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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 http://sutherlandinstitute.org/uploaded_files/MakingtheRightChoice.pdf.

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.