Little girl living in poverty.

Tackling intergenerational poverty at Utah’s Legislature

How can Utah encourage the private sector to help children in intergenerational poverty?

HB 24 offers the hope to children in intergenerational poverty that their parents’ poverty and a lack of savings will not dash their dreams of a college education,” said Christine Cooke, Sutherland Institute education policy analyst. “By encouraging self-reliance and private donations to college savings accounts for children in intergenerational poverty, this legislation ensures that children who overcome the significant educational barriers of intergenerational poverty will get a chance at a successful life through higher education.”

How can public education meet the unique educational needs of children in intergenerational poverty?

HB 168 is good policy because it requires extended-day kindergarten program to meet the unique early childhood needs of children in intergenerational poverty, who need these programs the most,” Cooke said. “While research shows that the effectiveness of expanding kindergarten for all children is questionable, it also shows that it is most effective for the most-at-risk children. In Utah, that is clearly children in intergenerational poverty.”

How can Utah make it easier to escape intergenerational poverty?

HB 294 is good policy because it tears down barriers to a person in intergenerational poverty once they have prepared themselves for a life of self-reliance through academic success and are ready to pursue full-time employment,” said Sutherland Institute director of public policy Derek Monson. “The transition from inherited poverty to sustainable employment has enough personal, cultural and social barriers for those in intergenerational poverty without adding to that an income tax policy that takes away some of the financial reward of working. This legislation sends the message that Utah intends to help those in intergenerational poverty help themselves out of poverty, whenever they are able and ready to make that transition.”

How can Utah connect our best teachers to children in poverty?

“Good teachers deserve to be rewarded, and HB 212 forwards that value while sending the message that it is not how long you last in the classroom, but how well you perform that defines good teaching,” said Cooke, who is also a former teacher in Utah’s public schools. “This legislation also ensures that we are connecting our best teachers to the children who need them the most – children living in poverty. HB 212 is good policy because it constructively engages education leaders in re-thinking the teaching profession – both pay and morale – and fills a resource gap for Utah’s most-at-risk children.”

Utah State Capitol Building  in Black and White

Testimony in favor of Senate Bill 196 (Health Education Amendments)

Statement as prepared by William C. Duncan, senior fellow at Sutherland Institute, who testified in favor of SB 196 – Health Education Amendments, on Feb. 21, 2017, before the Senate Education Committee of the Utah Legislature:

The core policy of Utah as it relates to sex education today recognizes that marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual activity and that this subject is best understood when parents are highly involved in that education. If Senate Bill 196 were approved, that would still be the policy of the state.

So, what would change? The state would not be singling out an identifiable group in the statute. That would mean, practically, that the state would not be vulnerable to a lawsuit challenging that provision, which under current Supreme Court precedent, might invite federal court micromanagement of Utah’s curriculum.

Sutherland’s Education Vision

Reform requires vision. Leaders who want to transform education must know where they want to go and why they want to go there. They spread their vision by elevating public dialogue to the level of values, principles and ideals – the “attainment of the highest things.” They avoid the temptation to only oppose bad ideas without offering bold new ones, recognizing that without the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the Boston Tea Party would not have been even a footnote in history. To this end, Sutherland Institute offers its vision for education: how we view human learning, what we believe to be the purpose of education, and what education should look like once it is transformed.

Read our complete Education Vision!

A senior female teacher is looking very happy to be packing up the classroom for the end of the school day.

Testimony regarding SB 78 (Teacher Pedagogical Assessment)

Testimony written by Christine Cooke and given by Stan Rasmussen on Jan. 27 the Senate Education Standing Committee regarding SB 78 (Teacher Pedagogical Assessment):

Thank you, members of the committee. I’m Stan Rasmussen with Sutherland Institute, speaking on behalf of Christine Cooke, our education policy analyst (who is currently meeting in a CBE meeting at the USOE).

Sutherland Institute supports alternative routes to licensure. Last year, we publicly supported Academic Pathways to Teaching (APT). We want APT to be successful and legitimized through good policy. We believe that a pedagogical assessment for educators, including individuals using APT is good policy. At the same, we do not want a pedagogical assessment to change the unique character of APT – a truly alternative route to licensure.

Both policies can be accomplished by including in SB 78 language that clarifies what a “performance based” assessment can include and cannot include. For instance, a definition could clarify that a performance-based pedagogical assessment could include but not be limited to classroom observation and student outcomes. It should not include any form of written assessment that would require additional coursework. We believe this bill needs to be strengthened by including a definition for “performance based” so that politics in the future does not overcome the intent of this statutory language. We would be happy to work with committee members on specific language to amend the bill.

Three kids walking in autumn autumn beech forest. Kids are wearing backpacks and are either hiking or going to school.

Unsure about school choice? Here’s why it matters

By Davi Johnson

This week is National School Choice Week. President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is an adamant proponent of school choice and has brought significant attention to the topic. Many fear these ensuing waves; others are looking forward to the ride; and some may not be sure what to think about school choice. The following is for those who find themselves in the “unsure” category.

School choice is a broad term for allowing parents to choose how their child receives an education. That might be through public, charter, private or home schooling, etc. As you learn about school choice and decide where you stand, here are positive school choice results for your consideration.

  • Test scores increase – Studies show that areas that have allowed more choice in schools have shown significant improvements to reading and math test scores.
  • Parent Satisfaction Increases –While 84 percent of American children attend public school, only 36 percent of parents say that would be their top choice.
  • Teacher Satisfaction – Teachers in public schools are required to comply with certain teaching standards, leaving some of them dissatisfied with the lack of freedom.
  • Graduation rates – Voucher systems in D.C. and Milwaukee (vouchers are one method of allowing parents choice in schools) showed an 18 to 21 percent increase in graduation rates.
  • Crime rates decrease – Children in Milwaukee that were a part of a voucher system in 2005 showed 11 years later a 79 percent reduction in felonies, a 93 percent reduction in drug offenses, and an 87 percent reduction in theft by 2016.
  • Education spending decrease – Education reform could save state and federal government. Public school expenditures per student average 70 percent more than private school tuition costs.

These benefits are noteworthy on their own, but one of the most important outcomes of school choice is that children get an education suited for them – the kind that would allow them to succeed in their own unique way. Allowing parents to choose will help children meet their God-given potential.

School ChoiceSources:

The crowd of best friends

Join us in a ‘Tweet Up’ celebrating #SchoolChoice TODAY!

When it comes to education, students deserve options. No two students are the same. Every student has specific needs, interests and potential. Parents and teachers know this. Students do too. It’s common sense. So why not allow students whatever opportunities will help them meet their unique potential?

Many believe we can do better in offering options to families, which is why a growing nationwide movement celebrates choice in education each January.

At the end of this month—from January 22-28—students, schools and other organizations will participate in National School Choice Week (NSCW). The week is intended to draw public awareness to school choice. Groups across the country will hold rallies and events to celebrate and acknowledge the academic benefits students obtain when they have meaningful options.

Individual learning and human potential is the ultimate purpose of education. At Sutherland Institute, we believe that robust education choice, facilitated by principled public policy, honors this truth.

To celebrate National School Choice Week, Sutherland Institute will participate in a “Tweet Up” on Monday, Jan. 23, between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. The “Tweet Up” is a fully online event where anyone with a Twitter account can retweet or “like” our school choice content to create a virtual rally. Join us on Twitter on Jan. 23 for the hour and be sure to use the hashtag #SchoolChoice!

Here are a few more facts about National School Choice Week:

  • The first National School Choice Week took place in 2011.
  • Last year, 16,745 events were held in the U.S. for School Choice Week.
  • Last year, 27 governors issued state proclamations to recognize School Choice Week.
  • The NSCW is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical celebration.
  • Last year, 20 state Capitol buildings held rallies and events for School Choice Week.

Don’t destroy public education – transform it

We don’t need the destruction of public education; we need a transformation of public education. With an eye toward individualization, every kid down every street in America must have the opportunity to learn in a way that unlocks his or her potential.

I hope you share my exasperation with the strident voices at both ends of the education debate. Those loud and usually shrill voices ensure we all stay a safe distance from actually solving the problems and challenges our education system faces today.

Those who believe that public education is an evil system – are wrong. Those who believe we shouldn’t raise another penny for education – are wrong. Those who believe bureaucrats in Washington and powerful unions have all the answers – are wrong. Those that advocate that more money alone will fix education – are also wrong.

Will we need to invest more money in education? YES! AND – before we make such an investment we should have a serious and elevated conversation about what it is we are building, how we will invest, what we will measure and what we will achieve for our students as a result.

The promise of a renewed and elevated education dialogue rests on two main ideas: (1) Education requires that we meet the unique needs of the child; and (2) education calls for the empowerment of parents, students and taxpayers to create learning paths as unique as each student.

World-renowned expert on disruptive innovation Clayton Christensen of Harvard University recognizes the need for significant disruption at every level of education. He regularly challenges educators, administrators, business leaders, policymakers and parents to engage in a different kind of conversation about what we are trying to accomplish in education.

The impulse to improve education is a noble one, but approach is as important as intent. Some education advocates perennially call for more money in schools. Such a reform sees only half the problem with the status quo and half the opportunity to transform it. Money alone does not create improvement. Sutherland Institute believes that money is only as good as the ideas and innovation it funds.

We should invest – and possibly even increase funds – in ideas and innovation that give students the opportunity to choose an educational path that meets their unique needs. We should not simply invest money in the current system or be satisfied with incremental improvement in a system that is inadequate to meet the needs of 21st-century students.

Teachers and administrators are the champions of education. They work tirelessly to guide students to their potential. On the door to a teachers’ lounge in an elementary school I once read a quote that said, “We the overworked and underpaid have done so much, for so long, with so little that we now believe we can do anything with absolutely nothing.”

Teacher shortages and dissatisfaction has increased in recent years, for a number of reasons. Exhaustion, exasperation and too many talented teachers exiting public education are a result of teachers daily experiencing the frustration of burdensome regulations, extraneous requirements, and a lack of meaningful reform.

It’s time for serious disruptive innovation in education. Education needs big, bold ideas. It needs transparency and accountability. It needs adequate funds focused on the needs of 21st-century students. Education needs leaders, inside and outside of the system, who will question outdated assumptions and engage in a different conversation about where we are, where we are going and what we will need to do to build tomorrow’s education system – beginning today.

I have never met anyone who is satisfied with mediocre results for our students. We may disagree on the methods, policies and processes, but we can all agree that we must put the uniqueness of each child first if we are going to build a public education system that will last.

That is where we must begin. I invite you to join us in an elevated dialogue about the future of education.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Japanese High School Empty Classroom

Op-ed: Facts show Utah schools don’t need a big tax increase

Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a “fib,” the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics.

— Letter to the editor of the National Observer (1891)

This saying should cross our minds when we’re reading public opinion polls, and recent polls suggesting broad support for higher income taxes are a case in point.

It is not uncommon for people to answer one way in a hypothetical poll but act differently in reality. As a recent example, some speculate that many voters nationally voiced support for Hillary Clinton or another candidate to pollsters, but then cast their vote for President-elect Donald Trump. Utah pollsters have repeatedly found high levels of support for Medicaid expansion and income tax hikes, but Utah voters continue to re-elect legislators who oppose these policies.

Perhaps many public opinion polls aren’t all they’re made out to be in the media.

Polls conducted by Dan Jones for Utah Policy on the topic of public school funding have reported that large majorities of Utahns support what is described to them as “a 7/8 of 1 percent increase” in income taxes — an increase that appears minuscule. But the mathematical fact is that raising Utah’s income tax rate by 7/8 of one percentage point (from 5 to 5 7/8 percent) means that the amount of income taxes each Utahn pays goes up by close to 20 percent.

How much the income tax hike would increase Utahns’ income tax liability is, rather oddly, missing from these opinion polls. The omission of such basic information on the issue may lead respondents to believe that the relative financial impact on them is insignificant. Another recent poll, also by Dan Jones and Associates, demonstrated how much language affects results. The clearer it was in a poll question that the respondent would pay more in their own taxes, the less likely they were to support funding increases for public schools.

But there is a silver lining to public opinion polls – even if they don’t present the whole picture. Their publication creates an opportunity to seek for more informed, thoughtful and elevated dialogue on the issue.

When it comes to education funding, dialogue should focus on whether education spending is meeting the unique needs of actual children – not whether we feel good about how many tax dollars are being spent.

Newly released data by the “Nation’s Report Card” (the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) is informative. Utah’s eighth-graders led the nation in science proficiency in 2015; Utah’s fourth-graders significantly trailed only one state in science proficiency. Utah’s eighth-graders were significantly behind only four states and fourth-graders behind only three states in reading proficiency. In math proficiency, the comparable figure was five states for Utah’s eighth-graders and fourth-graders.

In other words, Utah’s elementary and middle-school students are among the nation’s leaders on this test in most basic subjects.

Utah high schoolers also show positive outcomes. Utah’s graduation rate of nearly 85 percent is above the national average. All racial, ethnic and economic subgroups have made graduation gains in recent years, although Utah still needs to close racial and economic graduation rate gaps. Utah leads the nation in the number of students passing an Advanced Placement exam (earning a 3, 4 or 5), with 66 percent of its takers earning those scores compared with the national average at 55.9 percent. Utah high school participation in AP exams jumped 6 percent this year, and since last year there has been a 10 percent jump in students participating who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

There’s always work to be done to make sure our education system is meeting the unique academic needs of every individual, but these facts do not paint a dire picture that calls for a 20 percent hike of Utahns’ state income taxes. This is why Utah’s education funding debate requires a more informed and elevated debate than opinion polls can create.

Never underestimate the power of doing good

The true measure of a person’s life is in direct proportion to the lasting impact and influence they have on others. John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Every day there are opportunities large and small to do good and make a difference. It can be as simple as a smile to the clerk at the register, letting a car merge ahead of you in traffic, opening the door for someone, making a call to a neighbor, sending a handwritten letter to someone who has made an impact on your life, giving a generous tip to a waiter or waitress, thanking a spouse or parent for all they do, reaching out to someone you have had a disagreement with, giving a compliment – and the list goes on and on and on.

Never underestimate the power and far-reaching influence of doing good!

Achievement in all its forms, along with real financial success, is usually nothing more than a natural byproduct of doing good. And those who do all the good they can, by all the means they can – are those who not only accomplish the most, but are also the most happy, content, confident and energized people on the planet.

It is a healthy exercise to stop regularly and ask yourself how you did in the “do good” department. Did you make doing good part of your day? Did you strategically go out and strive to make a difference during your week or month? Were you conscious enough of the people around you to know how and when you could do something for them?

Doing good is more a mindset than it is a goal or a project – it is a way of living. Doing good, while making an enormous difference for those you serve, will in the end, do more for you than it will for those you may assist.

I have long said that it is easy to make a dollar, but it is a challenge to make a difference.

As we approach Christmas and the holiday season, all of us at Sutherland Institute wish to express our sincere gratitude for all you do to make our community great and America extraordinary. It is indeed the doers who make the difference and epitomize what Christmas is really all about. In the words of Him whose birth and life we celebrate – we should become “doers of the word and not hearers only.” To all the doers we say – thank you.

In the days ahead, remember to do all the good you can, in all the ways you can … as long as you ever can – and you will be able to look back in the years ahead at a life that had meaning while leaving a legacy that matters.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Around three years old boy in an orange bow tie and glasses, wearing blue shirt. He is smiling while giving you thumbs up over baby-blue backgorund, behind the brown table, left hand up on the table. Photo was taken by Canon DSLR.

3 reasons to be optimistic about future education policy

By Miriam Merrill

This year has brought significant changes. We have a new president-elect and a newly named secretary of education. As we approach 2017, Sutherland Institute hopes to see significant changes in education policy – restoring policy-making power to the state and to local school districts as well as bold reform like parent choice and equitable education for students with different needs.

While any federal role in education is suspect, we can say that the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education holds some promise for the hopes listed above. Education policy leaders should not stop working to make sure a new administration makes good ideas a reality, but here are three reasons why we can be optimistic about upcoming education policy.

1. DeVos is a strong advocate for school choice.

In an interview for Philanthropy magazine, DeVos said that over any other issue, she is “most focused on educational choice. … We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.”

DeVos currently serves as Chairman for American Federation For Children, which is an influential group for school choice advocacy that has aided 50,000 children in Florida attending a school of their choice. Additionally, she has served on boards for both Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, charities that expand educational choice. Inevitably, parental control goes hand-in-hand with school choice. When asked how she would define success, DeVos said, “That all parents, regardless of their ZIP code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children.”

2. DeVos is a strong advocate for low-income families.

DeVos’ work through the American Federation For Children has been specifically “geared to answer the needs of low income parents and students.” After significant involvement with charity work at a school that served many low-income families, DeVos said that her family became particularly committed to helping low-income families. About that experience, she said, “If we could choose the right school for our kids, it only seemed fair that they could do the same for theirs.”

Additionally, Betsy and her husband, Dick, have been co-chairs of the Education Freedom Fund since 1993. The organization serves to provide low-income families in Michigan with scholarships used to attend a private school of their choice.

3. DeVos is a strong advocate for real education reform.

On her personal website, DeVos says, “The status quo is not acceptable. I am committed to transforming our education system into the best in the world.” She also serves on the board of directors for Excel in Ed, an organization dedicated to reforming education practices in various ways including digital learning, school choice, and high accountability standards.

Sutherland Institute believes that education policy decision-making power is best in the hands of those closest to the student. Ultimately, we hope that a change in leadership priorities will lead to a reduction in federal intervention in the area of education, a greater emphasis on local control, a renewed effort to provide equitable education for diverse learners, and greater support for parental choice.

Miriam Merrill served a fall 2016 internship with Sutherland Institute.