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 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 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.,0,2924086.story?track=rss

"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.


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

I had first planned this post because of a comment on the Utah Moms Care blog last week. This blog has regularly posted rational, succinct (much, much more succinct than I ever manage) information about education issues along with its other material. The post on Jan. 13 dealt with misperceptions of the new “Common Core” math and English curriculum being adopted by Utah and 30 or 40 other states. I can actually understand the mistaken impression that this is some federally mandated curriculum—it’s not—and Karen of Utah Moms Care simply explains what the core is and isn’t, notably providing links to support her explanations. She supports the core in relatively mild language.

Now, I think there are very understandable reasons to be more hesitant about the common core than Karen. It’s claimed they are more rigorous in English than Utah’s current standards and about the same as math. (This rating was by the Fordham Institute, a politically conservative, education policy advocacy group that supports school testing, vouchers, etc. So I take their ratings more skeptically than most, but it can’t be claimed the rating was biased by “liberal teachers unions” or something like that.) I have read large parts of the middle grade core for both and think the claims are overblown.

There are some excellent lesson plans and supporting material for the English side, and it raises the bar on how high of a “lexile score” (one way of measuring reading comprehension) is expected in each grade, but the actual changes in what is taught are not drastic. I think it will be a positive, but not extremely noticeable change. It remains to be seen if the higher lexile expectations are a good stretch or an unrealistic overreach.

The math core drives me crazy. It supposedly isn’t any more rigorous than the current core, but it requires huge changes for students and work for teachers for no real benefit. Some concepts will be required to be taught a grade earlier in elementary school. I think this is minor, but the benefits are highly debatable. The big thing to me is that it changes later math courses from algebra, algebra II, geometry, etc. to Math 8, Math 9, Math 10, etc. with elements from all of those courses integrated in a new order. I personally disagree with the comments of the school board member in this article describing the changes. I think breaking down the content of the traditional math courses into smaller pieces and mixing them will more confusing for students both as they learn from week to week, and in terms of defining what they have learned. “I learned Math 8 which is a mix of some algebra and geometry” is not a clear achievement. I know many students have very different experiences with algebra and geometry, often understanding one group of concepts better than the other. I did. They will receive less immediate repetition in the skills, and remediation will be doubly as hard as new teachers or schools try to figure out the specifics of what a student doesn’t understand. I would rather my kids take the traditional classes. I think there will be some justifiable major pushback from teachers, parents, and students as the planning continues for this.

So well and good. I have some concerns about the new curriculum based on their academic impact. But the negative commenter on the Utah Moms Care blog was bizarrely unconcerned with any of the issues I raised.

Anonymous said...
With all due respect, I believe you are off base with your understanding of common core standards. States will not be able to opt out of these standards. Standards must be adhered to 100%--no addition to curriculum or deletion. Students are taught to a standard vs standards being taught to students.

You, as a state, will have NO voice to any curriculum you find objectionable. The 10th Amendment gives the authority to EACH state to set educational policy for THAT state. Utah is giving up that right to educate her children.

How can you sign on to standards WHEN THEY HAVEN'T EVEN BEEN DEVELOPED? You don't even know what you have signed onto! Would you pay for a kitchen remodeling before you had the plans? Of course not! You would be throwing your money into a black hole! You would be irresponsible for giving money and control to a contractor with no plan; so are legislatures that are making these educational decisions without due diligence.

Why are you supporting signing onto to standards that are unknown and the people or organizations (who knows?) are determining what your children are learning! Again, with all due respect, this is foolish.

You may not want to use this comment. So be it. You must learn more about common core standards. They are deadly to students. They will not help educational progress.
January 13, 2011 6:35 PM

I almost imitated the commenter by starting “”With all due respect,” but I cannot honestly say I respect the reasoning of this comment.

1. The two initial paragraphs about the state being unable to opt out or modify the curriculum are purposefully ignorant. And yes, I know I said earlier I can understand thinking this a “federal curriculum.” I meant that I can understand that mistake on first hearing the name “Common Core” and hearing that other states have adopted these standards. But the post provided links explaining that the core is voluntary, the commenter knows that no organization, even the federal government, has any authority to impose a mandatory curriculum on the state of Utah, and the crazy, inflammatory language is dead wrong about an easily verifiable claim. It reeks of mindlessly passing along a fearful email warning from the Eagle Forum, which is ironic since the commenter chides the blog and state for not researching on their own .

2A. The second false claim is even more blatantly incorrect and the commenter contradicts him/herself. The person uses capital letter shouting to claim the standards are “unknown” and haven’t even been developed yet. But the commenter concludes that the original blogger should learn more because the standards “are deadly to students” and “will not help educational progress.” How can you make that claim about supposedly non-existent standards??

2B. The original post included a link to the completely developed Common Core standards in the last paragraph. A bright red link in a 3-sentence paragraph at the end of a 500 word article. “You must learn more about common core standards” indeed.

3. In my opinion, this provincial, conspiracy theory, “public education is evil” mindset is harmful to the state and nation and is used for misleading political gain by many conservative politicians.

At the time, I attributed the comment some general anti-public ed. and common core sentiments expressed at the Eagle Forum convention last week. The Tribune gave us a stub saying some people were against the Common Core and public schools' “anti-family” agenda and quoted Senator Chris Buttars “We’re in big trouble in our public education system.” (I don't mean that as a cheap shot against the Trib. It's not like the Eagle Forum convention is major news. And notice that all of the above links about the Common Core are to the Trib. The Trib has always covered education more extensively, but The Deseret News doesn't even try since they fired half of their staff last year.) From the text and pictures in the article, Buttars was apparently getting much of his information from Susan Schnell and Oak Norton of “BYU and the Alpine District are secret socialists” fame, which was again ironic because of his quote a couple days earlier regarding the Common Core: “We’re dropping Utah’s moral and ethical standards in favor of a more national [set], and I don’t like it,” said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He also said he was concerned that the new standards contain “code words for socialism.”

We’re apparently dropping our “moral and ethical” Utah standards tainted by BYU’s secret socialism to adopt national standards with “code words for socialism.”

I was originally going to make a joke about “critical thinking” and “research” apparently being these code words, but that is apparently too close to the truth. On to part 2.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

HB 199, School Bus Advertisements -- Justifiable Desperate Measures

Jim Bird is running HB 199, a bill that would allow school districts to sell advertisements on the side of school buses. There has been some relatively calm worry about inappropriate advertising by the Eagle Forum, some hyperbole (whore out our children??) along with the good point that this is nothing more than a very, very small band-aid for our painful education budgets, and some rational discussion without taking a very strong stance.

I can see the concerns, but to me, the positive impact, especially on transportation budgets (here are two of the weirder stories among many resulting from bus routes being cut), outweighs the vague worries of negative influences. Our school runs Channel 1 News every day with commercials included. I strangely find myself agreeing with the take of a Daily Herald editorial about the many commercial influences already in schools, not even mentioning the silly companies we associate ourselves with for fundraising sales -- chocolates, gift wrap, magazines, and a plethora of discount cards. That is until the last sentence of the editorial containing yet another swipe at public schools which equates school bus advertising with "innovation in school funding."

I am OK with this bill because over 13,000 new students got sent to school this year without being funded. Governor Herbert "hopes" to fund the over 32,000 additional students projected over the next two years while the legislature is rumbling about funding only a portion of those incoming students ("Not funding incoming students" is a politically smoother way to phrase things than saying "We plan to cut the public education budget"). Various schools are in danger of losing their accredited status because too many teachers have student loads of more than 180 students while I am teaching classes of 36 to 38 students without enough room for that many desks and a total load of over 250 students. I would venture to say that excluding special education teachers, every full-time teacher in an Alpine District high school or junior high is teaching more than 180 students. It's just not every school's year to be accredited so we haven't been caught yet.

It is acceptable to me to sell the space on the side of buses because we are desperate, not because cutting education funding and then allowing districts to beg for scraps is "innovative."


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wimmer’s Tuition Tax Credits = Vouchers = Dutch Sandwich for rich

Of course meaning that the vast majority of taxpayers get the “other” sandwich…

This was appropriately the Dilbert cartoon in the paper the day I first read about Rep. Wimmer’s renamed voucher scheme. He’s backed off now so he can reduce the ammo against him in a run for congress, but I think his rationale was funny.

Wimmer apparently tweeted that it would be “cruel and indefensible” to oppose his scheme because it was going to help children. (The Daily Herald used the same reasoning in their predictable editorial in support of his proposal. It would be fun to count how many times this legislative session Wimmer or the Herald condemn “bleeding heart liberals” using the same rationale to argue for something they oppose.) Then Wimmer backed off on running the bill because “it would be negligent for me to move forward with an idea I came up with myself…” when others have great ideas too, so he’s instead starting an online discussion group.

So it was cruel and indefensible to not help the children two days ago, but now it would be negligent to run this wonderful idea I supposedly just cooked up in my basement. Wimmer’s hyperbole seems to be a habit, and we all know Mr. Big Idea was just going to run a boiler-plate, tuition tax credit plan he got forwarded to him from The Eagle Forum or The Heartland Institute.

Bottom line:
1. Tuition tax credits, depending on how the law is written, could possibly take even more money out of the public system than a voucher. If rich donors give $10,000 to pay tuition for rich friends’ children and get a credit for that, that’s $10,000 taken straight out of education. The state constitution dictates that all income tax goes directly to education and the taxes paid on that $10,000 would have been considerably less than $10,000, so the donor gets 20 times more public education funding removed from his/her bill than they would have paid on the money they donated. (5% flat tax of $10,000 = $500…Donor saves 20 times that, all straight from income tax, and the $500 dollars they would have paid gets saved too.) If there were a cap on the credit, many/most donors would only pay to that limit, and the fact the donor gets a credit 20 times larger than the taxes they would have paid on that money holds true whatever the amount.

2. Carl Wimmer is a blowhard.