Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We Interrupt this Semi Entertaining Blog to Bring Utahns a Public Service Announcement!


O.K., I’m going to have to become a Utahn and have a Utah political moment here. I can’t keep listening to ads against Referendum 1 and reading the comments against it and not say anything. I do not see any reason for big concern with giving vouchers to people who need help to attend a private school. The only people who are concerned about this are some educators in our public school system. They are wasting more money in a campaign against the referendum that might actually be better spent on educating our children. I have only had the tv on for a few hours and every commercial break, there they are. By the end of the campaign, they will have spent more than will likely get spent on the vouchers. I feel the only reason why they are doing this is that their way of life is being threatened. They might have to stop the status quo and actually make some improvements and concern themselves with education. Why? Because they will have to compete for students. I say good deal. I’m all for competition in the rest of our government agencies as well. Here’s an example of how competition benefits us. Back when we only had one telephone company to choose from, the service was terrible. I always was having outages and picking up interference, and no matter what I did, they took their own sweet time to fix it and never actually addressed the underlying problems. Why? Well, they couldn’t lose my service. I had nowhere else to go. As soon as I did, I dumped them like so much refuse and never returned. And I got way better service. Did they go out of business? No, Qwest is still around, because they were forced to improve. They have happy clients, I am happy with Comcast and we all have better service (unless you got iProvo, but that’s another story).

Now to the schools; the same principle applies. Let me say first of all that public schools do face difficult issues, and there are many great educators out there and they are heroes. They are underpaid and overworked. They have a difficult job and they do it well. They are making a difference for good in the lives of our children and they are often working under much less than ideal conditions. It has got to be frustrating. There are some schools in the area that are doing an excellent job with what they’ve got, and for the most part they are meeting the needs of their students and the families in their area are happy where they are. In other schools, excellence is the exception. The good teachers there know this, because they know who they are working with. Unfortunately, most of my experience in the public school system has been with the latter kind of school. When my oldest was going through elementary school, I didn’t have anywhere else to go but the local school. There were struggles. My child struggled to read. She was never engaged, or challenged in other areas. I could never get any help for my child. I was met with constant denial, downplaying the issues, evasiveness, downright lying, and what disturbed me most of all was an appalling amount of apathy about my child’s education. I felt very much that the children were on a conveyor belt and they were being pushed along through the system, and I had better get out of the way and let them keep it moving along. My child’s test results were a state secret and I had better not try to access them. I had to find someone outside the school to evaluate her and take the results back to get any kind of assistance at all. Then they put her in ESL without my permission. I finally got her some READING help, but they took her out of the science class for it during the one year they actually bothered to teach science there. By the time they got done with her, they had destroyed her love of learning, of books, of belief in herself as a student. Some of those scars have healed but some will probably be there for life. I looked to every private school out there at the time, but the cost was really beyond my means. Being a newbie at this, I didn’t know I could actually transfer her to a better school. Being the personality she was, I knew she wasn’t going to let me teach her if I tried to home school either. I would have loved to have had the option to put her in a private school where the curriculum would have helped her more than any curriculum I have ever seen in any regular public school could have.

Here in Utah County over the last 5 years we have been able to open a handful of charter schools. Other charters have opened all over the state as well. We have a fairly large number of people who home school their children and we also have a large number of charter schools around the state. We have some excellent private schools as well. I feel this has been very beneficial to the state of education in our state. The crummy school my daughter went to has been forced to reform. Why? People were leaving. There was competition. Luckily for the students there, it is much better than when we were there. We win, they win. I won’t pull my boys out of the charters anytime soon, because the curriculum is so much better. The incentive for teachers to excel is so much more. There is a real effort to be the best on all levels. Why? We aren’t forced to be there. We have smaller class sizes. The schools we left have smaller class sizes. Win-win. We function with 2/3 the budget per student. The 1/3 I assume goes to the regular public schools, with no 1/3 of a student using it. This is how the vouchers will work. Win-win.

Our schools have to meet all the same state requirements the regular public schools do. These schools as well as the private schools not only have to meet the same criteria, but the expectations of the parents enrolling their children there. I had to laugh at this argument, “Voucher laws authorize schools with too little oversight, no real coursework or attendance requirements, lax standards for teachers and minimal accountability to taxpayers. Risk of inadequate and unstable schools is high.” Weren’t they just describing my daughter’s old elementary school? And I know they aren’t the only ones. The fact of the matter is, alternative schools have a much lower risk of all these things going on because the parents are deeply involved in making sure they don’t happen. Another quote from the arguments against: “Most Utahns want increased investments in what works in classrooms-quality teachers, smaller class sizes, and high expectations for all students.” Now they are describing many of the excellent charter schools and private schools we have here, and describing the very qualities I didn’t find in a regular public school, so they just argued me into being pro vouchers. If the referendum passes, the public schools will be forced to work harder to meet the same standards the private and charter schools meet. It doesn’t take more money, because the charters are doing it with less. There are some real over crowding issues at some of the schools now, and this could only help alleviate it, getting class sizes down. Teaching will have to improve so that people will want to continue enrolling their children at the local school. Expectations will be raised. It doesn’t take more money to teach better or to raise expectations. It just takes vision and desire.

Lastly, and most disturbing, are these arguments. “The last thing Utah’s schools need is a liberal subsidized entitlement program that competes for scarce resources.” (It actually isn’t going to compete with education money, just things like interpreter pay! Truly, with the other alternatives like charters, there will not be an overwhelming amount spent on them.) and “Utah, with it’s conservative values, should not lead the nation in this experiment in social engineering.” What the?? Social engineering?? Heaven forbid we should promote the American dream of starting with nothing and ending with something! Or are we all supposed to stay in our places? I guess I’m just too uppity for my own good. Thank you, thank you, I feel safe again. I am NOT a Utahn. I actually think all kids are entitled to the best education possible no matter what their parents make. And these are the people educating our children? Scary! Gimme a voucher.


Jen said...

I went to grad school to get an elementary education degree because I actually love the enthusiasm children have for learning. I knew I would be one of those teachers that really made a difference in their lives. Unfortunately, after student teaching and teaching preschool for several years, I left the teaching profession. Teachers are underpaid, underappreciated, underrespected, overworked, blaimed for everything (including the child's bad behavior which comes from the parents), and given more paperwork than it is humanly possible to complete. I hope your daughter has some wonderful, dedicated teachers who will repair the damage the other ones did and let her shine!

By the way, us bloggers don't always have to be funny!

Tristi Pinkston said...

I vouch for vouchers too! And loved reading your thoughts. You go, girl!

Randall said...

If you truly believe what you say, then go and declare it on Adding some additional choice and competition into the mix will only help to increase the availability of quality education in utah.

Shellie said...

Jen, I agree with everything you said, it's too bad they can't hang on to people like you in the profession who really care for the kids. My daughter has some really great teachers right now who are really helping to turn things around. Oh, and I know I don't have to be funny all the time :) I was just being silly. (My kids' bad influence on me) Randall, thanks for the info, I went there and answered the survey. Nice meeting you today Tristi!

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

I agree with you 100%, Shellie.

Loralee Choate said...

I helped open the first charter school in Cache Valley and served as PO President for 3 years.

The opposition was unbelievable. Now that it has been 5 years, people are noticing that we are doing very well (The second campus opened 2 years ago) and it also made the local school districts compete.

This was a great post.