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.]


Dear Karen said...

Thank you so much for going to the trouble of posting your notes. They were extremely helpful, and I will be checking in to see what other committee meetings you transcribe here. (Incidentally, I am strongly in favor of SB 65. One of the reasons is that I base my political decisions not on whether the legislation will produce a desired result, but on whether the legislation puts decision-making power in the proper hands. I like to see more power in the hands of parents rather than the state, especially on education issues. Again, thanks so much for your work.)

Ernest Smith said...

Hello! I am the Director of the Open HS of Utah and read your blog post recently. We are working on revamping our Web site so check back toward the first of the year for better, more intuitive information. So far the school is doing extremely well. Nice to E-meeting.