Purpose Statement

Ad mo ne o - Latin, verb. To admonish, advise, urge.

Here you'll find a review of what's happening in Utah government - state, counties, school boards, & cities, with a focus on education - as well as what Utah's U.S. Congressmen and Senators are doing. You'll get my take on it, find links to other sources of information, and find suggestions and contact info so you can DO something. Being involved in local government is key to maintaining freedom. Find something you can do and, no matter how small, DO IT! As British philosopher Edmund Burke said, "No man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Utah State Office of Education Endorses New Anti-American AP History Framework

Today at the meeting of the Legislature's Education Task Force, the Utah State Office of Education recommended that Utah adopt the new A.P. History framework recently released by the College Board. The new framework has been decried by teachers and organizations all over the country for its anti-American tilt.

The USOE stated at the meeting that the new framework "is merely a framework, with the important and essential details to be added by teachers." Sounds a lot like the official line for Common Core: "They're just standards. Teachers still get to choose curriculum." I suppose that's not surprising, given that the man who's the "architect of Common Core," David Coleman, is also now the president of the College Board.

As for the USOE's assertion that teachers get to fill in the details as they like, it seems to forget that AP teachers have always been in the business of preparing their students to take the AP exam. If something is not emphasized in the framework/syllabus/guidelines they work from, they take a risk by spending time on it - a risk that their students' scores will suffer.

The new History framework has been decried by decorated AP History teacher Larry Krieger (also see here), the Republican National Committee, National Review writer Stanley Kurtz, and education senior fellow of Robert P. George's American Principles Project Jane Robbins. Texas just rejected the framework last week.

To get a feel for the direction of things, take a look at the sample test released by the College Board, as well as the Course and Exam DescriptionThen you can begin to draw your own conclusions. 

There appears to be plenty of cause for concern that the Utah State Office of Education is willing to embrace this changed framework.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Utah GOP Delegates Overwhelmingly Support Partisan Elections for School Boards

At the Utah Republican Party State Convention today, delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for partisan races for school board races. Current procedure is non-partisan races for local school board seats, and a bizarre process of "vetting" by an appointed committee and the Governor for the State Board of Education.

The resolution, submitted by education activist Oak Norton, was vigorously opposed by organizations representing the education establishment, who have the only well-organized network in the state capable of vetting candidates and motivating people to vote for chosen ones under a non-partisan system. This leaves them with an unusual amount of power in school board elections. It's an unhealthy amount of power, if you believe in active voter participation.

It's well known that school board races are among the least followed by the general public, which isn't surprising given that under a non-partisan structure, they have no efficient way to figure out who they are and where they really stand. Establishing partisan elections would provide two additional well-organized state networks to vet candidates and motivate voters - the Democrat and Republican parties. 

Partisan elections for school board races will increase voter participation, and greatly increase the connection of elected board members to their constituency. Let's hope the members of the legislature heed the call of delegates, whose support for today's resolution was so strong, it only required a voice vote.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

HB 131 - The "Nine Keys" to Successful Implementation

As discussion about HB 131, the bill to implement 1-to-1 mobile devices in Utah's public schools, continues on Capitol Hill, there has been mention of "doing the right things" in implementing such an initiative. To my knowledge, the specifics of these things haven't been thoroughly discussed publicly.

It appears a major driver - if not the main driver - behind this initiative is an organization called Project RED, so it's reasonable to conclude that the suggestions made by that organization for "doing the right things" are those to which legislators are referring. In the case of Project RED, it recommends "Nine Keys" to successful implementation of a 1-to-1 initiative.

For those skeptical about or opposed to the idea of local schools giving every child a tablet or laptop, these "right things" will likely confirm a sense of skepticism or opposition. For those supportive of local schools providing a device to every child, the "Nine Key Implementation Factors" may raise a bit of concern.

These Keys are discussed thoroughly in the document "The Technology Factor:
  1.  Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class period.
  2. Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
  3. Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (games/simulations and social media).
  4. Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently.
  5. Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly.
  6. Student-computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes.
  7. Virtual field trips: With more frequent use, virtual trips are more powerful. The best schools do these at least monthly.
  8. Search engines: Students use daily.
  9. Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices, and technology-transformed learning.
1. It would seem that more 1-on-1 teacher time would be more beneficial for a student in an intervention class than more 1-on-1 computer time.

2. It's highly troublesome that we are facilitating a "fundamental shift" in education, surrounded by an atmosphere of crisis and urgency that makes most people embrace such a shift. Why must teachers and principals, parents and lawmakers, always be marketed to under this new system? 

3. Are state leaders really advocating DAILY games and social media use by students as young as 1st grade? 

4. How will this look? Will students read books on tablets? Is this really the best use of technology, or the best thing for young developing eyes?

5. WEEKLY assessments?! Yikes! I recognize that they may be short and easily built in to the curriculum, but do we have to keep testing kids as if they're some sort of factory product in a quality control process? 

6. We're considering the lowest ratio possible.

7. This one isn't clear. Does it mean that 1.) visual field trips can be powerful if used frequently, or that 2.) the more a child uses a device, the more powerful a visual field trip is? The first - doing a virtual field trip once per month - sounds great. But the second doesn't. It would mean, "The less experience with the real world a child has, the more satisfied he is with just seeing pictures and movies about things."

8. DAILY search engine use? That would necessitate daily device use.

9. Once again, marketing to principals and teachers.

Perhaps I misunderstand what the "right steps schools need to take for proper implementation" are. If so, I welcome a correction. But it appears these 9 Keys will be part of a "successful implementation plan."

At the beginning of the referenced document, there is a featured quote: 
"Project RED is nothing less than a blueprint for remaking American education—second-order change—not through more or better testing, charter schools, longer school days, more or even better teachers, but through fundamentally altering how we do education, the first real change in the process of education itself in a thousand years."
So what is "second-order change?" 
Second-order change is deciding – or being forced – to do something significantly or fundamentally different from what we have done before. The process is irreversible: once you begin, it is impossible to return to the way you were doing before. (From the National Academy for Academic Leadership.)
Has the unique and transforming role of teachers changed so much; has the nature of children's development changed so much; has human nature changed so much; have the basic needs and goals of human existence changed so much, that we need to leave everything behind so that we can never return?

HB 131 has good intentions behind it, but at its core, it's "radical" change. It's expensive radical change. There are too many unknowns about the effect of so much tech use on children's development, and too many knowns about the interests driving this overhaul, and the cascade of other education overhauls we've seen in the past four years.

Let's put the brakes on this idea, step away from the fast-moving "gotta have tech now or the kids will all become panhandlers!" train, and put more focused thought into the proper role of technology in education.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mostly-Good Bill - SB 131 - Needs an Important Change

A mostly-good bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee last Friday, with a small line that could create big problems. If passed, the bill could push some schools to start focusing on "absenteeism." This is concerning, and the bill should be amended to fix this problem. (For a brief discussion of the problems with a focus on "absenteeism" rather than "truancy," read my blog post written last year in response to a legislative attempt to codify this focus in Utah.)

SB 131 is a bill that makes some clarifying changes to the Student Leadership Grant, a great program established last year that encourages schools to help their students set goals and develop other leadership skills. This year's bill creates a definition for what is meant in the law by "academic achievement." There's much to like about this program and this bill, but tying the grant to improved attendance numbers as an academic measure is an approach that is rife with problems.

If a school is under pressure to improve its attendance numbers in order to maintain a grant that is having a decidedly positive effect on its students, that pressure will necessarily be passed on to the families at the school, even when students' absences don't have any effect on a student's academic achievement. Such pressure can strain relationships between school staff and parents, which is never beneficial for students.

If individual schools feel improved attendance would be an important element in improving the environment at their school, they should be free to focus on it. But the penalty of state law threatening the revocation of grant money should not be used to apply a mandate to schools participating in this great program.

Line 82 in SB 131 should be changed to "truancy," or deleted, to make this mostly-good bill a very good bill.

Update: The sponsor of SB 131, Aaron Osmond, has said he will introduce an amendment to this bill to change the word "attendance" to "truancy," which will resolve the problem. Please contact your state senator and ask them to support the amendment to change Line 82 from "attendance" to "truancy," and the amended bill.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Common Core Standards We're Not Talking About

Yesterday, the Women's Legislative Council of Utah County hosted a presentation on Common Core. State School Board member Dixie Allen and former Alpine School District board member Mark Clement presented arguments for supporting the Core, while mother Alyson Williams and BYU math professor David Wright presented arguments for opposing it.

Williams has shared the text of her presentation - below - and the video of the meeting will be posted as soon as it's available.

The Common Core Standards We're Not Talking About

We’ve heard that with Common Core we’re just setting higher standards for learning, right? Why would a mom who wants the very best for her children be against that?

We are a community with high standards for all kinds of things, not just education. Standards can be examples, expectations, models, patterns, or precedents to follow or measure oneself against.

Keeping those synonyms in mind I’d like to talk about the standards we’ve set for our children in the course of adopting the Common Core. You may be surprised to learn that we have set new standards not only for Math and English, but also for how public education is governed.

At the beginning of Obama’s first term, our Congress passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also known as “the Stimulus” which included $100 Billion dollars for education. At the time major newspapers buzzed about the unprecedented power of assigning this much money to the discretion of the Education Secretary with virtually no congressional oversight. From the Stimulus came the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Race to the Top grant programs, that enabled the Department of Ed to set rules for education, in exchange for the money – rules that normally would be determined by the States themselves under the 10th Ammendment.  

This 36 page document, “The Road to a National Curriculum”, was written by two former top lawyers for the US Department of Education. In it they offer an analysis of how these reforms violate three Federal laws. They conclude, “The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.”  (p.18)

Using taxpayer money from the stimulus to implement reforms that weaken the State’s autonomy over education is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Proponents of these reforms like to point out that adopting these reforms was a legitimate exercise of state’s rights because the development of the standards was led by the Governors at the National Governors Association. The problem is, the Utah State Constitution does not grant authority over education to our Governor. Furthermore, there is no such thing in the U.S. Constitution as a council of governors. Comparing best practices is one thing, but Governors working together to jointly address issues and create rules that affect the whole nation is not a legitimate alternative to Congress, our national representative body. The organizations that introduced Common Core to our nation, state-by-state, had no constitutional commission to do what they did.

Allowing rules for education to be set by those with no authority to do so is not a high enough standard for me or my children.

The Governor didn’t decide on his own that Utah would adopt these reforms. The agreements were also signed by the State Superintendent acting in behalf of the State School Board. The Utah Constitution does give authority to the State School Board to set academic standards. It does not say that they can outsource a role we entrusted to them to a non-governmental trade organization who outsourced it to another group of hand-picked experts. This is called “delegation” and it has been established in legal precedent (three cases cited on this slide prepared by the USOE – slide 24 USBE rebuttal) to be unconstitutional.

Elected officials delegating a job we entrusted to them to a body outside the jurisdiction of state oversight is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

The official USOE pamphlet on the Common Core adoption says that the State School Board “monitored this process.” But Dane Linn, who was the education director for the NGA at the time the standards were being written, stated, All of the standards writing and discussions were sealed by confidentiality agreements, and held in private.” There were no meeting minutes, no public records, no obligation by the lead writers to even respond to the input of anyone who submitted it, including any input from our school board. As a parent and a taxpayer, this process cuts me out completely.

As citizens of a self-governing Republic, this non-representative process is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

While this process was different than the way standards have been vetted in the past, the State School Board insists their involvement and review was adequate and that there was time for public input. The USOE published this timeline for adoption of the standards. (USBE slide rebuttal page 22.) Here it says that the summer of 2010 was the public comment period. However, the final draft was not available until June 2, and the Board took their first of two votes to adopt them two days later on June 4. The second and final vote was made a month later, but the first formally announced public comment period I could find was in April of 2012 – 22 months after the Board officially adopted the standards.

No meaningful public input on changes that affect all of our community schools is not a high enough standard for me and my children.
When the Department of Education ran out of grant money to get states to implement their reforms, they offered the states waivers from unpopular requirements of No Child Left Behind that many Utah schools were not anticipated to meet. While the No Child Left Behind law did grant limited authority to the Department of Education to waive certain conditions, it did not grant them authority to require new conditions in exchange. 

This increasingly common habit of the executive branch to waive laws and replace them with their own rules, as if they held the lawmaking authority assigned to Congress, is not an acceptable standard for me and my children.

This is not the only example of the Department of Education overstepping their authority. In order for States to collect the individual student data required by these reforms, the US Department of Ed altered the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act weakening the protection of parental control over sharing student data. Both the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Fordham University’s Center for Law and Information Policy have written briefs charging that the Education Department acted illegally.

Unelected officials gutting laws that were established by Congress to protect my family’s privacy is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Ever since we started down the road of adopting Common Core, in fact, I’ve noticed a much greater influence over education by unelected special interests. In an article published in the Washington Post in May, for example, it was estimated that the Gates Foundation has spent at least $150 million dollars to fund and promote Common Core.

A July 2010 Business Week cover story on Bill Gates quotes Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy saying, “As a private entity that doesn’t answer to voters,Gates can back initiatives that are politically dicey for the Obama Administration, such as uniform standards … In the past, states’ rights advocates have blocked federal efforts for a national curriculum. Gates ‘was able to do something the federal government couldn’t do.”

When one very rich man has a greater influence over the direction of public education than parents, teachers and local communities that sets an unacceptable standard for “we the people,” for me, and for my children.

What is the justification for pushing these reforms through, bypassing the checks and balances of our established legal framework? We have to do it we are told so that our children will be “career and college ready.” 

The Govenor, on his webpage for education, says we need to implement these reforms to “align educational training to meet the workforce demands of the marketplace.” 

To me, all of these workforce goals seem to imply that the highest aim of education is work. Historically, the purpose of American education was to nurture the development of self-governing citizens, with work being incidental to that development. This nation has uniquely thrived according to the principle that a free market with good people pursuing their own dreams works better than attempts at centrally regulated markets with efficiently trained workers.

Being an efficient employee in a job that matches a data profile collected by the state from cradle to career is not a high enough standard for education, not for my children.

Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of publicly funded education. He saw literate citizens educated in history and principles of good government as a necessary condition of maintaining liberty. He said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

How tragically ironic if in the very name of public education we end up eroding those very safeguards of liberty that he championed.

My opposition to the way we’ve adopted Common Core (and the rest of the education reforms introduced in the Stimulus) is not just about the education of my children, it is about the type of government I hope my children will inherit when they have children of their own. I believe we can set high standards for math and english without circumventing, stretching, or ignoring the high standards for self government that have made our nation unique in all the history of the world. This is the Constitution of the United States of America. 

These standards ARE high enough for me, and my children.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Alpine Parent Society Launches

Those who follow the blog know I have a special interest in education issues. I also have a passion for getting ordinary people involved in their government. Combining these two interests of mine, I've gotten together with a couple of other moms and launched the Alpine Parent Society.

Our goal is to help facilitate community awareness of and involvement in the governance of Alpine School District. We aim to do it by organizing so that there is always a lay citizen in attendance at Board Meetings and Study Sessions.

ASD does a number of things well, but it has also fallen in line with most of the educational trends of the day, for better or worse. I believe that our District can step out of the long line of school districts following the exact same path to the exact same mediocre workforce-focused destination, and become an exception - a leader in family-honoring, principle-centered, knowledge-based education. I hope our organization can facilitate feedback to the School Board that will help them see a good way to do just that.

Check out the blog for the Alpine Parent Society, where we have our first two reports published. Even though we're calling it a "Parent Society," we welcome any and all residents of the Alpine School District, regardless of parental status. All you need to do to be part of the group is and commit to attend just one or two School Board meeting per year. Email me or post a comment on this blog or the APS blog to let me know you want to join the effort.

Another note I feel I should make is that right now, the group is heavy on those who share my political and policy philosophy, as I and my co-organizers reached out to friends to get it started. But we heartily welcome people of all perspectives and opinions to be part of this organization. One of the big challenges of a grassroots effort like this is that in welcoming everyone who's interested, you get all stripes and styles. The companion challenge is actually assembling a diverse group - when people disagree, they often don't want to be associated. 

My goal with the APS is to get all kinds of people with all kinds of opinions to participate, get familiar with their elected officials and administrators, and report things as they see them, the good and the bad. It will help the District and Board get a feel for the variety of views held by their constituents, and hopefully help all of us constituents better understand how governance of the District works, as well as have patient respect for each others' views. 

The next Board meeting and Study Session are on September 10. We'd love to have you there!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Abusing Basic Rights through School Attendance Laws - Nebraska Case Studies

My friend and popular Common Core blogger Christel Swasey shared on her blog today the following article, which I wrote about the anti-family trend in school attendance laws sweeping the nation. Her posting of it, including her insightful commentary, can be found here: Compulsory Education's Unforseen Consequences: Nebraska Case Studies.

Abusing Basic Rights through School Attendance Laws: Nebraska Case Studies

12-year-old Lucas Maynard and his parents found themselves in truancy court last week. Lucas’ offense? He got sick too much this year. The punishment? They're still waiting to find out, but the judge has informed him that removal from his parents’ custody is a possibility.

All around the country, there is a quiet assault on families taking place. In the name of “helping children,” state laws and school district attendance policies are being altered to draw thousands of innocent children into the juvenile justice system and wave the heavy threat of state force and social services intervention over the heads of ordinary good parents.

Innocent children whose crimes amount to being frequently ill, or struggling with mental health issues such as autism, or being the victim of bullying, are being hauled into court, coerced into lengthy “diversion programs,” threatened with removal from the custody of their parents, actually removed from the custody of their parents, and in other ways terrified and treated like criminals. Their families are being put through the wringer with unpaid time from work for court dates, costs for attorney fees, and fear of state intervention in their families.

Untold numbers of other families are being frightened into doing everything possible to avoid entanglement in this system, including sending their kids to school sick and cancelling family travel. It is happening in states all over the country – I personally know of cases in Indiana, Texas, and Wyoming, with particular knowledge of what is happening in Nebraska because of personal involvement.

Here’s how it’s been playing out in Nebraska. In 2010, motivated by an attempt to get points on its Race to the Top application, the Nebraska legislature passed a law at the request of the Governor which effectively took away the right of a parent to excuse her child from school. The new law required schools to report kids to law enforcement if they had more than 20 days of absence – for any reason at all. Nebraska could get more points on its application by having a plan in place to increase attendance. All states were able to earn more points for implementing more oppressive attendance laws.

At the same time, school districts started tightening up their attendance policies, disallowing excuses for family travel or time home with seriously ill family or military parents on leave from deployment. Before the change, Nebraska applied the reasonable and widely-used standard of reporting kids with unexcused absences – those whose parents hadn’t accounted for their whereabouts.

Where once state law, school district policies, and public officials worked to reduce truancy – kids missing school without their parents’ permission (a.k.a. “skipping”) – the focus is shifting to reducing absences of any kind. The shift is leaving untold collateral damage in its wake, including the relationships between school administrators and the parents they serve. And it’s shifting our culture to embrace the “state knows best” mindset, minimizing the authority of parents and giving far too much power to state officials to decide what’s “best” for individual children. It’s also generating a lot of business for the social service industry.

Last week, the story of the Maynards – referred to above – became the latest in a long list of such stories out of Nebraska. Their story highlights much of what’s wrong with the “brave new approach” to school attendance that’s sweeping the nation. Lucas experienced a lot of illness – plus two days of impassable winter roads in rural Nebraska – during the past school year. This innocent offense landed him in court, forced to sit away from his parents between the prosecutor and the guardian ad litem assigned to him, listening in terror as the judge informed him that one of the consequences of his absences from school could be removal from his parents’ custody. (Children are assigned a guardian ad litem in cases of alleged abuse or neglect. So the state of Nebraska has implied that the Maynards committed abuse or neglect by keeping their son home when he was ill and when the roads were too dangerous to travel!)

The Maynards’ entire story can be read at the Nebraska Family Forum blog. Unfortunately, it’s only one of hundreds if not thousands of such cases, and that’s just in Nebraska. The toll around the country is much higher, with many cases even more egregious, such as this one involving a 9-year-old in Wyoming.

If you see attendance policies and laws like this, don’t wait a day to contact your local school boards and state legislators. They need to hear the message that laws and policies must protect the fundamental right that parents have to make decisions for their children. For those who are lucky enough to live in states and districts where this approach hasn’t been implemented yet, watch your legislature and local board meetings like a hawk! Proponents of this approach to school attendance are pushing the “state knows what’s best for each child” approach all over the country, including here in Utah this last session.

It’s another piece – an especially frightening piece – of the education reform puzzle that is shaping up all over the country.

More stories from Nebraska
A quiet middle-schooler with severe allergies is sent to the county attorney, forced to submit to a drug test without her parents’ knowledge, made to feel like a criminal, and ends up attending school when sick, staying in a quiet room where she naps and eats lunch – just so they can count her present.

A mother decides to homeschool her 3rd-grade daughter for the last few weeks of the school year after school officials fail to deal with her bullies and she gets beaten with a stick on the way home from school. Because she doesn’t waited to receive official notice of approval from the state – her daughter was in imminent physical danger – when she comes back the next year she is reported to law enforcement, made a ward of the state, and her mother is placed on the child abuse and neglect list.

The story of a 15-year-old boy with autism shows how families who already struggle with unique challenges are abused and put through further suffering by the state of Nebraska and its school districts.

A well-liked honor roll student with seasonal asthma is forced into a “diversion program.” Diversion from what? Asthma? The solution the following year is that when she is too sick to go to school, her parents must bring her to school so the school nurse can verify the parents’ judgment.

What You Can Do:
Know your state representative and state senator, as well as your local school board representatives. Keep an eye on the legislature when it's in session and on school board meetings, and be prepared to speak up if you see something that concerns you, or something that pleases you. Our representatives need our positive feedback when they are considering something we like as much as they need our negative feedback when the situation calls for it.