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 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!


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.


Partisan elections would improve Utah's state school board

800px-University_at_Buffalo_voting_boothSutherland Institute is calling for a partisan election system – or a hybrid system with a significant partisan election component – for selecting state school board members. In a new paper released today, Sutherland proposes that the primary goal of the state board selection process should be to protect public trust in the integrity and legitimacy of the State Board of Education. The paper can be found at

Sutherland Director of Public Policy Derek Monson, the paper’s author, analyzed the current system and several proposed alternatives using the criteria of clarity, transparency and voter accountability. Monson’s analysis showed that partisan elections, or a hybrid solution that includes partisan elections, hold the greatest promise for protecting public trust in how state school board members are chosen.

“Voters need to have an idea of who the candidates are and what they stand for when they step inside the voting booth,” Monson said. “Because of the nonpartisan elections in the current system, it almost always guarantees that these candidates are mostly unknown to voters.”

The purpose of the paper, “Making the Right Choice: Evaluating State Board of Education Selection Systems,” is to move the debate on public education governance forward by basing it on a widely accepted set of three criteria for evaluating the various options for choosing who serves on the state school board.

First, does the proposed system have a high level of clarity? Is it easy for voters to understand the process by which state school board members are elected?

Second, does the system create high levels of transparency about who the candidates are and what their positions are on various education issues?

Third, does the system produce accountability to voters? Voters need to feel that state school board members can and will be held accountable for their decisions. Does the election system produce enough information (i.e., transparency) about state school board candidates for voters to be able to hold those candidates accountable once they are elected?

Click here to read the paper.

How digital learning can save a student’s education

vulturecomputerDo you want a plan to give second chances to children who struggle to learn? To empower children struck by tragedy (e.g., a major injury or illness) to continue their education? To provide advanced learners the chance to reach new academic heights, improve public education for all children through modern-day innovation, and increase access to higher education?

Two words: digital learning.

The Deseret News published two news stories showing how this is happening. The first contains stories of K-12 age children whose educational lives have been saved or changed by digital learning: children who were being robbed of educational opportunities by non-Hodgkins lymphoma or bipolar disorder; children who sought to graduate high school early or get college credit while still attending high school; or children whose childhood is cut short because they have to go to work to help support their families.

These stories show how digital learning, done right, is truly centered on the child – working around the child’s individual schedule, moving at the child’s pace, and with help available from teachers “around the clock.” They show how digital learning is redefining public education to abilities – truly personalizing education based on the needs of the child, rather than adults or “the system.” They also show how digital learning, though child-centered, is improving the lives of teachers by using technology to accomplish mundane tasks like grading while allowing teachers to focus their time doing what they do best: helping children learn.

The second article details a movement to create a system of voluntary “interstate reciprocity” in which states agree to accept credit for college courses completed online in other states because they meet an agreed-upon set of standards. This would be similar to already existing reciprocity agreements in areas such as teacher licensing, for example, which allow a teacher working in another state to teach in Utah without being required to start over and get a Utah teacher’s license. With reciprocity agreements in place, digital learning opportunities in higher education would be expanded to young people who would not otherwise have access to them.

These are just a few of the many examples of how digital learning is changing education for the benefit of children. It makes one wonder about the thinking and priorities of those who claim to represent the education community while seeking to oppose or delay[1] digital learning innovations.

[1] See positions on SB 79 – Student-centered Learning Pilot Program, on page 11.

Utah showing how digital learning can make public schools more cost-effective

800px-Lewis_Hine,_Boy_studying,_ca._1924As noted in a recent news story in The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah has begun a move away from traditional textbooks to digital textbooks (aka e-books) that is “gaining speed.” These e-books are “cheaper, more up to date and interactive,” and most importantly, “better [suit] the needs of today’s tech-savvy learners” (i.e., children).

In short, they are providing tools that help to educate children just as well as, if not better than, traditional methods, but for a much lower cost. As one person interviewed for the article put it,

They can continue to have [school] districts serve as a flow-through mechanism to funnel public money to textbook publishers, or they can redirect those funds into supporting master teachers and others and pulling together materials that are free.

One reason these digital textbooks are free is because they are “open source” – meaning they are put online for anyone to use how they see fit. The cost difference of such textbooks is striking, as one researcher who studied students in Utah who used these kinds of e-books found that they cost “less than half as much” each year than traditional textbooks. This researcher also found no negative impacts, and perhaps a small positive impact, correlated with switching to these e-books. The Utah State Office of Education is now wisely coordinating an effort to create such textbooks in science, math, and language arts.

Wise implementation of a policy to replace traditional textbooks with digital texts is just one way that digital learning – in this case blended learning – holds promise to improve the cost-effectiveness of public schools. The key to truly taking advantage of this and other benefits of digital learning in Utah that will improve the lives of children is for the public education system to embrace digital learning and learn how to use it effectively – not to replace teachers, but to use technology to turn every teacher into a “master teacher” who focuses almost entirely on helping individual children learn what they’re struggling to understand, rather than having to worry about how to keep the attention of 30 children at once, or the next test that they have to grade.

Utah's at the top in digital learning – let’s keep it there

studenttabletAs noted by the Utah Taxpayers Association and The Senate Site, Utah recently received an “A” on the 2012 Digital Learning Report Card from Digital Learning Now! As the only state in the country to do so, Utah is setting an example to the nation in how to do education right in the digital age. In this area of education policy, Utah policymakers should be commended for their forward-looking vision of what public education in Utah should be for children: personalized, flexible, cost-effective, and child centered.

The report card also highlights two ways in which Utah can remain an example to the nation, by enhancing its already strong digital learning policies.

First, Utah ought to require that Utah students take at least one online course in order to earn a high school diploma. Currently, over Utah’s colleges and universities offer 1,500 courses online, with 49 degree programs that can be completely entirely online. In other words, digital learning is an educational path that has already arrived in Utah, and is only going to expand in the future. Children in Utah public schools ought to at least get a taste of what digital learning is like and what it requires while in high school, so they can make an informed decision about whether it is a better path for them than traditional schooling.

Especially for children in difficult situations, such as those who must work full-time to support families straight out of high school, digital learning can empower them to improve their lives in ways that simply would not be possible otherwise. For those who care about children first when it comes to public education, introducing digital learning requirements in high school is simply the right thing to do.

Second, Utah ought to establish a pilot program for introducing “blended learning” into traditional public schools, like SB 79 would have done. Digital learning holds great potential to improve public education across the board. This does not require a full-on shift to full-time online schooling. “Blended learning” – where components of digital learning are paired up with a traditional, face-to-face schooling component – can be used to complement the strengths of face-to-face instruction in traditional, brick-and-mortar public schools. Of course, adopting “blended learning” into traditional public schools ought to be done thoughtfully and carefully, which is what makes the pilot program approach appropriate. Establishing such a program is a reasonable next step in expanding digital learning in Utah for the sake of children’s education, despite misguided fears from the education establishment about such a program.

There are other areas highlighted in the report card that Utah can improve upon as well, but these two represent the big “next steps” on the path of expanding digital learning for the sake of children in Utah. Education policymakers and leaders in Utah ought to push for these policies and continue to make Utah an example of doing digital learning in public education right.

What is ‘local control’ in public education really about?

How would an authentically child-centered view of public education define “local control,” in regard to actually running a public school? Does it mean state-level control, district-level control, or school-level control? According to a new study, shifting power from the state and districts to schools is where a child-centered philosophy of education should be headed.

The study, published by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education (a part of the Teachers College at Columbia University), found that students in “charter schools with higher autonomy from the district in terms of financial budget, academic program, and hiring decisions” read at a grade level higher than similar traditional public school students after three years. Interestingly, this was not the case when traditional public schools were compared to charter schools generally, confirming the common-sense conclusion that good charter schools can only exist with good charter school policy, which gives them real freedom from district authority. Read more

What’s the best way to tackle bullying?

The Deseret News recently relayed a wonderful story about a young man and his football teammates who befriended a girl who had been bullied by others. Their efforts made a real difference in her life and the way she was treated by others.

Click here to read more.