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.


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