "compete" for students and then receive the public funds...including private companies in year 2 of the plan. Here's the Trib article with comments from Stephenson, including:

“We ought to be willing to have our institutions, our schools, compete along with everybody else for students interest in obtaining high school credit,” Stephenson said. “Online has the capacity to individualize instruction in ways that a traditional classroom does not. We can see that many students who are currently falling between the cracks and failing in school actually thrive in an online environment.”

Diverting public funds to private institutions under the myth that they will virtuously provide better education IS vouchers. But not using the term and initially limiting it to online education avoids the public outcry. Within 3 years, Stephenson would laud the success of the voucher program nobody knew we had and uses it as "evidence" that a comprehensive voucher program should be passed as well.

There are a lot of good things about online education to fill niches and supplement instruction. There is no evidence it can replace large amounts of classroom education for children. The unique benefits of working with other students and insights gained through discussion of different viewpoints cannot be replicated online and the medium best lends itself to concrete, sequential courses such as math and science.

Claiming we can declare the online software sufficient with a couple of tests is uninformed. Ask any teacher of any subject about how much depth and breadth of their curriculum is captured by any standardized test. Declaring a student "educated" after some online assessments falls far beneath most people's conceptions of education that are not based on how much of a tax cut Howard Stephenson can achieve for his anonymous, big business clients.

Plus, we have multiple and recent examples of Senator Stephenson directing public technology funds to useless technology gimmicks and campaign donors, along with changing existing laws to literally allow conflicts of interest in public charter schools.

In that last link about charter school conflicts, I wrote on March 14, 2010:
Who thinks Senator Stephenson knows at least one person by name who just happens to be a legislator or GOP donor and will immediately profit from this bill? Maybe even someone who contributes secretly to the Utah Taxpayer's Association?

I don't know how this was not talked about more, but my suspicion was confirmed within 8 months. This Tribune article on Nov. 12, 2010 details how Howard Headlee, the powerful lobbyist president of the Utah Banker's Association and also the Board Chair for two schools under American Preparatory Academy, pays almost $1000 per student of public funds to his sister's charter management company.

Hiding vouchers under a different name and allowing conflicts of interest with public funds...once again, Howard Stephenson makes non-subtle efforts to show his disdain for public education.

The populace of Utah has already made it clear that they do not support routing public school funds to private companies. I do not trust Senator Stephenson and other legislators to best direct those funds for student benefit if the bill were to pass. Contact your legislator and ask them to vote against the virtual vouchers proposal.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Willful ignorance and fear about public education PART 2: Senator Buttars' constitutional amendment to give the legislature control over curriculum


Senator Chris Buttars literally believes that public education in Utah has been subverted to promote socialism/communism/anything not in agreement with the political views of Oak Norton. His solution is to make a subtle change in the state constitution. Buttars' SJR 1, proposed amendment to the Utah State Constitution. More after the quotes from the news report on his part at the Eagle Forum convention in Salt Lake City.


"We're in big trouble in our public education system. I didn't realize how much until a month ago when I was asked to chair public education appropriations," said Buttars. "We met and when we got done we were all so terrified we couldn't believe it. This was right under our nose."

Buttars' positition as the chair of the Public Education Committee means he has the power to make this plan a reality.

"Socialists have found that the best way to change a country is not by a revolution," said parent and Eagle Forum panelist Susie Schnell. "Teach children the concepts at a very young age so by the time they're ready to vote they'll vote for the right candidates. Hence, Democratic Socialism."

Panelist Oak Norton refers to Kleon Skousen's 1961 book The Naked Communist.

"In that book he lists 45 goals of the Communists," said Norton. "One of them is to get control of the schools. Soften the curriculum. Put the party line in textbooks."

These party lines, Norton says, are things like global warming, gay rights, and teaching students to question absolutes.

"By accepting that, there's no God because he deals in absolutes," said Buttars. "This is an entire program to bring America down and I want to tell you right now it's well entrenched in Utah."

Schnell and Norton have been on a crusade for over a year, claiming that the Alpine School District in Utah County and BYU are secretly promoting socialism. The viewpoint and the evidence it is based on is stupid. There is no other way to put it.

I think Norton can make legitimate complaints about whether the school board listens like any government body, but the political and religious backing for the socialism charges is stupid and offensive.

Politically, they told the school board that Cleon Skousen's The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America would be acceptable curriculum materials. Skousen was not a true historian and his books are political views poorly supported by history rather than history. (I have read both of those books--well parts of the huge Making of America-- and actually agree with many of Skousen's larger points, but he is not a credible person to me on many levels and I disagree with his pseudo-scholarly method of trying to assign credibility to his views. Using his other book as evidence of the "Communist plot" is not compelling evidence.) I would be the angry parent at the school board meeting if a public school were basing curriculum off of Skousen. It is ironic that the people claiming the schools are pushing political viewpoints are the ones actually attempting to get the schools to teach their political views.

Religiously, teaching students that academically they have must have evidence to back up their claims or to fully evaluate both sides of an issue is not teaching them there is no God. Stuff like this only perpetuates a stereotype of Utah County voters not being critical thinkers. Teaching students the current scientific view of evolution is only beneficial to them, even though that socialist BYU Department of Science supports that teaching. Cleon Skousen has also published more false Mormon doctrine that I am aware of than the BYU School of Education. That doesn't mean supporters of his political views also subscribe to his doctrinal mishaps any more than agreeing with John Goodlad that good public education is crucial to our democracy and Republic means BYU and Alpine District endorse every other view Goodlad has ever held.

I've held off from publishing my strong views on the issue, but now they've convinced the head of the Senate Public Education Appropriations committee of their foolishness. Now all of the schools of the state stand accused of secret socialism. It reminds me of when Senator Dayton claimed the International Baccalaureate program was an "anti-American" U.N. plot based on information from the Eagle Forum and Cherilyn Bacon Eagar (Not a coincidence that Eagar is quoted in the 2nd Alpine District link above claiming the whole curriculum is "leftist"). Both of these non-issues are falsehoods based on political ideology and fear rather than fact.

The Utah State Constitution was written so that the State Board of Education has "general control and supervision" of public education, including curriculum, and NOT the political legislature. Based on anecdotal stories from Norton, Schnell, and I'm sure others, Buttars wants to give all that power to the state legislature, which hates big government intrusion except when they are the ones hypocritically intruding. It's SJR 1, a proposal to add only four words to the state constitution. The best way to get a quick explanation is to watch the two minute video at the top of the post.

Another proposal, not numbered and made public yet so I can link it, is the repeated suggestion to make the State School Board a partisan election with the goal of getting candidates elected only after being vetted by the state Republican convention.

Do I perfectly trust any elected official or body, including the state or local school board? No. Do I trust school boards elected in non-partisan, local elections 1000% over the often willfully misinformed and politically vindictive state legislature? Emphatic yes.

Go online and read the state core curriculum, helpfully divided by subject and grade level. Notice the lack of coded socialism. Then contact your state legislator and speak out against both of these proposals. Contact your local school board about an issue you care about and attend a meeting. Enjoy local, non-partisan government and make any earnest proposal to improve it. Do some research and please don't run to the state legislature to override any local decision you disagree with.