Maturation, online learning and other education tidbits

The Utah State Board of Education met today for its monthly meeting. Here are a few tidbits and observations from the meeting:

1. The board approved a motion to apply rules related to sex education (parental consent, local curriculum committee, etc.) to “maturation” programs in elementary schools.  Previously, the state had no official rules regarding maturation. The board will still allow local school boards to determine what curriculum is used in their schools.

My thoughts: Requiring all schools to obtain parental consent is a good idea, and allowing local school boards to determine what is “age-appropriate” for students is better than imposing on all schools a one-size-fits-all curriculum, especially given that the state only recently removed its endorsement of Planned Parenthood’s maturation curriculum. However, this also means that parents need to actively communicate to their local school board what type of maturation curriculum they think is appropriate for their children.

2. Debra G. Roberts, chair of the board, urged board members to continue to convey to state legislators that the number of education bills (62) passed during the 2011 legislative session is “ludicrous” and that many of the bills passed go “way beyond” the purview of the Legislature’s authorized role in public education.

My thoughts: Perhaps the Legislature should exercise more restraint regarding some K-12 policy measures, but, in the end, the Legislature does have authority to make any laws it wishes regarding public education. In a 2001 ruling, the Utah Supreme Court said the following:

“From the common and ordinary understanding of the plain language of the Utah Constitution, it is clear that the State Board has been vested with the authority to direct and manage all aspects of the public education system in accordance with the laws made by the legislature. This must include not only the laws regarding the public elementary and secondary schools, but also the laws regarding any other schools and programs that the legislature designates as part of the public education system.”

3. The Instruction, Support, and Technology Committee discussed whether a teacher who creates instructional materials should be allowed to share them with other schools (public or private) or take them elsewhere for personal use. Members of the committee did not know how intellectual property law addresses materials produced using public funds, but it seems, to me, that any materials created using tax dollars should be available for any public or private use.

4. The full board discussed how to fund and count credits for online education. For example, if a student wants to take more online courses than the state can pay for through its traditional funding mechanism, then who will pay for the courses, and will they count toward graduation?

My thoughts: This question illustrates the challenge the traditional public school system faces in adapting to innovative forms of schooling like online education. It also shows how the idea of “seat time” is outdated and how more innovative ideas can give students flexibility by allowing them to learn at their own pace and in a way that best suits their needs and interests.

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