Guest column: Utah issues letter grades to public schools

A PlusBy the Association of American Educators

During the 2013 legislative season, the state of Utah passed SB721 in an effort to foster a culture of transparency in public schools. Similar to bills in 15 other states, the new law measures various sources and awards an easy-to-understand letter grade to all public schools. According to a report, 55 percent of Utah’s 855 public schools earned either an A or a B grade. Just 14 percent of schools earned a D or an F.

Grades were based on a combination of student growth and student performance on criterion-referenced tests in language arts, math, and science. High schools were judged, in part, on the additional standard of graduation rates. Schools were also asked to test at least 95 percent of all their students and 95 percent of their underperforming students.

Education reform experts agree that the new system will be effective. “With the clear results from an A-F grading program, Utah is placing a strong focus on student performance. Parents and students are finally getting the clarity they deserve. We applaud Utah for recognizing both achievement and growth,” said Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

While we must work together to ensure careful implementation and practical grading criteria, this new accountability program is a step in the right direction for Utah’s education stakeholders.

By giving every school an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking, the state has created the simplest and clearest representation of how schools truly are performing – both good and bad. This new system will shed light on the education reform debate and allow parents and community members the ability to understand how their local schools are performing. An informed and engaged public will be instrumental in improving schools in the future.

In the new age of accountability in public schools, teachers are also embracing policies that promote transparency and results. According to AAE’s National Membership Survey, 89 percent of teachers surveyed support services such as GreatSchools. These programs and organizations allow stakeholders to search and compare schools in their area via letter grades.

Teachers are, in fact, supportive of policies that easily identify schools based on performance. Although improving schools is a complex issue, we must embrace accountability and transparency in our public schools.

This column is also posted here.

Utah’s education system gets ‘D’ in financial transparency

Are Utah’s public education administrators properly committed to openness and transparency regarding their stewardship over public schools and the tax dollars that pay for them? A recent analysis from the Cato Institute suggests the answer is no.

The analysis graded state education department websites for the financial transparency they provide. Utah’s State Office of Education (USOE) received a score of 65/100 – good for a “D” grade and coming in at 23rd out of 50 states. Two states got a grade in the “A” range (New Mexico got an “A” and South Dakota an “A-”), and 19 states got an “F” or a “F-” grade.

Read the rest of this post here at Sutherland Daily.

Utah's education system gets ‘D’ in financial transparency

800px-School_bus_invasionAre Utah’s public education administrators properly committed to openness and transparency regarding their stewardship over public schools and the tax dollars that pay for them? A recent analysis from the Cato Institute suggests the answer is no.

The analysis graded state education department websites for the financial transparency they provide. Utah’s State Office of Education (USOE) received a score of 65/100 – good for a “D” grade and coming in at 23rd out of 50 states. Two states got a grade in the “A” range (New Mexico got an “A” and South Dakota an “A-”), and 19 states got an “F” or a “F-” grade.

Utah’s score was driven primarily by the incompleteness of the “per pupil expenditure” (PPE) figures reported by the USOE. In its grading criteria, Cato states that PPE represents “the ‘price’ of a year’s worth of public schooling” and is “the fairest and most meaningful way to compare spending levels among states and districts of various sizes, and to measure trends in spending over time.” This makes PPE “the most intelligible measure by which the public can evaluate school system spending and efficiency,” making its accuracy especially important for financial transparency in the education system.

The analysis reports that the PPE figures reported by USOE include only operating costs and leave out expenses such as spending on new school construction, even though such expenses are paid for by taxpayers. Including these additional expenses to give an accurate measure of total PPE would have raised USOE’s public education financial transparency grade by 20 points, bringing it up from a “D” to a “B.”

USOE also lost points for not reporting pension costs, and for providing incomplete reporting on the costs of public education employees. Full marks on these two measures would have brought USOE’s grade up into the “A” range.

Of course, financial transparency on the State Office of Education website is only one aspect of openness and transparency in Utah’s government-run public education system. But since we live in a digital age when most information is made available online, online financial transparency is an important measure of public education officials’ commitment to openness and transparency. Hopefully, Utah’s education leaders will see this report as an opportunity to further open up public education and increase Utahns’ ability to access financial information regarding the schools that are responsible for educating their children, and are being paid for by their tax dollars.

Higher education wasted on stay-at-home mom? Hardly

Stories_of_beowulf_mother_and_son_readingA Princeton grad and stay-at-home mom has written an excellent article about the value of an Ivy League education — even if it is never used for full-time employment.

Anne-Marie Maginnis writes,

[W]hen a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture.

We need not live under the fallacy fabricated by the feminist movement that women’s contributions only count if they are publicly showered with lofty positions of power, awards, money or recognition. Maginnis adds,

[P]erhaps the most meaningful way in which stay-at-home moms use their elite degrees is by raising their children to be well-educated, confident leaders of the next generation. When a mother with an Ivy League education stays home to raise children, she is making it her full-time job to invest the best that she has received, including her education, into these children. She is choosing to form a few people in a profound way, rather than to affect a broader audience with a smaller per-person investment.

These mothers are not sacrificing pay, prestige, and a stimulating career without good reason. They feel they are giving their children something they could not otherwise give if they were out of the house all day. This is not to denigrate mothers who cannot afford to stay home; they obviously serve their family, often at great personal sacrifice. Nor is it to criticize working mothers who choose to share their talent with the larger world. It is merely to point out that highly educated women who choose to stay home with their children have a unique contribution to make as well.

The entire article can be found here.

Higher education wasted on stay-at-home mom? Hardly

A Princeton grad and stay-at-home mom has written an excellent article about the value of an Ivy League education — even if it is never used for full-time employment.

Anne-Marie Maginnis writes,

[W]hen a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture.

Read the rest of this post here at Sutherland Daily.

Tempest over attendance law: It’s all about money and power

800px-School_bus_invasionMuch will be argued over Senator Aaron Osmond’s proposal to revise Utah’s compulsory attendance law, but my guess is, most people will ignore the central question: Who (or what) has final say over the education of children? Utah’s compulsory attendance law provides one answer: the state. But other Utah statutes, not to mention the Utah Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court, provide another answer: parents.

I think there is some room for fact-based, reasonable compromise to align Utah’s compulsory attendance law with federal and state constitutional law and other state statutes.

In 2003 and again in 2011, Sutherland Institute detailed in a publication, Saving Education and Ourselves: The Moral Case for Self-Reliance in Education, the legal and public policy histories regarding the “upbringing and education” of children. Additionally, a former Sutherland board member, Daniel Witte, and I authored a paper for Brigham Young University Law Review (2008), “Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice,” wherein we argued, in part, that the pretext for compulsory education has been used consistently by federal and state governments to unjustly assimilate (i.e., “Americanize”) indigenous, immigrant and religious minorities – a pretext that assumes that the state has the final say over the education of children.

Closer to home, during the great voucher debate of 2007, I wrote Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations: The Historic Dilemma over Utah’s Education Identity – again, providing some historical narrative about the control of education, especially (and unavoidably) regarding the experience of Latter-day Saints with public education in Utah.

This debate over who controls the education of children is an old and important one.

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Arguments against repealing compulsory education are insulting

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Periodically, our friends at Utahpolicy.com survey their readers on political issues of the day. Just this week, it ran a survey about State Senator Aaron Osmond’s idea to repeal Utah’s compulsory attendance law for education.

You would think by the comments of opponents to this idea that Senator Osmond had just recommended that we outlaw knowledge. Critics argue soft-racist sentiments about how irresponsible minority parents are, elitist ideas about how kids will suffer if we let parents do their job, and selfish business interests about the need for skilled workers. I’ve yet to hear an actual rational argument from these petty critics.

There’s not one person I’ve met in Utah who would tell me, “I hate education and I hate the idea that kids should be educated.” The idea that repealing the state compulsory education law would foment an anti-education culture is irrational. And the suggestion that parents are champing at the bit to abrogate their responsibilities is insulting.

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Ditch compulsory education in Utah? Yes!

OSMOND

Senator Aaron Osmond

I received today, through a colleague, a letter from State Senator Aaron Osmond. The letter, which was sent to Sen. Osmond’s constituents, calls for an end to compulsory education in Utah.

I concur.

In 2002, Sutherland Institute produced a publication (re-released August 16, 2011), Saving Education & Ourselves: The Moral Case for Self-Reliance in Education, wherein we called for the practical elimination of state compulsory attendance laws. Here is a part of what we wrote,

[I]n a free society where parents have the right to raise their children essentially as they see fit, it is unwarranted to force all parents to send their children, or answer, to government schools. Particularly in Utah, parents value education highly and should have the right to choose education for their children freely.

This reform will help to reinvigorate parents with the realization that they are moral agents and are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. It will also help to reinvigorate neighbors, private charitable organizations, and communities to look out for one another on a more personal and proactive level.

We must distinguish between self-reliant families and families in need of community learning assistance. We must also distinguish, as does our state constitution, between government schooling and all other forms of schooling. Compulsory attendance statutes should be amended to isolate and apply only, if at all, to families with children in government schools. Even then, such statutes should allow free movement of families in and out of government schools.

All families with school age children should have their eyes fixed on self-reliance in education. Some families will not achieve this ideal immediately; some families, understandably, will never achieve it. The government school door must be free to swing both ways in accommodating the individual needs of families.

Admittedly, this policy is a radical idea today – especially if you view public schools as your sole source for new employees or if you have ulterior political motives. In truth, compulsory attendance laws are a relic of 20th century industrialism and nativism (yes, nativism).

Far from the Jeffersonian model of public education, compulsory attendance laws have been used by greedy businessmen to provide a steady workforce for their factories and by progressive do-gooders (and fear-mongering nativists) to manage Native Americans and minority immigrant populations.

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Why Common Core is not conservative

HudsonMiddleSchool2The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Common Core is a way to standardize math and science education. It was devised by states not wanting to comply with No Child Left Behind. With the blessing of the federal government and its funding, those states, including Utah, formed a consortium to create standardized math and science goals. Because No Child Left Behind was championed by former President George Bush, and because states comprised the consortium to create these standardized measures, some people argue that Common Core is the product of conservative thinking. I respond: not true.

Common Core may have merits as a standardized way of trying to educate children in math and science. But none of its component parts are conservative in any way, shape or form.

In principle, American conservatism champions a free society through a delicate balance of civilizing institutions, such as family and religion. Achieving limited government only occurs when our civilizing institutions are strong. Its process is prudence in the hands of responsible citizens who adhere to subsidiarity – prioritizing local self-government before state and federal governments.

In relation to personal educational progress, American conservatism holds parents responsible for the “education and upbringing of their children.” In terms of public education, American conservatism means we educate rising generations to be intelligent and engaged citizens. Common Core represents an opposing view.

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Infographic: Grading Utah’s schools

Photo credit Anissa Thompson

Photo: Anissa Thompson

Have you heard that Utah is going to start giving grades to its public schools? This is designed to give parents and the public more information about their schools – starting this fall.

Click here to see an infographic by Parents for Choice in Education on Utah’s new School Grading Accountability System and how it will work.