Right On: State Board of Education bomb throwers

Composite stock images, St. George News


OPINION — Figurative bombs, I’m happy to report.

Nonetheless, several members of our Utah State Board of Education remind me of history’s anarchist bomb throwers rather than elected officials with students’ best interest in mind.

Webster tells us that anarchists strive for an “absence of government,” kind of extreme libertarians. It seems to me that the only reason to elect an anarchist to government office is to render the office ineffective.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on our recently-elected District 15 board member representing most of Washington and Iron counties, but Michelle Boulter doesn’t seem to have much use for the Board of Education.

The Republican Forum invited Boulter to discuss the state of education in Utah. With my longtime interest in public schools, I came expecting to hear what Boulter and the board were doing to improve schools. I heard almost nothing about the board or about improving schools.

Instead I heard denunciations of the entire public education establishment: the federal government, the Utah Legislature and local school boards. If she doesn’t like any of them, what does she like about public education? Not much, as it turns out.

First up, Boulter excoriated the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core. It’s not Common Core standards that opponents find objectionable; very few can name even one standard they oppose or would modify. Instead, opposition to Common Core arises from objections to federal government interference with local public education, an area long reserved for the states. That interference comes from federal government threats to withhold federal education funding from states who fail to get in step.

I’m with Boulter on this one. Absent a compelling national need, the federal government should defer to the states. In fact that’s such a good idea that our Founding Fathers included it as the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

I would eliminate the federal Department of Education. Who needs it if public education is a local responsibility? The department has done only two things of national note, both controversial: imposed national standards on states with purse strings attached and made dubious college student loans totaling $1.4 trillion.

Boulter next turned her fire on state board’s own Utah Core Standards, complaining that they weren’t all that different than Common Core standards. Again, she had no objection to particular standards, just to the idea that the state would dare impose standards on local school boards.

At this point, I expected her to sing the praises of local school districts. But no, she claims local school boards thwart parents who want to guide their children’s education.

So what does Boulter want and why is she on the state Board of Education? The answer appears to be to protect and encourage parents who want to home-school their children. This is like electing someone to a homeowners association board whose sole purpose is to encourage owners to do their own thing, CC&Rs notwithstanding.

Boulter spent a majority of her time explaining all the things parents could do to keep their children out of state testing and out of classes to which they object. She described how local school districts were restricting parental rights in violation of state law. Several times she gave the Utah State Board of Education hotline phone number to report violations.

The state board administers Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence, or SAGE, tests to measure student mastery of Utah Core Standards. Boulter urges parents to opt students out of SAGE testing, apparently to force the state board to abandon both the tests and the underlying Utah Core Standards.

Only aggregated SAGE test results are reported to the state and federal government. Nonetheless, Boulter voiced paranoid concerns that federal and state officials could dissect aggregated results to identify individual students. So what does she think happens when these same students take the ACT?

A second member of the state Board of Education attending the forum, Alisa Ellis, “values alternative/individual education plans.” She said she left high school after her junior year and went directly to college. She home-schooled her daughter who likewise entered college after completing her junior year. Good for them.

Local school districts have adapted to accommodate home-school students by providing specialty coursework like chemistry as well as sports and activity programs. I am aware of no organized opposition in local districts to home schooling.

So what are she and Boulter doing on the state board? Only 3 percent of parents nationwide have the teaching skills, the time and the commitment to home-school their children. More power to them: I am fully supportive of parents who choose to do this.

But I have little patience for electing persons to the state school board or to local school boards whose focus is on home schooling to the exclusion of the 97 percent of Utah students who attend public, charter and private schools.

In my experience and observation, the best predictor of a child’s measuring up to his/her academic potential is parental involvement. When parents ask the child about school, ensure homework is completed, attend parent-teacher conferences and demonstrate support for teachers, children quickly learn – and learn what’s important.

Teachers, we love you.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Icomments2 May 25, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    All I have to say is to all parents please OPT your kids out of the Sage testing every year!!! It does not benefit your kids at all!!! It only gives the state bragging rights!!! And please let’s do away with Common Core now!!!

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