Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Does this school look broken to you?

This is Three Peaks Elementary, where my son attends 4th grade.

This morning as I was dropping him off, the principal gave me a hearty wave as he made sure that all of the kids made it safely from the buses and their cars into the school. Principal Tim Taylor has done this every single day since the beginning of classes in August. He is a committed and wonderful principal.

Last week my son participated in his first science fair. He measured the fish in his aquarium for 4 weeks to determine that this particular breed of fish grow really fast. Sam has attended Iron county schools since kindergarten and has been an eager and fast learner from the very beginning.

Three Peaks Elementary and Iron County schools are not broken. Next time I'll tell you about Canyon View High school and their outstanding music program, and how during their spring concert my darling high school son serenaded me with the rest of the Canyon View High School men's choir.


Steve said...

I will concede to you that this school is not broken. However, there is no obvious point in illustrating that this school is not broken. If you're trying to relate this fact to the voucher debate, then I think you have only succeeded in bolstering the case for them.

You talk about a wonderful school with a wonderful curriculum and a wonderful principal. I may move to Iron county I'm so convinced by you.

You've stated before that there are no private schools in your area for children to attend. You have shown this great institutional learning facility that parents love even if there were to be private schools in your community.

But what you haven't done is shown that vouchers pose a credible threat to the existence of your wonderful school.

With such a grand infrastructure in place, how will vouchers negatively impact you? Not theoretically, but actually. You will get no less per pupil dollars, and you get no less pupils - either because there is no alternative or because the facility in place is perfect. Either way, you don't lose.

Good for you.

Vouchers are about choice. You choose to continue to employ the traditional public school system like thousands of other Utahns will. There's nothing wrong with that, especially when you can show no damage to you or your children because of that.

Vouchers are aimed at the people who are losing or who at the very least think they could be doing better. Until you can make a case that public education will do as good or better a job of teaching students to the full expectations of ALL parents, your posts are primarily about how good you feel and communicating how good you to the rest of us.

Single Mom said...

don't think that any educational issue since integration has stirred up as much controversy as the school choice and voucher issue. Most of the debate seems centered on emotional reactions and speculation about possible outcomes. You and I deserve hard facts from which we can draw our own conclusions.

Here's some of the evidence which credentialed researchers have assembled in their attempts to determine the effect these programs have had on their participants.

The Brookings Institution: A New Era in Urban Education?
"The rescue of urban schools entails dismantling entrenched and patronage-driven school board bureaucracies, holding schools accountable for their performance, and encouraging well-planned experimentation with charter and contract schools, and vouchers."
Professor Diane Ravitch's professional research supports her arguments. Very readable. Brookings offers several other books and papers on the topic.

"The merits of parental choice and competition between schools are usually debated on theoretical grounds, making it difficult to reach firm conclusions. But unbeknownst to most pundits and education reformers, there is a great wealth of hard evidence available on these subjects, if you know where to look. In particular, the history of schooling reveals a great deal about which approaches to school governance work, and which do not." A complete collection of links follows this cogent introduction.


Our children deserve the best educational opportunities available. They deserve small schools and the latest amenities, as well as a safe, nurturing environment.

Our creative, talented teachers can then do what they were trained to do: teach.

Our parents deserve options when it comes to educating their children. Why should they have to keep them in a failing public school?

Voucher programs have been judged constitutional in several states. Over 130,000 students in 12 states are enjoying the educational benefits of school choice according to the Alliance for School Choice. That's .003% of the K-12 student population. Are we really talking about significant financial resources being diverted from public schools as the opponents of school choice programs insist? I don't think so.

Competition is healthy in most areas of the economy except where it concerns public education. Put another way, the education establishment abhors change and competition. It remains to be seen how long it can resist both.

Craig said...

Hi Single Mom,

Thanks for visiting. I wouldn't believe everything these supply-sider thinktanks put out.

Choice and competition are great. Greed, fraud, waste, and abuse are not. Every voucher program to date has had major problems and/or have been struck down as unconstitutional.

Fact is, there are great ways to encourage school choice. Private schools, homeschooling, charters, magnets, and open enrollment, for instance, all provide opportunities for students and a lot of options for parents.

In my neighborhood alone students attend more than 20 different schools. Choice is alive and well!

Sometime I will share my experience in founding a charter school. There were lots of positives but also many significant lessons to be learned when it comes to protecting the public trust.

Also, I think the math in your comment might be a bit askew. If there are 130,000 students enjoying school choice and that comprises .003% of the population, that would yield a population of 4.3 billion students. Something seems a bit off there.

Also, the actual 130,000 number seems very low - just the charter school population in little Utah is over 20,000. Arizona alone has hundreds of charters. They must only be counting kids in which taxpayers are paying the parents NOT to send them to a public school.

Thanks again for your comments.

Old Fashioned Deocrat Who Votes said...

This is a powerful that should be read by anyone who sends their children to public schools.

The Politics of Education
by Thomas Sowell (November 3, 2000)

What amazes some media pundits is that Gov. George W. Bush has seized issues that have long belonged to the Democrats, such as education and Social Security. What should be more amazing is that education was ever the Democrats' issue in the first place. The Democrats' formula for improving education -- pouring ever more billions of tax dollars down a bottomless pit -- has failed consistently for more than two decades. During all that time, American students have never been able to score as high on tests as they did back in 1963.

Only the ineptness of previous Republicans has let education be an issue that helps Democrats. The Democrats have not only backed a failing policy, they are boxed in politically because they are so dependent on the financial support of the teachers' unions in general and the National Education Association in particular.

At one Democratic convention, there were more delegates who belonged to the National Education Association than there were delegates from California. In addition to the millions of dollars contributed to the Democrats by the NEA, its affiliates across the country can field an army of free precinct workers to help the Democrats on election night.

Democrats have no room to maneuver on education because they can't do anything that offends the NEA. They can't be for allowing parents to have choice. They can't be for getting rid of incompetent teachers. They can't even be for back-to-basics education, instead of the current fads.

They can go in for more gimmicks, like more teachers' aides, more computers, or other ploys that all boil down to throwing more money at the schools. That doesn't produce educational success, even if it produces political success by getting the voters to believe that the Democrats are "doing something" because they "care."

This game has worked politically for the Democrats because the Republicans have been so inarticulate. So long as the Republicans stood around tongue-tied, who was going to tell the public that throwing more money at the schools had never produced anything but more expensive failure?

Democrats have been great at showing pictures of schools in need of repairs and saying that they are going to provide the money to fix them. What they have not shown are pictures of the armies of education bureaucrats, some earning six-figure salaries, including janitors in some cities.

A member of the New York City Council discovered recently that all the walls in a school she inspected had been painted up to 10 feet above the floor, with the rest of the walls and the ceilings being left unpainted. Why? Because there is a rule that the custodians can paint only the first 10 feet, with the rest being left to be painted by the painters -- when they get around to it.

In other words, the schools are treated like a political pork barrel that is divided up for the benefit of the various unions. Putting more pork in the barrel does not mean that you are going to get better educated children.

With public schools carved up into various fiefdoms and tied up in tons of red tape, the last thing the teachers' unions want is competition from private schools that don't have all this baggage to hold them back. No wonder the NEA is going all out to stop parents from having vouchers that would give them a choice of where to send their children to school.

Unfortunately, Republicans have a terrible record of letting the Democrats get away with fishy arguments about how vouchers would drain money from the public schools. Think about it: If 10 percent of the students leave the public schools and take 10 percent of the money with them, how is that reducing the amount of money per student in the public schools?

This argument insults our intelligence by assuming that we can't do arithmetic. On the other hand, after years of dumbed-down education, maybe a lot of people can't. But have you ever heard a Republican answer that argument against vouchers? Nonsense can fly if you don't shoot it down.

Actually, when 10 percent of the students leave the public schools with vouchers, less than 10 percent of the money leaves with them, because vouchers do not pay as much as the public schools spend per pupil. Even so, teachers' unions are going all-out to stop vouchers, because any competition threatens to expose both the public schools' failures and their excuses for failure.

Emily said...

Geez, Steve - a little bit sarcastic?

My children are receiving an excellent education. Iron County does have great schools, thank you very much. I think that Utah has great schools across the board I will always advocate that we do whatever we can to make them the best they can be.

In the interest of not repeating myself 7,000 times, I'm going to try to say this as clearly as I can.

1. I believe parents have always had choices to send their kids to private school, with or without this legislation. Many have sacrificed to pay tuition. I commend this. This is what families do when it is right for their children.

2. Vouchers are about using public funds for private schools. It may not have any impact on my son's elementary school today, but what about future generations? Where is this whole thing taking us?

3. Finally, I keep hearing that somehow this is going to help lower-income families have a greater choice. This remains to be seen. My opinion is that even with a voucher, private school will still be out of reach for many families. And that makes it kind of a false promise to them.

I don't want to talk about this anymore. Anybody got an opinion on global warming?

Anyway, you can all keep trying to convince me, but I do not believe that vouchers are the panacea you're all making them out to be.

Anonymous said...

Great propaganda Republican Liar who votes.

Emily said...

OK, one more thing and then I really am going to sit back and listen for awhile.

The main reason I keep talking about how wonderful my sons' schools are is this: I have heard too many times that "public schools are broken" and "corrupt" and "run by evil union thugs." They say that public schools don't deserve any more funding, and repeat the mantra "why throw money at something that is failing" and some have even advocated getting rid of public schools altogether with the goal of completely privatizing education. They say vouchers will "help these failing schools" (because it provides "competition") while at the same time giving parents a good reason to leave the "monopoly of public education."

I will continue to work hard to dispel any of these myths when it comes to the great public education system that we have here in Utah. Did you know that on ATC scores, there are only 3 states where students outperform Utah students? This means that Utah students test in the TOP FIVE PERCENT. I'd say we're doing pretty darn well.

So, you can continue to say it's about "choice" (which is true even without vouchers) and I'll even concede that this *may* help *some* parents. But I think it is wrong to say that our public school system is hopeless, and to try to convince parents that vouchers are good because it helps a failing school system to do better. Our school system is NOT failing, our schools are NOT broken. Not in Iron County or anywhere else in Utah.

Old Fashioned Deocrat Who Votes said said...

Global warming is blown out of proportion

Emily said...

Old Fashioned Dem who votes:

Thanks for the levity. :-)

(I know you are probably serious, but still, I couldn't help but smiling)

Old Fashioned Demorcat Who Votes said...

Another very powerful article on the negative effects of teacher's unions

Why Teachers’ Unions Are Needed
The growing number of mandates and non-educators enforcing them make teachers’ unions more critical than ever, according to professor Diane Ravitch. Unions need to ensure that teachers’ influence on curriculum and practices is not further eroded. Included: Issues teachers and unions should monitor.

Teachers’ unions are just as critical -- if not more so -- to protecting educators’ working conditions today than they were 100 years ago when teachers were fighting for living wages, according to Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University.

Increasingly, teachers are seeing their input into curriculum and teaching practices shrink as scripted programs designed to increase test scores dominate classrooms, Ravitch said. Too many education reformers also come from outside the teaching ranks, and lack the perspective and knowledge that experienced teachers have, she said.

Ravitch, who also is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Brookings Institution, and was the assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, took on union critics in an article in the American Educator. She discussed her views with Education World.
Diane Ravitch

Education World: The benefits of unions to teachers are clear. What are the benefits of teachers’ unions to the public?

Diane Ravitch: The public interest is served when teachers are able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation by uninformed, non-professional administrators. Teachers are the front-line workers of education; they are the ones who are in daily contact with children. It is they who must make minute-to-minute, on-the-spot decisions about the best interests of children. When their knowledge and wisdom are discounted and disregarded, we cannot expect education to improve.

These days, there are many superintendents who have no experience in education and many principals who went through quickie training programs. These inexperienced leaders demand higher test scores because their jobs are on the line. Many of these inexperienced leaders think that testing is synonymous with instruction, and they insist on constant testing. Wise teachers know better. They know that achievement growth is necessarily incremental for most children. Wise teachers know that they cannot produce overnight miracles. If teaching becomes a job (not a profession) where administrators are free to bully teachers and where teachers are not permitted to exercise their judgment and experience, then the turnover rate (and the quality) of classroom teachers will decline, and that is certainly not in the interest of children or the public.

EW: Why do you think teachers’ unions have been coming under so much fire recently? "The unions will, I hope, become champions of sound educational principles.”

Ravitch: As business leaders become more engaged in school reform, they tend to think that the unions are the cause of low achievement. In my view, they are extrapolating from their own private sector experience, where management considers the union a barrier to its plans and where the proportion of unionized workers has steadily declined.

In my view, the business leaders commit a fallacy, where they confuse cause and effect. They should do a comparison of achievement in the states that have strong teachers unions and the states that have weak or non-existent unions; the higher achievement will be found where teachers unions are strongest. They should also examine those nations in Asia and Europe with very high achievement; to my knowledge, these nations have strong teachers’ unions.

The causes of low achievement, in my view, are many, including a weak curriculum, meaning that no teacher really knows what he or she is expected to teach; poverty, which is implicated with health problems, lack of familial resources, and frequent moves; schools that are so hamstrung by litigation and mandates that they lack the authority to teach and to discipline students; inattentive parents, who do not insist that their children study, do their homework, go to school, and meet expectations of home and school.

We know from many studies that students learn best where there is a rich, sequential curriculum; where teachers are good instructors and know their subject; where there are adequate resources; and where there is strong community support for education. We know that children do best when adults enforce basic standards of behavior, including good conduct, sitting up straight, speaking correct English, and dressing appropriately for school. When these conditions are absent, it is simply absurd to blame low achievement on the unions.

EW: How has, or should, the role of teachers’ unions change in the era of accountability?

Ravitch: The unions will, I hope, become champions of sound educational principles (such as the conditions I listed above, including a rich, sequential curriculum and appropriate student conduct and dress). They must also become engaged in making sure that the accountability programs are valid, reliable and fair, and that accountability measures do not take the place of instruction. In some districts, the overwhelming emphasis is on test-preparation, endless test-prep. Hours on hours of test-prep may lead to higher scores, but not to a good education.

"The public interest is served when teachers are able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation by uninformed, non-professional administrators.”

EW: What are the priorities of teachers’ unions today?

Ravitch: Teachers' unions have been focused on salaries and working conditions, which is good but not enough any more. They must see that part of the working conditions that must be improved are the ability of their members to teach, their right to have a sound curriculum, and their right to act as professionals rather than automatons who produce this odd combination of higher test scores but not educated students.

EW: Some state and municipal officials are citing clauses in teachers’ contracts, such as those pertaining to seniority and assignments, as hindrances to true education reform. How would you respond to that?

Ravitch: Every union will have to figure out for itself which managerial requests make sense. The most important principles must be to make sure that the schools have the teachers they need for the children they have. If the system is not able to hire enough teachers in certain areas, such as courses in science and mathematics, then it seems right to offer bonuses or extra compensation. If some schools have unusual challenges, then teachers should receive extra compensation for meeting those challenges. I don't think unions have a stake in resisting all managerial requests. Where management and unions have an overlapping interest is in making sure that children get the teachers they need.

Anonymous said...

There has been an interesting discussion going on about representative democracy vis-a-vis doing the public will.

I would hope that our leaders would be willing to experiment and take bold stands. If they governed based on polls nothing would ever happen.

The best example of this is light rail. The citizens hated this idea and even voted against it. Visionary leaders moved forward and now we can't wait to vote in more tax money for light rail.

It's not always as black and white as it may seem. I applaud the Governor and Legislature stepping out on the limb. Vouchers may not work but it's worth looking at and trying. I know that I want a world class education and any tools we can give teachers and parents and schools I am in favor of.

Steve said...


Yes, I was sarcastic. My apologies for being too acerbic. It's just that I so fed up with these "feel good" examples and other dogma that are put out by members of the democratic party to rail against vouchers.

There are a couple of cogent and logical arguments against vouchers but no one seems to want to address them.

Vouchers aside, the goal we as citizens should have is to educate children in the best way possible. If this means that we could boost teenager's IQs by 25 points by having them run around in adult diapers for six months, then I'm for it - Because it accomplishes the goal.

No one has put forth a cohesive stand as to how vouchers actually hurt children, i.e. brings us further away from accomplishing our goal.

Until that is accomplished, this can't be an intellectually honest conversation.

Craig said...


Thanks for visiting.

You said:

>> No one has put forth a cohesive stand as to how vouchers actually hurt children, i.e. brings us further away from accomplishing our goal.

Now I look at this a little differently. You're asking me to spend $425 million dollars over the next 13 years on a program that in other states has brought greed, fraud, waste, and abuse.

Even if you like the voucher idea, the particular bill that passed is deeply flawed (see my previous post 100 unintended consequences of HB148). The existing legislation in other states have far more accountability measures built in than our free-for-all bill. If you think the problems of greed and abuse were bad in other states, we're in for a real show here!!!

I don't want to pay for a system that doesn't provide me, the taxpayer, any accountability. It's like investing in a company that doesn't file its SEC reports. I'd never give them a dime.

Also consider the lack of ability to compare the academic performance of voucher schools with public schools or even other private schools. If voucher schools cannot be compared to other schools, how then do we know they are being successful? Is that simply and exclusively a "free market" decision? How do we know then that our money isn't being squandered to line the pockets of owners or corporations running the show? If those resources could be used to improve the instructional experience but are instead diverted to profiteering, then yes, I'm sorry but that DOES impact the child.

The list goes on and on and on.

In the end, once you safeguard the public trust by providing necessary expectations for voucher schools, guess what you end up with? A CHARTER SCHOOL.

I have documented proof that charter schools can and do provide the market forces required to effect change and give parents choice. I would like to see the number of charter schools in Utah greatly increased and additional resources committed to their success.


Emily said...

Craig -

Right on. How do I get a charter school in Cedar City. :-)


Steve said...


As you admit, everything you have stated is theory.

Of course there will be varying degrees of academic success within private schools. Westminster is a good school, Harvard is better. That doesn't mean that Westminster is profiteering.

Of course you will look at the worst examples of implementation as a guidline for how vouchers will be executed here. But that's unrealistic.

Again the solution to this not-yet-realized problem is the free market. If the school you send your kids to sucks, and is profiteering, guess what? Don't send your kids there.

As far as there being no way to measure private schools, that's ridiculous. I went to private schools. The paradigm in academically credible schools is to compete, to be the best. They are eager to set standards and compare test scores.

Or are you trying to make the argument that because Andover (Phillips Academy) is private, therefore it is an illegitimate institution? Or that they don't compare test scores to Exeter?

Ridiculous. Of course they do.

Just like there are some diploma mills out there on a University level, there will be some crappy private schools as well. But the vast majority will be founded and run by people that have a genuine concern and caring for the education of children just like most private universities are great schools.

Your argument basically boils down to "People involved in private learning are education hucksters that can't be trusted with our children and/or money while those in the public education system are virtuous and good and can be trusted implicitly." I just don't buy it.

Craig said...


Well well well. You have mischaracterized my statements. Here's a more accurate summary:

1) You bet - there is a strong likelihood that vouchers will encourage greed, fraud, waste, and abuse. It's free money with no strings attached. By the time we set proper expectations of voucher schools to safeguard taxpayer funds, you end up with a charter school.

2) The specific bill passed in Utah is far more lax than the legislation governing the other voucher experiments. Given the problems those programs have had, I shudder to think of the mess we'll be dealing with here.

2a) To add to your comments, of course some private schools would continue to behave honorably. That's simply not the point!

2b) You're not accurate to state that my comments are simply based on theory. Many of the scenarios I cited are from actual examples from existing voucher experiments.

3) Regarding measurement - what's ridiculous is since the Utah bill does not require a standardized test currently in use in the public schools, we have *no* way of accurately comparing performance. Sorry, Charlie. This isn't goint to cut it! I want to know how a private school being supported by tax dollars is actually performing (beyond the popularity contest of market share).

4) I have NOTHING against private schools (a point which you seem to be inferring). However, forcing the creation of a private-school-entitlement market with no elected oversight or legal recourse of any kind is simply and totally absurd.

I repeat - by the time we safeguard our tax dollars and patrons from obvious exploitation, we are left with charter schools. Charters are a critical component of responsible, publically funded school choice.

Steve said...


A) I do not concede point 1. You have not cited any EVIDENCE that there is a STRONG likelihood that vouchers will encourage greed, fraud, waste, and abuse.

B) In regards to 2, 2a, & 2b - Please go to the trouble of citing actual examples. You have referred to examples you say exist but you have made no citations. We can discuss this more when there are actual facts to reference.

C) Medicare doesn't require doctors to be ranked, yet you can still find good doctors as well as mediocare ones. Still, I bet you're not in favor of gutting Medicare because it doesn't have accountability standards for its providers, or are you?

Your 3rd item seems a little insincere.

You have a reasonable point (although not a valid argument) that this could be a potential shortcoming. However, this would require all schools to abandon any type of standardized testing which won't happen. Do honestly think that most private schools operate in vacuum where they have no idea how their students perform? If so, we just need to agree to disagree but I don't think you've put forth any coherent argument that debunks the Andover vs. Exeter example.

D) In your 4th point you say "the creation of a private-school-entitlement market with no elected oversight or legal recourse of any kind is simply and totally absurd." However you overlook existing legal recourse of which there is plenty. i.e. Contract law.

You will enter into a contract with a school for them to educate your children. If they do not perform as promised you will take your kids to another school (maybe private, maybe public) and sue for the return of your tuition.

If a school gets into very many of those situations, they won't be around for much longer - unlike their public school counterparts which operate without any type of legal recourse and solely elective oversight.

You are trading elective oversight for legal oversight. I don't see that as damaging.

Lastly, I simply do not see the exploitation you refer to as "obvious."

I don't think you have anything against private schools. I do think you have pro government / public education sentiments. I think you're probably more interested in seeing the current status quo preserved than trying a small experiment with vouchers because you're worried it will be a success. If you really think vouchers will be a dismal failure, then let them run their course and they will go the way of blacksmiths.

However, we both know that won't happen.

Craig said...


Care to tell us a little more about yourself? I'm interested in pursuing this debate with you but am not sure who *you* are :-)


Steve said...


I'm no one of consequence. Just a nerd that likes to read blogs really. What is it you'd like to know?

Anonymous said...

Oh Please. You can't judge a book by its cover.

However, your "does this school look broken"comment leads me to this though:

It certainly doesn't look "underfunded..."