Center for Educational Progress Newsletter — March 24, 2011

1. The Nature of Modularity

By Daniel E. Witte

Sutherland Institute applies the FARM paradigm (Flexibility, Accountability, Representation and Modularity) to assess particular educational proposals and laud Jefferson Charter Schools. Here we consider the nature of Modularity.

Modularity means that government schools should design classes and programs to allow portability, transferability, interchange and efficient interfacing between government schools and other government schools, and also between government and non-government schools. In today’s increasingly mobile society – where credit hours, transient populations, and a computer-based society give rise to some practical logistical issues not present to the same extent in Jefferson’s era – students, parents, and teachers in one system should be able to easily transfer credit or program participation between various institutions on a sequential or concurrent basis.

For example, a private school student should be able to efficiently transfer credits to a government school; a home-educated student should be able to utilize sports and foreign language programs in a government school without full enrollment; and a student who wants to transfer from one government Jefferson Charter School should be able to transfer to another government Jefferson Charter School with a very different focus. State colleges should admit alternative educators without disadvantage or delay; accept streamlined transfers from other state colleges; and accommodate efficient full-credit transfers from private, out-of-state, and foreign institutions of higher learning.

Modularity allows students to sample different educational programs and transfer between them, enjoy educational freedom, and still accumulate adequate progress toward modern accredited recognitions. This expands students’ opportunities to discover and consume services of most interest to them from a wide range of offerings. Institutions with modularity can be more flexible and coordinate with other educational programs to provide a better set of experiences and options than would otherwise be possible. Continuous incremental improvement in the design of organizations, programs, and curriculum can occur as different modular systems interact and generate ongoing feedback for everyone.

There is, of course, a tension between the elements of “Flexibility” and “Modularity.” Parents and officials of a local government school could, in theory, wish to structure their local program to exclude others and make transfers or admissions impractical. Ultimately, however, government schools have certain public obligations to fulfill because of the tax support they receive and the government imprimatur they enjoy.

Government schools, libraries, and community recreation centers fulfill a welfare purpose. As a society, we attempt to afford an opportunity for basic education to those families who voluntarily choose to utilize public resources. Helping people help themselves – especially children from low-income backgrounds – expands the tax base and minimizes the ranks of those who might otherwise require tax-funded imprisonment, institutionalization or public assistance. Government schools that truly serve the public are unlikely to be as exclusive or excellent as top private schools, but that is acceptable so long as public institutions fulfill their welfare mandate by providing a solid, adequate education to students (current quality typically fails to meet minimum standards). The access and transfer opportunities afforded by modularity are essential to the welfare and parens patriae roles.

Modularity is also vital for students of all backgrounds who are wanderers or late bloomers. Some students struggle to find their course in life and need to try several majors or programs before they find something appropriate to their talents. Other students – especially young mothers – discontinue their formal educations for a time in order to raise families. Government schools at all levels should, within reason, strive to implement administrative policies and degree programs designed to assist these students achieve graduation. Often this can be done by allowing efficient transfer of credits from other institutions and across majors; avoiding unnecessarily strict deadlines for the use of older credit hours; allowing students to test out of certain subjects; affording distance learning options; and offering some flexible, limited-credit liberal-art degree programs that will qualify for final graduation.

For many students and employers, a college degree is valued primarily as an achievement representing a certain level of self-discipline, broad-based knowledge and intellectual acumen. Many employers are not concerned about what a student studied in college, so long as the student’s degree exhibits an ability to successfully participate in job training. It may make sense to insist that a computer scientist major take recent programming courses to stay abreast of breakneck technological developments, for example, but the need to be equally strict for basic history or algebra credits is far less compelling.

Discrimination on the basis of criteria such as, for example, race or religion, is also incompatible with the legal and policy mandate of a government school. In Utah, the most common form of open discrimination has been exhibited against alternative educators. Until recently, many government officials felt comfortable discriminating against alternative educators by denying them use of tax-supported facilities, including public libraries, community recreation centers, government-school athletic programs, driver’s license training, and government-school extracurricular activities. These government employees were willing to deny access even when it was obvious that alternative educators paid taxes to fund the facilities, alternative education students were otherwise qualified to participate, the best interest of the alternative education students obviously weighed in favor of participation, and the students were participating in alternative education due to their personal religious or cultural heritage.

In the last 20 years, Utah has made tremendous strides enhancing modularity. Laws and regulations have been promulgated to permit transfer credit from private schools; afford driver’s education, athletic, and other extracurricular programs to non-government school students from private and home schools; establish distance learning opportunities; facilitate efficient transfer of credits between Utah’s various colleges; allow partial enrollment; utilize placement tests; and allow, but not require, standardized testing of non-government school students. Efforts are under way to make government-school lesson plans and non-copyrighted materials available to the public.

Many opportunities remain. For instance, Utah should pass a law allowing high school student athletes to freely transfer between government-school athletic programs during the offseason without incurring ineligibility for an entire season.

The author is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress.


2. Sutherland Is Hiring

Sutherland is seeking to hire a manager of donor relations and a multimedia reporter.

Manager of Donor Relations

Sutherland Institute seeks a manager of donor relations to reach out to our growing network of supporters across the nation. This role will report to the director of development.

The manager of donor relations will:

•Work closely with the director of development and senior leadership team to implement an integrated fundraising strategy, including individual, foundation and corporate supporters
•Identify and develop long-term relationships with existing supporters and key prospects
•Solicit current and prospective donors for financial support for SI
•Interact with donors through telephone calls, one-on-one visits, and written correspondence to keep them informed of our work
•Utilize fundraising database to ensure current data on donors, gifts, and prospects
•Track progress and analyze results

The ideal candidate will have the following attributes:

•Entrepreneurial spirit and ability to be a self-starter
•One to three years of experience in fundraising
•Experience interacting with individual donors preferred, but not required
•Notable relationship building skills and an outgoing, friendly personality
•Excellent communication skills, in particular, writing skills
•Ability to multi-task, organize numerous moving parts of a project, and meet deadlines
•Deep understanding of and commitment to the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility
•Experience with databases and basic Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook
•Ability to travel on a regular basis
•Bachelor’s degree

This position will require travel throughout Utah. Expected travel: up to 60 percent at times. This is a full-time position with a full benefits package.

Interested candidates should submit a résumé and a cover letter that details their philosophical interest in the organization’s mission to Sutherland Institute at The cover letter should include salary preferences.

Multimedia Reporter

Sutherland Institute seeks a full-time multimedia reporter to use video journalism to create easy-to-understand, brief and interesting policy reports. This role will report to Sutherland’s director of communications.

Sutherland’s objective is to use video journalism to educate Utahns about how state and local governments affect their lives.

Preferred Attributes

•Journalistic instincts; ability to identify and develop good stories
•Strong work ethic
•Knowledge of video equipment and editing software
•Good writing skills and the ability to create a compelling story
•Mature interpersonal communications skills
•Ability to multitask, organize numerous moving parts of a project, and meet deadlines
•Deep understanding of and commitment to conservative principles and solutions
•Bachelor’s degree

This is an entry-level, full-time position with a full benefits package.

Interested candidates should submit a résumé and a cover letter that details their philosophical interest in the organization’s mission to Sutherland Institute at The cover letter should include salary preferences.