Transcript: Rep. Rob Bishop on education at Sutherland’s 2019 Congressional Series

August 29, 2019

The following are unedited and electronically transcribed remarks delivered by both Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Christine Cooke, the director of education policy at Sutherland Institute. They were delivered during Sutherland’s Aug. 28 Congressional Series event, Innovation in Education and the Teaching Profession.

Watch the full event here.

Rep. Rob Bishop:

Thank you. I appreciate that, that introduction. We do have to change the bio in the future. I got one of my kids upset with me because I actually have nine grandchildren. She’ll think I’m not counting two of his.

Look, I appreciate the opportunity of being here with you today and I am extremely nervous about it. I don’t really want to be offensive, but I will be, so be prepared already. As I look around this room, it’s very clear that I am the old guy in this room, obviously, yeah. And yeah, I bet I’m older than you too. Your spirit, at least, is younger. And I’m about to retire, which means I intend to sit on the front porch and be the guy that yells at the neighborhood kids and say, “No, you’re not getting your ball back.” So that’s the future I see for myself. So I’m old and I’m bitter and that’s going to be coming across in everything I’m going to be saying here today, especially when we talk about the concepts of education and education reform.

So let me do a couple of ground things, at the beginning. First of all, I realize clearly, the education needs of the college level versus K-12 are totally separate, so I’m not even talking about colleges. Those type of reforms, they have a lot of them, federal government actually has a greater opportunity to doing that. I want to just concentrate on what I consider public education, which is simply K-12.

I started teaching, the first time, just about a month after I had turned 23, and then I spent 28 years in the classroom. A couple of those, I actually taught, but I was there for that period of time. It’s been almost two decades since I left the classroom, and I realize that even that space of time of my life, the demographics of public education, K-12, have changed significantly.

The one commonality you have is that everyone who is involved in the education system, the one commonality they have is they were all a student at one time. So they all went through public education, like education system. They all succeeded at that education system and it was apparently well enough liked that they were willing to come back into that system. So everyone who is involved in education, when you talk about changes, you have to realize there’s a basic tendency to support the status quo. Within every level, there are a few radicals that want to change structurally what is taking place, but you have to emphasize the word “few.”

So that as you look upon the people that are all going to be involved in that, there are administrators who are already here, are making their money and want to keep those jobs. You have local school board whose primary goal is not to get phone calls coming from people, so whatever myth you need, keep it going. There’s a state school board which is still desperately struggling to find out why they’re there, which will never happen. There are the unions, which is, I’m not trying to be condescending, as much as I liked Al Shanker, I was thought he was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, the goal is still is to get more members and having dues paid.

All four of those groups have got to agree on anything that is going to be structurally reformation as far as education. And to get them all to do with it, with this, the bias is still for the status quo, means that reforms are going to be pretty much on the periphery and pretty minimal. It’s not going to be something that’s going to be extremely radical or going through this.

So the other thing I have noticed significantly different from 1974 when I started is the education teachers are much more likely to be second-income people than they were when I first started teaching. And I’m sorry, that means there are different things and different rewards that takes place. Second-income teachers will oftentimes want time more than financial rewards. Time is important, so they can have time for what they made them the second-income wage earner in the first place.

So in the last few years, I have sat back in Washington, I have watched Common Core and I watched Race to the Top with nothing but total disdain for both of those programs. While I was still a teacher, I had to endure No Child Left Behind and every other wonder program we had, which included the IAEPs, the SEOPs, career ladders, merit pay, vision for the future, core curriculum, everything else that was developed at that time. And I came to the conclusion that most of it was basically hype.

Also, coming with that same time period is a worldview that is unique and different at this stage of the game. When we won the Cold War and the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down, the idea of a command economy was discredited. Even though in the ’70s, all the bright people were telling us that was the wave of the future, just get used to it. But it was discredited. And most of the world figured that part out.

The large corporations like IBM, they were the ones that had difficulty. It was the small, flexible, innovative groups that were going and offering what the people wanted, which is basically choice and options, those are the ones that flourished, but that…and the mindset. And they flourished everywhere. Campbell Soup still has 160 varieties. Pringles has 16 different kinds of Pringles. I may want vanilla, but I still go to a place that gives me 31 flavors. I have 300 channels on my television, but I only watch five. And I have channels because I’m old and I still have cable. If you’re my students, my staff, my staff, they don’t even go that far and have much more choices than I do. All of that is still there, but the economy has changed because people have understood that those choices become significant.

Our energy has changed because people understand those choices become significant. Look, when I was in college, I would go to get gas and I would drive in and somebody who was my age or younger would come out, fill up my tank, check the windows, check the tires, check the oil, and then give me either a plate or a towel for coming in. Then I went on my mission. When I came back, we had gone through an energy embargo. And all of a sudden, foreign countries were trying to use energy against us to try and change our foreign policy. And everything had to be self-service at that time. And the newly-elected president wore a sweater by a fireplace telling me, “This is the best we’re going to come up with, just get used to it. Have a patriotic pride of being cold in the dark.”

Fortunately, there were a lot of people that didn’t agree with that and didn’t go along with that and we have changed in that time until today, we actually are an energy exporter. We are energy independent and an exporter, except for the states of California and Massachusetts where they’re still importing Russian natural gas because they don’t like to have pipelines going through their states. But other than that, those changes came. The changes came in the entrepreneur world, they changed in the business world, they changed everywhere except for two places: government bureaucracies and education, which still went back to the same command central control process of what it always had been.

The one kind of wonder program that we had never actually tried to use was the concept of freedom, which I would advocate. I also don’t think many people actually believe in it, but it is the thing that I think is the one change that we need to do. So if there are going to be structural changes in education, I would say…I would argue that the following four concepts need to be part of what those changes would be.

The first one is the idea of really decentralization of the process. Once again, something I think we give lip service to and no one actually believes that all that much. Like I was part of the Republican Study Committee, which was the conservative group back there. And I remember one day, we were there, and Congressman Garrett said, “Let’s have a constitutional task force, not a constitute-…a constitutional caucus, in which we’ll talk about the constitution, the Tenth Amendment, and it is wrong for the federal government to be telling states what to do so often.” And all the heads were nodding yes, yes, and they all joined the constitutional caucus.

The next guy came up, who was congressman from Minnesota and said, “You know, my home state of Minnesota, they want to drug kids before they go to school.” That’s an oversimplification, but that’s what he was saying. And he said, “I think we should stop Minnesota from drugging kids before they go to school.” And ironically, the same heads were going, “Yeah, I’ll sign onto that bill.” And I kept thinking, “Didn’t we just say that what we need to do is empower states to make decisions, even if we disagree with what those decisions are? And now, because you have the power to do it, you now want to go in there and tell a state, ‘Wrong decision. We are going to over overtake your…we’re going to invalidate the decision that you just had to make.'”

That’s why I say we give lip service to this all the time, but we really don’t necessarily do it. The most important question people in Congress should be asking themselves is not do we have the power to do something, but ought we to do it in the first place? Because we have the power to do a whole lot, but we not necessarily ought to do it.

There’s one good conservative congressman who wanted to make physical education, PE, mandatory under No Child Left Behind. And he brought Richard Simmons into…to lobbyists. He was in a suit the entire time thing, thank heavens. But as that bill came to the floor, I went down there, as one of the caucus members, to plead the Tenth Amendment and saying, “There is nothing wrong with PE. It’s a good program. It’s a wonderful program. There’s nothing wrong with getting kids active. There’s nothing wrong with forcing them to go outside and move around a lot. What is wrong is that Congress should be making that decision. We’re a Congress, we’re not a school board. It should be the school district and the teachers that actually run PE programs, they’re the ones that need to be involved in this type of discussion. Not us.”

I was in Germany once and I met a woman who still works for the German Foreign Department. And she was a preteen in East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down, actually in Potsdam. And so when the Berlin Wall came down, she and her mother, for the very first time in their lives, were able to go into West Berlin. And they went into a department store and she said, “We went to this department store and I was just amazed at all the stuff we had in the department store and in the grocery store. And I walked down the aisle of this grocery store, and there, where the sugar was, we’re five different brands of sugar.” And she was amazed because in Potsdam, in East Germany, you either had sugar or no sugar and it was usually no sugar. And here she had five different options and choices of sugar.

And in the typical East German mindset of the era, the typical command economy concept, the second thing she thought about was, “Why do we need five different kinds of sugar? Shouldn’t one suffices?” And what you had to realize is, I don’t know if she actually has realized this yet, is you need five different kinds of sugar because people need to have choices and options if they’re going to be real people. That’s part of their life. You take choices away, you no longer make them real people. More importantly, you have to have five different kinds of sugar if you’re going to have any sugar at all. If you limit what those options are, you limit the product in the first place.

That’s the same mindset that we are talking about here. So that same thing, so if you want to have PE, fine, but there has to be some kind of teacher buy-in. The most common statement that was made while I was still a teacher was, “This too shall pass,” which means you can put whatever program you want to on top of me, this too shall pass. The third year I was there, the accreditation team came through, a wonderful program. The accreditation team came through and they had all these ideas of what the English Department of Box Elder should be doing. The English teachers at Box Elder kept dragging their heels and basically never implemented any of the ideas that came through.

Ten years later, I happened to be back there at Box Elder at the time for the next accreditation team to come through, and this accreditation team thanked Box Elder for not going along with all the silly little ideas they had 10 years ago. They were given credit for not implementing what the prior accreditation team said they have to do to actually move their program further. No wonder people will simply say, “This too shall pass.”

So if you really want a program that has any kind of benefit, it’s got to really be an anti-top-down program. It has to come from the bottom up. And once again, I think we give lip service to that, but we don’t really do it all that well.

Second thing, you can’t involve the federal government. I’m sorry, do not deal with us ever. It is so frustrating for me to have people in the education community come back and say, “Rob, the deficit is horrible. You can’t deal with it. You’ve got to do something about the deficit. Now, can you give me some more money that you don’t have for my programs?” And as we talked about what that many actually will be, then I can always get them on my side, because then we can start talking about, “Well, do you want the controls that come with that money?” And of course, you don’t want the controls. You don’t want a deficit. You don’t want the controls. You just want to have the cash in hand. And I’m sorry, the world does not work that way.

Any policy maker that comes to you and wants to actually impose the idea that you’re going to get the same amount of federal funds or more federal funds coming back in the education system, avoid them like the plague. It is the dumbest, dumbest concept that anyone can play around with. It is the wrong thing to do. In fact, the next time the state has a large surplus, don’t cut taxes, buy out the federal government. Get them out of the system altogether, so you don’t have the controls that actually have to come along with that same thing. Dick Armey once used to say, “If you want to get out of the trap, you have to let go of the cheese.” If you want to get out of the trap of constant federal control, let go with the cheese. You have to get out of that particular system.

I was frustrated with Race to the Top. One of the things Race to the Top tried to do is whenever there was somebody that was opposed to what the federal Department of Education was trying to do Race to the Top, they came up with this internal policy that they would go around [inaudible 00:14:07]. This is what is proper procedure.

School districts are a byproduct of the state. The federal government should have a relationship with the state. Federal government should not have a relationship with counties or local areas. But what the Race to the Top was trying to do at that particular time under that administration was if they had any opposition within state level, they were going to bypass them and go directly to the local school districts, which may sound like decentralization and nice, but it wasn’t. Because their goal was not to get more people involved in the decision-making process, their goal was to get power so that they could bypass the opposition and impose what they wanted to do.

We had a senator, bless his heart, who’s no longer there, who snuck through in a bill, a concept that for for Pell Grants, you could get a higher Pell Grant if you took a rigorous academic schedule while you were in high school. Now, you snuck it through. We didn’t realize, it took us three years, three sessions to try and get that out of the law, but I hope you realize what that means.

If the federal government is going to give you more Pell Grant money if you had a rigorous academic schedule, that means the federal government will define what a rigorous academic schedule is. The federal government will therefore define what curriculum ought to be and the states and local governments, local districts are simply going to be taken out of the system. That is why it is so pernicious and why that kind of concept should not go through.

We even had discussions at one time about charter schools, and there were people that wanted to establish a federal charter school system. Fortunately, it failed, but I was surprised at how many votes that dumb idea actually took place.

Let me get this quickly. Help me out here because this is one of the things…there is no clock anywhere.

Woman: [inaudible 00:15:50]Bishop: It’s not good enough for me.

Woman: [inaudible 00:15:52]Bishop: All right. In 10 minutes, I’m still talking, would you just stand up and hit me? Okay, that’s fair enough.

Next thing is empowerment appearance, another thing we give lip service to but we don’t actually believe it very much. I’m going to skip some stuff here, but no, I won’t skip it.

I lived through merit pay program programs and I’m sorry, but merit pay was originally established back in the ’40s and the ’50s so that they could pay men more than women and whites more than blacks. It hasn’t much moved since that process.

I remember one of the years when my vice principal came in and said, “Rob, you are a student-oriented teacher. You’re the kind of teacher we want here. You put in the extra time to do that. You took over the debate program, you got 12 kids and now you’re teaching six classes a debate. That’s all you do all day long. That’s what we want. I’m evaluating you on our district’s evaluation process for merit pay and you’re not going to like the evaluation. You’re going to be cut down.” And he said, “The reason you’re going to be cut down is because I have to give you points for bulletin boards.” And my class was the old counseling center, which I didn’t let them change at all because I liked the concept of what we were doing. I had no place for bulletin boards, so I didn’t get points. “I have to give you points for faculty meetings.”

First year I went to Ben Lomond, the principal there said, at the first work meeting, “This is our faculty meeting. We’ll call another faculty meeting when we need one.” That was the last faculty meeting of the year and it worked marvelously. Everything was there. But when I went back to Box Elder, every two weeks, there was another damn faculty meeting, an hour before school started, which was in the middle of the night. I always protested. I was always late. I came once in a bathrobe, just to prove my point. In fact once, I got there on time. I stood out in the hall for five minutes, just so I could be late again and keep tradition going.

So he said, “Rob, you’re always late for faculty meetings. I’m not going to give you those points either.” And I’m sorry, I was in AFT at that time. You got points if you are a UEA officer, but not for AFT. So he said, “I’m sorry, you’re not going to do well in this measurement that we have, even though I want you to know that we have to keep you here, we want you in the school.”

So merit pay has always been something that I have thought was weird. But I do think that it is possible to actually…to reward good teachers. As a teacher, I also, when my kids went to the high school, I handpicked their teachers and their schedule. There were a lot of teachers. I refused to put my kids in their classroom even though they had won awards and everything else because I didn’t want my kids there. And I thought every parent should have that same opportunity and same right.

I was in a conference once, back at Harvard, with the state legislators and educators. And I started talking about a bunch of things that I thought we should do to empower parents. And a legislator from Georgia said, “Well, that, you know, that may work in Utah, but my constituents are too dumb to make those decisions.” Apparently, they were not too dumb to elect legislators, but they were too dumb to make those because, they said parents will pick entertaining teachers instead of good teachers. Now, the first problem I have is I don’t know why entertaining and good have to be mutually exclusive concepts. But at the same time, it was the same mindset, that I don’t care, as long as I’ve had kids, when you treat them with respect, they act respectfully. If you give them responsibility, they respond responsibly.

Parents want good education. Parents and kids know what is fluff and what is a waste of time and they know what is tough. And they may like to be entertained but they want an education first. And they will pick that over just wasting time in make work type of opportunities. Give them the choice to do that, give them the opportunity to really become a player in that system.

Now, Potter Stuart, when he was on the Supreme Court, said at one time, about a pornography case, “That I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” It’s the same thing for education. I cannot define a good teacher, but I know it when I see it. And I think parents do as well. And if you want to evaluate teachers and give them rewards for what they do, make it parent centered. If a parent is satisfied with the teacher in a classroom, by definition, that ought to be a good teacher. And if you want to allow parents to teachers to have some flexibility, if you want to put them in teams so they can work, and if parents are flocking to that teacher or that team, give them a reward for that. You can reward teachers for excellent work if you make it based on parental acceptance. They are the parents’ kids, they’re not the schools’ kids. They’re not anyone else’s kid. They’re the parents’ kids. And if the parents are satisfied, you should be too, the system should be too, and they should be willing to reward people for that concept.

There is an element of antagonism within public education towards parents. I think it’s dissipating as years go by, but it’s still sometimes felt there, and it’s wrong, and you have to fight… Like I have problems sometimes with parents. They wouldn’t take my advice, but still, I went with them because it was their kids. That’s the way we had to do it. What they wanted to have happen for their kid was the most important part.

Final thing that I want to have in any kind of structure restructuring is to empower teachers with, once again, we give that lip service and we don’t really mean it. We don’t do it. It’s the very root of why Common Core is such a stupid idea designed by someone who actually didn’t like public schools and then endorsed by a bunch of governors who couldn’t spell Common Core.

Common Core has this basic problem. It’s based on the philosophy that math is the same in Massachusetts as Mississippi. Big deal. The kids are not, and it’s supposed to be about the kids. And if in Massachusetts and Mississippi you are not relating what you are trying to do, whether it’s the way you teach kids or in the curriculum that you have, if you’re not relating to the kids, you are missing the very purpose of what education is about. It’s not about the subject, it’s about the kids.

So if you have a Common Core, if you have the core curriculum, and every kid is this widget on the conveyor belt of the factory of education, and it goes through and the teacher is supposed to import some kind of element onto that, teachers therefore become interchangeable. They are nothing more than the arms of the factory that’s putting something on that kid going through. We don’t empower them to actually create curriculum for themselves. We don’t empower them to do anything unique or innovative.

And once again, I apologize for this and I’ll get in trouble, I had a principal that said he wanted every class to have class rules, which I thought was a waste of time. Unfortunately, this principal was a good principal. He let me do what I wanted to do, my definition of a good principal. But he said I had to have classrooms, so I put class rules up and there are only two. Number one is I’m not fair. Number two, screw me over, I’ll kill you. And we worked wonderful because he realized, that principal realized that not every kid can be treated the same way, that kids are individuals and they need that individual approach. And it can’t happen by a set of arbitrary standards that are given to you in some particular way. That’s the most important part.

We have a problem retaining teachers. I understand it totally. If you really care and want to empower teachers, you’d pay the teachers as much as you’re paying the administrators, so you don’t have to get the big bucks by leaving the classroom. You cut down all the wonder programs we have and make sure that if you’ve got a good person in the classroom, most of the other problems will be solved. So get a good person in the classroom. And if salary is not the key, and I think salary is the key, but if salary is not the key, then give them more time. If that’s…the time as the motivating factor, especially if it’s a second income, make that the policy process. You want to retain teachers, give them control over the curriculum they’re supposed to do.

As I left Box Elder, we had one teacher who has had a PhD in anthropology, he had dug up half of Israel. How was I supposed to use him with the core curriculum, teaching modern world civ? Now, give me a chance to be creative with that teacher and let him use his strengths to make something different and unique. And if it’s different than the other school down the street, who cares? If the kids like it, who Cares? Like we did the same thing in that modern world civ class.

Are hitting me yet?

Woman: You have 1 minute till it’s 10.

Bishop: Okay, then this will be the last stupid story I’ll give you. These are sophomores coming in there and like we spent a week teaching them how to take a class, how to take notes, how to do tests. And we also realized that those sophomores coming in there for that modern world history class, sometimes they just didn’t get along with the teacher and that was too bad. So we said, “Okay, while the four of us are working in this area, we’re going to do something different. We’ll divide up our trimester into three sections. Every one-third of that class, we’ll put them in a different teacher. If the kid can’t get along with teacher A and screws it up, he’ll have teacher B and C to salvage some kind of a grade and get some kind of reward for it. If a kid can’t get along with A, B, and C, we know where the problem is. But that usually didn’t happen.”

So we all took a different teaching style and we took a different approach. I’ve agreed not to give tests, which is so difficult for me, because, I’m sorry, tests are so overrated. It’s pathetic. So I agreed that my section would be graded on producing a team newspaper, so it’d be the era of nationalism in Europe and they had to do a newspaper and I would grade them on how they actually wrote and came up with the headlines for nationalism. That was my effort. We loved it and the kids loved it because they knew if they didn’t like teacher A, they’d get teacher B and they had a chance to start over fresh again.

The only people that didn’t like it was the district office, because they didn’t have the computer skills at that time to track the kids every hour of the day. They said, “If you actually do this program, we don’t know where your kid is going to be in, what room he will be on any given moment of that.” They were pushing me not to do this. In fact, they’re really pretty snotty about it. Fortunately, I had a principal that had worked with us all and he was supportive and we did it and the system worked. It worked. Even though the administration up above was not happy with what we were trying to do to be innovative and creative.

If you’re really empowering teachers, give them money, give them a decent salary for the first place, as much or more than administrators. I had a teacher in 1952 that went out from teaching at Box Elder Middle School to Grouse Creek as a principal. He got an extra 200 bucks. Two hundred bucks was not bad in 1952 but it’s not what we’re talking about when you go from the classroom to the administration today. Pay the teacher decently and give that teacher control over the curriculum and how they are actually structuring their classes and let them be creative. That way, you’re going to get people that actually want to be in the system, and they want to do something better, and you’re allowing them not to simply the famous old big command central program, you’re allowing them to be creative and flexible.

I told you I was going to do something that would disappoint all of you and interfere with everything that you wanted me to… I’m sorry. I told you I was going to insult you all, and if I haven’t done it yet, I’ll give you a chance to ask questions so I can do it in that phase of the game too. Okay.

Woman: Yeah, so we…

Bishop: I am done with this stage of the game. I’m sorry, I apologize. And I’ll give you the last favorite story of mine. Huey Long, when he was first elected senator from Louisiana, went up to Washington, he came back the first break and all the people were saying, “Does all the talking in Washington bother you?” And Huey Long said, “No, the talking doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the listening that bores the hell out of me.” So I’ve been doing the talking. You’re in the position of the listener. I apologize for that. I realized why your eyes are glazed over. But I was a teacher for 28 years, I’m used to that look.

Woman: [inaudible 00:28:33] questions.

Bishop: Do you have time for that? Are you sure? Okay.

Derek Monson: All right, thank you, Congressman Bishop. So my name is my name is Derek Monson. I am vice president of policy here at Sutherland. Gonna be doing the Q&A. Again, if you have questions, please pass them to the end. And we will include as many as we can in the time moment that we have.

So Congressman Bishop, over the years, you’ve very passionately and eloquently articulated, you know, a view on federalism and local control. Question is what role, and this may already be answered a little bit, could you touch a little bit on what role you think the federal government should have in education? And then, more specifically, how do we get from where we are today to that vision…to your vision of the federal role in education?

Bishop: All right, at as much as I love federalism, and even people that I think philosophically are aligned with me and they say we like federalism, we don’t do that in Congress. As soon as some congressman sees a problem, they rush right in there to solve that problem. So the question has to be asked of those of us on the federal level is not do we have the power do it, but ought we be doing that. Is this something that we should be doing or is some level of government elsewhere the right approach to that? We don’t do that in Washington. I’m sorry, not even conservatives do that. We gloss over that. And I don’t know how you get people to change that mindset, but that’s the mindset that has to change.

So what can Congress do to help K-12 education? Nothing. Get us out of the way. You don’t need our money. We don’t have the money in the first place, so quit asking for it. And you don’t need our controls. You can do it. You don’t need us. Colleges, there’s a difference to that. There are federal responsibilities that go towards colleges, slightly nuanced. The less government interference, the better, but it’s a different animal altogether. But K-12, just quit asking for our money and don’t ask us to do anything else.

You know, that thing that they did about the Pell Grants, that controlled curriculum? In the law that created the Department of Education, it specifically prohibited Congress from having any say on curriculum issues. And yet we keep sneaking into it. The Race to the Top was an effort to sneak curriculum control into the system. Don’t trust us, don’t deal with us. Tell us to go to hell.

Monson: So let’s take that down to a local issue here in Utah is teacher shortage. What is one or two things that you think the federal government’s doing that might be making that situation worse or contributing to it that should be gotten rid of, that could get the federal government out of the way and improve the teacher shortage situation?

Bishop: I don’t know, to be honest with you, but we are doing that is in…that is…

Monson: That is maybe encouraging teachers to leave, you know, burning them out quicker, things the federal governance causing problems, in in a state like Utah.

Bishop: I’m sorry. That’s a good question. It deserves a good answer. I don’t have a good specific of A, B, and C what we’re doing that should be stopped. Okay. They’re probably there, I’m sorry.

Monson: No, no, it’s all right.

Bishop: No, it’s a decent answer, but once again, I still think… We talk about empowering teachers, money, time, curriculum control, give them… I can understand why a teacher gets frustrated when they’re always told what to do. when they’re nothing more than the widget on the…the line that has to add something to the widget going down there. If you really believe in teachers, let teachers be teachers.

Monson: Okay. So moving on to other topics then. Here’s an audience question. Please talk about the impact of technology on education, both positive and negative. What are your views on how technology is impacting?

Bishop: Okay, here’s the other…I don’t know who asked that. Shame on you for doing that, whoever it was. I still use legal pads. I’m old. So the technology that you use is something I abhor. I have a smartphone, there are three apps I use. The rest of them are all there. I don’t know what they do. I don’t care. So when it comes to technology, technology is one of those things that should be innovative and could be innovative and I don’t know squat about it. So I am old school in every way. How technology can improve…

So the problem we had with the district office, that they couldn’t track down the kids, there is technology should be able to solve that problem for them. I don’t know what it is. But that is the issue. If technology can free people up to have more options and choices, that’s positive. But don’t ask me to define it or come up with it because I’m old. I’m sitting on the porch and yelling at the neighbors.

Monson: How concerned is Congress with competing globally in education?

Bishop: Again, lip service. We will always talk about how we…where we rank in relation to other countries, when we want to use it for a political purpose. But we’re not actually doing anything to change that in any real way. If we did, we would once again have to take power away from us and put it back down on states and allow states to have the flexibility, so without our controls of anything we’re doing… It’s one of those nice things to say, but no one really believes it, but it’s just kinda like, “I support the Tenth Amendment, but I’m really not going to do it. If I have power to do something, I’ll still do it anyway. We support that.”

If we define education by how we rank with other countries, I think we’re failing. Just like if we define education by how much money is involved in it, I think that’s a failure. There’s gotta be something other than those two standards. And I really think everyone who talks about how we ranked with other countries, they’re demagoguing

Monson: Maybe a follow up to that. A similar…the same person asked this question. Can local control really work in a world where we are competing globally?

Bishop: Yes. It’s the only way it’s gonna work. In the entrepreneurial world and in the economic world that we have, companies that were smaller, that could respond to what the constituency, their customers, their clients wanted, those are the ones that are being successful. It was the big ones that always had their standard of what they would be. IBMs were having trouble competing. It’s not those that actually had the flexibility to do something unique for that group, to give choices and options to people.

To me, it’s the same thing in education. If really, the local districts are the ones that are actually becoming the innovators, they’re moving things, they’re allowed to do it, and the state legislature lets them do it, and the state school board goes away and lets them do it, I can see nothing else but positive coming out of that. But we have to change our mindset because that’s a totally different view of how education is structured right now and how it always has been structured. And a lot of people get very worried because they may lose power if you actually restructure it in that way.

Monson: So you talked about various groups in the education system that are required to get change done, you know, administration, unions, district school boards, and the like. How do we specifically engage teachers themselves in that change as opposed to, say, the organizations?

Bishop: Look, in the 28 years I was in classroom, I never actually saw it happen, but I saw glimpses of what could happen. And I had a couple of principals that tried to empower teachers to come up with different ideas. So I think if you actually gave them free reign and did it…

Now sometimes, there are things that react to it, for example, that make it difficult. And Box Elder School District, they finally changed this. So change can happen. We always started school in August so that the ag department could be ready for the county fair. And the county fair was always at the end of August because that’s when the rodeo could be there, which meant school started when the rodeo could show up. Come on. They finally changed that, after 40 years of that process. The rodeo is going on and the fair is going on, and school hasn’t started until, I guess, it’s this week. So yeah, what I thought would never change in Box Elder finally changed. So I have hope that it could… What was the question again?

Monson: How do you engage teachers as opposed to organizations in that change?

Bishop: Yeah, and once again, those organizations have to be willing to allow a teacher or teachers to be flexible, to give them authority to actually do something different and not put roadblocks in their way.

Monson: Thank you. I got a couple of questions about teacher pay. You know, how is the best way to be able to pay teachers more and then where does that funding come from in the situation that we’re in?

Bishop: You have to pay teachers more by changing the priorities of what you have, making sure that you award people for staying in the classroom. We have some brilliant teachers in Box Elder who are now working for the state. And I feel sad about that because they were so good and so teacher-oriented and why they’re now down in the state office running some other program that any kind of nerd could run, it’s a great loss. So change the priority of how you’re going to reward people. You got to change that in some particular way.

It also deals with…and this is where I said the demographics of second income teachers, somehow you have to change the number of…you know, the number of students is X, the number of teachers is Y, the numbers of teaching stations is Z, for the administration, that’s got to balance out some way. So in some particular way, if you can actually increase the number of students per teacher in, and we tried to do that as well. So when we did our AP program, our AP program, we had four teachers involved with it and we combined it with an English. So that’s junior English was working with American history because it was American literature. It fit. But we divided it up so that I was doing the lecturing for the history part and I would just bone up my classes with at least 40 or 50, for the lecture mode. But then I let [inaudible 00:38:50] who was the English component of it, make sure that he was only having 20 kids in a classroom. So that when he actually had to do the reading, it was doable and then I would assist him with that.

So if you allow some kind of flexibility within the system, I think teachers can do that. If you realize smaller classes make a big difference in K-3, not so much in high school, change that. You can make some of those priorities moving around. But we have a hard time dealing with it, especially at contract time, when you come up with rigid ratios of what is going on.

How do you get more money? Then go back to my resources part and say let the state have more control over the lands and the resources that we have, because there’s plenty of damn money out there. And that’s the only way Utah’s going to be successful. Utah, in the last 20 years, all of the West, the public land states have put one one-third of the amount of money into public education that the other…that east of Denver has because they have no federal lands whatsoever. They can actually develop their resources and put into it into education. We are stymied by the federal government’s control of the resources that we have here. If you really want to have the untapped source of money, resources and public lands, which is another lecture for…to insult the rest of you, let the state actually have control of the state.

Monson: So we have a question about alternate routes to licensure. Right. These are alternative ways of getting license outside of, you know, colleges of education and the like for those who weren’t aware. The question is, well, first of all, what are your views on those alternate ways? And then the specific question is does the federal government have a role to play in managing or the dealing with the training of these alternative route to licensure candidates?

Bishop: It’s a great idea, keep it up. Keep doing it, expanding it best…as best you can. And no, the federal government doesn’t have a way that they could help. And that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And once again, look at what colleges do. I’m looking at what Utah state and Dixie state are doing, they have adjunct professors all over the place. You have all sorts of people who retire and live in St. George who can come and teach a class or two and Dixie state is using them all the time. That’s brilliant. Do the same thing for public education. Allow people to teach half a day, but have some kind of expertise, and yeah, give them some kind of alternative way of doing it.

And I guess, once again, the training you’re talking about, I’m going to get in trouble again, is the training actually for the imparting of the knowledge, the actual subject matter, or is for the minutia you have to do in keeping the roles? I mean, what kind of training you’re actually about, which training do they need? But what the state is doing, and I don’t know what the state’s doing. I’ve just heard parenthetically about what the state’s doing, I think it’s a wonderful idea. It’s a great idea. Keep it up, expand it, do more.

Monson: So excuse me. Following up on that, what is some things we’re doing right in Utah’s education system and one thing we should change, on a state level, someone’s interested to know.

Bishop: Look, it’s been two decades since I was back there. I’m gonna quit and I actually wanted to teach again. And part of me would like to go back to the high school and see if I can handle it because there’re not a whole lot of 69-year-olds that actually start a career in public education.

But as I have been in Congress, I have kept… We do a seminar every year. I take kids back and close up… I’ve tried to keep closely involved with those kids and it’s fun. I still enjoy it. Admittedly, those are select kids that are there for a reason. I would really like to know if I actually can go back and take regular classes again and survive. And then I’ll know better about what I can say has happened in the last 20 years. To be very honest, I don’t know.

Monson: Yeah, fair enough. A specific question about IDEA or at the federal disability law, that may answer the question right there, but how much flexibility should the state have and what that should that look like in enforcing IDEA?

Bishop: A whole hell of a lot more because the state has always been more generous in the funding of that program than the federal government has. The federal government’s given all sorts of promises for the past 30 years and has never lived up to any of those promises. And that’s another example of let the state do what the state can do and do it better, free them up to doing it. What the federal has done in that entire program, I think, is pathetic. And it has been for decades.

Monson: So kind of a similar question on curriculum. I mean obviously, states control their own curriculum, but there have been federal programs to influence that, and what can be done to change kind of how the federal government influences curricular decisions at a state and local level?

Bishop: Get the federal government totally out of it. There is no role for the federal government in curriculum control, curriculum decision, curriculum innovations. And once again, it goes back to the reason, I still think Common Core is crap. If you think the subject is the most important element, then let the federal government do it. If kids are the most important element, then you gotta let teachers interface with kids, because kids are all going to be taught in a different way. Kids are not [inaudible 00:44:11], they’re not the widgets on the conveyor belt. And you got to give the teachers that kind of flexibility without getting in trouble for doing something unique or different. That’s not going to come from the federal government. Never has, never will.

Monson: We’re gonna finish up with this one, maybe the most important question of all. This was an audience question. What is your favorite…

Bishop: If it involves 2020, no.

Monson: No, no.

Bishop: Okay, good.

Monson: What is your favorite musical theater song?

Bishop: Song?

Monson: Yes.

Bishop: Oh, god.

Man: And sing it.

Bishop: Smart alec. There are so many. I am actually trying to run every night and I hum to myself. So I go through shows I had been in, so “Mystery of Edwin Drood,” I go through that in my own mind. Then I go through, “Camelot,” then I go through “My Fair Lady.” On The Street Where You Live is one of the best ones to keep the pace going up. Unless I want to pick it up, then it’s 76 Trombones and you go through that.

I hate to say this, I met my wife doing a musical theater. We were both in a play or in a musical. She was the princess and I was the prince. And it was “Once Upon a Mattress.” So actually, and it’s the love song of that is called “Normandy.” So I actually think I have…even though I didn’t sing that one, Sir Harry did that one, that’s the one that always kind of brings a tear to my eye again because it was what happened a whole long, one time ago. And that was important to me.

Monson: Thank you, Congressman Bishop. Please give him a round of applause.

Christine Cooke (Sutherland Institute education policy director):

I thought it would be appropriate to start my brief remarks and this panel that we’re gonna have in a little bit on innovation in the teacher profession by giving you some context on education policy. And it’s the context that Sutherland Institute will put ourselves in whenever we’re looking at any topic under the education policy umbrella, whether it’s testing, career readiness, the teacher profession, and beyond.

So the context is this, and it comes from our education vision: human beings are magnificent. We are inherently created to learn, and we have the capacity to do so. Aristotle also put it in a different way. He said, “All men, by nature, desire to know.” We also all have different, unique, God-given skills, talents, weaknesses, and callings or purposes in life that we’re uniquely fitted for.

Education is the means by which we fully realize those skills, overcome those weaknesses, or fulfill those purposes. So an important part of looking at policy through in this context, is a reminder that education is broader than schooling, or any one approach to schooling, or even any education policy that we could debate. And it’s obvious, on some level, but we’re saying that education and learning existed long before education systems, right, the U.S. system or the Utah system that was codified in 1895.

And at the same time, we all know that formal schooling is a crucial part of life and has long-term outcomes, including lifelong earnings, civic engagement, literacies of all sorts with which to engage the world, opportunities out of poverty, family creation, social skills, and more.

And those who graduate and earn a diploma from formal schooling called high school are more likely to have employment in the long run, less likely to engage in criminal behavior, or need social services. They tend to have better health outcomes and longer life expectancy. So the distinction between education and schooling is only worth mentioning not to create a hierarchy of goodness or value, but to give perspective when policy discussions call for it, which is almost always the case. Another way of putting this is that our pivot foot in education policy is, first, the learning of the student.

Which is why we’ve also been focusing on innovation in education. You all sat down today and saw a booklet on your chair. And like Rick mentioned, it’s one in a series. And I see faces of those who joined us May 15th for the launch event in that. So welcome back.

People generally have a warm feeling towards the term innovation. We like entrepreneurs, innovators. And that impulse is legitimate because they’re typically the leaders who are meeting a need better than we have in the past. We respect that, we want that, and we look for it.

But even though the term has this benefit of a positive connotation, we’re often asked, “What do you mean by innovation? Why is Sutherland focused on innovation?”

Innovation, to some degree, always means change. You can debate whether or not it needs to be grand change, small change, whether we’re talking about a really narrow term like disruptive innovation or other changes, whether it needs to come from lawmakers, or whether it needs to come from private players, whether it really springs from cultural forces or structural.

Sutherland believes it can include all of those. But we should be clear that not all changes are created equal. Some are, in fact, bad for students. So change for the sake of change is not our goal. But placing ourselves, again, in the context of first meeting the unique needs of the individual, whatever changes are necessary, whatever changes allow us to continually get better at doing just that is our goal.

And having an innovative mindset or simply recognizing the reality that there are changes also has a positive side effect, which is humility. Society, circumstances, technology, are constantly changing. None of us knows everything, which is why innovation and a space for it may, over time, be what leads us in the right direction.

This is obviously, partly, a shameless plug for the publication, but we think it’s worth a read. It can encourage you to challenge assumptions that you have. And for those who are looking for specific innovative ideas in Utah and across the nation, it covers topics like cutting costs in higher education, something that affects nearly all of us. Student discipline, and the backdrop that that is for student learning, flexible education spending accounts, which gives parents more options when they feel like their district school might not be meeting the needs. Competency-based education, which is flipping seat time and knowledge acquisition on its head. Career pathways, legitimizing pathways into different industries. And even the teacher profession is covered in the publication as well, which is obviously why we’re here today.

It’s no secret that the teacher profession is a hot topic in Utah and, actually, across the nation. And if you are reading the news, hopefully not avoiding it, but if you’re reading the news, you’re likely hearing about teacher shortages, protests, Red for Ed, requests for more pay, and so on.

And we should care about this because the state of the teacher profession has profound impacts on student learning. Research shows, overwhelmingly, that outside of the influence of parents in the home, the teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s academic success. A year with a teacher performing below his or her best has lasting impacts beyond that academic year, just like an excellent teacher can have lasting impacts for good.

So even here in Utah, we are feeling the effects of some teacher shortages in certain areas, particularly rural districts, special needs classrooms, and in math, and science teaching fields. A 2017 report out of the University of Utah’s Education Policy Center found that 56%, more than half, of the state’s teachers left after an eight-year period, from 2008 to 2015.

Title I schools had an even higher percentage of teacher turnover. And those schools are serving low-income families, which compounds a tricky problem, because Title I schools have a demographic that especially needs good teachers and lasting impacts.

The same report also found that young teachers were most likely to leave. Nearly three-quarters of teachers 25 years or younger, 25 years old or younger left during that 8-year study, most leaving after only 3 years. We do know this generation has a higher career change rate than perhaps other generations. But still, the teacher profession used to promise stability for many young college graduates.

In the more recent past, Utah has tried to respond to this, creating stipends or extra pay for teachers that are in high need areas, non-traditional licenses to get into the teacher profession, developing in-classroom career pathways. So this could be, like, a teacher leader role. And what’s caught the attention more recently, obviously, is increasing starting salary, which has sparked these salary wars that we read about in the media.

Policymakers and researchers have also begun to gather information through surveys to say, “What is really the root cause of those who are leaving the profession?”

So last year, a report from the same education policy center published initial results from the Educator Career and Pathway Survey for Teachers. So there are several questions. I would encourage people to go look at that report. It looked at reasons for why people enter the profession and why they exit. You’ll also see, in your program, there are a couple of graphs there that you might want to look at that are really interesting.

It found that the vast majority of people entering the teacher profession were going into it for really noble reasons. Among the top five factors, if you just wanna look at the top two, 85% desired to make a worthwhile difference in the lives of children, 70% desired to contribute to the greater societal good. On the other graph, for those who chose to leave the profession, and by the way, not just moving schools.

This is those who left the profession entirely. The top reason that was either extremely or very influential in their decision to leave was emotional exhaustion, stress, and burnout, which is staggering. Pay and salary made the list, but further down on that list, in those particular categories.

Another interesting thing to note, if you can imagine all the different reasons why somebody would want to leave: relocation, had a child, health, so on and so forth, the second highest reason that was either extremely or very influential was “other.” So what’s not covered by that? What do we still need to learn? There’s clearly more to look at there. For many, there’s a hope of doing something great but, perhaps, the emotional exhaustion was just too much, which is a heartbreaking reality for those teachers that had this dream.

And also, again, devastating for those who need experiences, fulfilled teachers, which is our students. If we can get this policy right, Utah teachers and students can thrive. Thank you.

Watch the full event here.


Sutherland Institute is pleased to present content from our Congressional Series and other events. Perspectives expressed by guests and participants may not reflect those of Sutherland. The Institute does seek to provide a civil forum to express those views. 

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