I believe in school choice.
Generally speaking, Utah has good school choice options. As a parent I have always felt I have the option to send my child to the best school for him.
I would like to see our public schools offer more choices. Sadly, nearly every public school is a cookie cutter of the next school. That's not much choice.
Schools should be allowed to step away from cookie cutter education. Why not have more STEM schools or fine arts schools? Let families choose from GREAT and INDIVIDUALIZED schools.
Tests are a normal part of education. They are part of life. But, let's keep tests in moderation. If we're going to have testing, let's make it useful so that it improves outcomes for students.
First, we need to decide HOW LONG is appropriate for students to spend in front of a computer screen testing every year. I work in a school, I see that elementary school children are spending hours and hours every year taking end of year tests. Students don't see the results, teachers get vague scores, parents sometimes see the vague results. That's not useful.
I see how hours and hours of stressful testing wears on students. My son once told me he thought the only point of school was to prepare for the test at the end of every year. We've made those yearly tests so stressful that we see many teachers taking online practice tests all year long. Some principals require it schoolwide. Some of the state "turnaround" companies encourage these frequent practice tests.
The tests themselves aren't bad. But they're just not serving the right purpose. I propose we reduce the length of our required yearly tests. I also propose we make the results available as soon as possible to parents and we give parents more than just a total score. We need to give the most fine-tuned information possible.
We need to redesign the testing culture so teachers aren't pressured to spend all year doing "practice tests" and teachers can spend more time teaching. More time for students to learn and enjoy learning.
Common Core Standards
Let's start with two facts.
First, the state school board is currently revising the Utah Core Standards. You can learn more here:
Second, Utah has changed the Common Core so much, that we had to change the name. They are now the Utah Core Standards.
If you haven't read the Utah Core Standards, you can find them here:
I don't like the way states were forced to adopt Common Core in order to keep federal funding. For the past several decades, education has faced reform effort after reform effort. Politicians say we need more testing, more oversight, harder standards, harder tests. Politicians thought grading school would help. All of these "reforms' presume teachers just aren't doing their jobs. That's not true. Every teacher I know works hard EVERY day to provide the best education to their students.
Decades of "school reform" have not addressed the real issues. In most higher performing nations they spend more per capita on education. Teachers get more time to plan and they have smaller classes. In fact, most countries have shorter school days for students, yet they get better results. In the United States we have tried so hard to "reform" our teachers, but all we've done is spend more and more money on administration. Creating and administering all of these standards and tests is expensive. Creating systems to grade schools takes a surprising amount of money.
Is Common Core itself a problem. No. The way it was forced on states is a problem. The way Common Core is just one more "reform" that doesn't address the needs of schools and teachers is a problem.
All of that said, I think the adjustments Utah made to the standards are reasonable. Guiding documents to know what to teach in each grade and each course are helpful.
I'm a teacher, I work with other teachers. It's helpful to have guiding documents when we plan lessons. It's helpful when we look for resources to help us teach. It's helpful to me when I teach professional development. It's helpful to those of us that teach college and graduate courses to teachers.
Every time I talk with teachers and families, the issue of class size comes up. Parents want smaller classes so their children get more attention. I can attest that my son frequently had classes of 30+ students in elementary school and 40-50 students in middle and high school. Imagine a high school teacher meeting the needs of 40-50 students per class and having to teach 4 or 5 classes at a time. That's a lot of essays to grade; a lot of feedback to give. No wonder it takes so long for my son to get feedback on his work. Individual attention is rare.
Teachers see the same issue. Teachers want to give individualized attention, but that's tough with 30, 40, or 50 students. I know what that's like; I've had classes that were so large that I ran out of desks and books.
Utah has the highest average class sizes in the United States. This is an issue we should address. It's an expensive proposition, smaller class sizes require more teachers and more classrooms. Salaries are by far the largest expense of any school system. Building more schools is expensive. However, we need to make the effort. Even reducing class sizes by a few students makes a difference. Just ask any teacher.
Generally speaking, schools in Utah do an excellent job of filtering the content that students see online. It is a constantly changing threat, however, and we should ensure adequate funding for online filtering. This includes filtering through district servers when students take school-owned devices home.
Online predators and online bullying are major issues. We absolutely must teach students about online safety as soon as our children begin school. We must also teach our students the importance of not bullying others online. We must teach our students how to respond when they are the victim of a bully. Yes, these programs exist and are taught, but the implementation is haphazard. It's too often a once a year presentation in the auditorium. That isn't enough. We need to address online safety with our students more frequently and more substantially.
Utah schools are very safe places. I am impressed with how well we keep our schools closed to intruders while staying welcoming to families. Every school I go to now has cameras all around and visitors must be buzzed in.
I support continued funding for school security measures. Electronic entry badges for employees, electronically locking doors, and security cameras,
Walkie-talkies for employees to use during emergencies and power outages are expensive, but I advocate for funding them. Most schools don't have high-quality, long-range walkie-talkies for all employees. I've only worked in one school that had long-range walkie-talkies. They make all the difference when you evacuate a school and you have to take hundreds of people to another building a half-mile away. Trust me.
Politicization of Schools
First, schools are a place of learning. Politicians should not use the education as a weapon. Withholding or giving funding because schools do or don't do what politicians want is wrong. This goes for Common Core and opening in person. Local control means state and federal politicians shouldn't play games with our children's education.
Second, teachers must remain neutral when teaching. Yes, that's difficult because politics can make us all feel very passionate. However, our job as teachers is first and foremost to ensure students have the skills they need to learn about issues and make their own judgements.
As teachers, we must teach students how to have respectful debate. That means presenting multiple perspectives equally. That means letting students read and learn about DIFFERENT points of view. Then let students discuss and teach them to do it respectfully. As hard as it is my fellow teachers, try to keep neutral. It's not our job to teach one political point of view. It's our job to ensure students can navigate a world of fact and fiction and make up their own minds.
I'm a teacher and one of my favorite activities is allowing students to debate current events. I teach students to find facts and evidence. I teach students to respect each other before, during, and after an intense debate. I never let students see me as more than a moderator. Sometimes that's tough to do, but it's the right thing to do in a public school.
Hard work, honesty, respect, integrity, dignity, selfless service, family
Those are my values. I strive to show those values in all I do. I expect others to show the same values.
Those are values we should teach our children. I can't force those values on anyone, but I believe we should demonstrate those values in our schools. We should teach our children about being good citizens.
Let's serve the needy and raise up those around us through service. We should work hard and be proud of what we accomplish. Respect yourself and those around you. Carry yourself with dignity and pride. Honor the dignity of others.
Have integrity and honesty. I admire someone that is honest, even when that's hard to do. I admire someone that has the integrity to stand for their convictions; I admire someone that learns and change their mind.
Love your family. Especially when you disagree. We all have the family we're born with and the family we choose. Family is important and the way we treat our family, especially in hard times, says a lot about our character.
The Utah legislature has been committed to increasing education funding. Utah has a unique issue; we have the largest families in the United States. Much of our education funding comes from income tax. That means our ratio of children to wage earners is lower than the rest of the nation. Simply put, we have more students per taxpayer than any other state.
I'm committed to working with the legislature to ensure education funding is stable and robust. We have a great education system in Utah, but we must be vigilant that we do not let our student growth outpace our tax revenue growth.
I will also prioritize funding to the classroom. I've been a teacher for 20 years and I've watched as more and more administrative positions are created. More and more district office jobs. With our limited funding, we cannot afford too much overhead. Some of it we bring on ourselves by creating rules and policies that require more and more oversight.
I am fully committed to fighting racism. I am fully committed to ending all forms of oppression and marginalization.
Racism and marginalization have NO PLACE in our schools. Schools exist to educate all of our children. Every family that walks in our doors should see that we offer a world-class education regardless of race, gender, religion, or sex.
Every single one if us should be treated with dignity and respect. No exceptions. You can BE YOU and you can BE PROUD. I promise to support YOU.
If you walk into any school in Utah, you should feel safe. You should feel that you are a part of the school community. I strongly advocate for embracing every person with dignity and respect.
We are best served when we get to know each other and seek to find commonalities instead of differences. If I don't agree or understand, I pledge to listen and learn.
I love every student and every adult that walks into my school. Religion, gender, sexuality, affluence, native language: All are welcome. I will ensure all are embraced. Everyone is important. Every student deserves to be loved.
When we feel safe, we can learn.
I believe in personal equality AND educational equality.
There is no place for inequality of any kind in our schools. I will not allow policies to be in place that put some groups above or below others.
When my son was in the 5th grade, he came home from school terrified that he was going to get AIDS. His school had a "maturation" assembly and they learned about STDs. No one told the students how you get STDs. We got to have that unexpected conversation at home.
I emailed the school to find out what my son missed in that assembly. He hadn't missed a thing, they just weren't allowed to talk about sex. How do you have an assembly that teaches 5th graders about sexual transmitted diseases without included the sex part? It was well-intentioned, but the result was scared and misinformed 11 year olds.
I believe sex education is best taught by families. This is such a personal topic that means so much to Utah families. I don't want to abdicate this responsibility to our schools. That means parents need to take the initiative and have uncomfortable conversations.
If we are going to have sex education, it needs to be age appropriate and factual.
Schools should not get into the "values" of sex; that is for families.