Monday, June 05, 2006

Educational Choice

Today I was cruising around Blog World and found an interesting discussion regarding paying Utah teachers what they are worth. Several folks on this blog were proponents of educational choice. I did enjoy one anonymous post, where the poster said "those of us who CHOOSE to send our children to public schools would sure like to have higher confidence in our public schools again" (or something to that effect).

I have tried to understand the "school choice" argument for a long time. Since I live in Cedar City where there really aren't any viable private schools, and since SUU is the number one employer, followed by the Iron County School District, I don't see how "educational choice" would make much of a difference here.... if you believe the argument that giving parents a choice in education helps public schools to perform better, I am not so sure that Cedar City or Iron County or *any* of the counties in Senate Dist. 28 would benefit much. I don't think we have the income or the population base or the wages to put that much pressure on the public schools. If parents want to send their kids to private schools, that is absolutely their choice. Likewise, if a parent wants to homeschool their kids, that is absolutely a choice they are entitled to make.

NOW... I don't want this to spiral into a conversation about tuition tax credits and school vouchers. I have long held the idea that by giving public money to private schools, we run the risk of greater regulation of private schools. The cry of “accountability” for schools receiving “public money” would be irresistible. Also, many rural areas of our state receive absolutely no benefit from educational choice. (Panguitch comes to mind, where the population is dwindling, not growing.)

So, let's imagine that in 2007 the Utah Legislature decided to fully fund education, and that somehow they worked out their medicaid problems and were still able to provide all necessary funding for transportation. Everybody had what they needed and everybody could do what they wanted. Would this *do it* for Utah Education?

As I have said before, as a community and a state that values its children, we should make sure that Utah schools are at the top of the list and not at the bottom.

But how do we do this?

While I think we can all agree that education must be fully-funded, we also know that just throwing cash at it does not necessarily make for better education.

What to do about this paradox?

Utahns are known for being creative. We have a long history of being industrious and making the impossible happen - creating a flourishing community in the middle of the desert comes to mind.

So, with that thought, we really must get creative to make our public schools the very best that they can be. There are million and one things we could do - both at the local levels and from the legislature. We need to work in conjunction with the school boards and the Utah Educators to make sure that we are getting the best teachers around.

I still argue that you get better performance out of people who are paid better, and that the best teachers *would* stay in Utah if they were paid competitively.

(as a sidebar, I have a brother in law who will not move to Utah because he is a teacher, and he can make more money in Colorado. Doesn't matter if his whole family is here (brothers, parents, etc.), he simply won't take a pay cut. He's a pretty good teacher and football coach. But we'll never see the likes of him in these parts. ;-) )

How do we determine who are the best teachers? We can't do it based on the number of A's students get, because then teachers would just hand out A's. If we did it by test scores, there would be corruption in the testing system (as some say there is in the No Child Left Behind).

This is just food for thought. I'm open to creative and thoughtful suggestions.


At 3:06 PM, Blogger onlythetoilet said...

Wow!! Finally, a blogger who "gets" it. I'm a teacher myself. I won't get into the "choice" stuff much myself, but one of the reasons I'm leery of it are some that you give AND I know the politics and rhetoric behind it, having talked with hundreds of people and following it closely over the years.

I look at the bigger picture. Yes, there are the erosion of benefits and the low pay and funding. BUT to me, the bigger part is the ATTITUDE. I never thought I would see such rampant disrespect shown by some to teachers and the teaching profession--I'm not talking about kids here, I'm talkng about adults. Some of these things are fueled by an outright hatred of teachers--justified in some cases, but not to blame for ALL of the ills of society and not to be applied to ALL teachers. Such is harmful to the many great teachers out there that I know.

If we want educational choice, let's make ALL schools "choice" schools. We can't do this while piling the regulations on one one side of the coin while easing up on others. Let's get the federal and state governments out of the ed business so much and concentrate on local control.

I advocate strong community schools. I am going to try my hardest to make my own school a strong community one. But I'll admit, it is VERY hard to compete against the bashers, negativists, and gossip. Nothing's faster than a wagging tongue, that's for sure. and they seem to wag pretty fast here.

I love the parents and students I teach.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Emily For Utah Senate 28 said...

Onlythetoilet -

(Funny name, by the way!) I couldn't agree with you more. I am a parent and I think we *all* need to change our attitudes. I love what you say that we need to make "all of our schools 'choice' schools." As one who *chooses* to send my children to public school, and as a taxpayer who believes I should have a say so in how it all goes down for my kids, I advocate your idea that as much local control as possible should be at the community level.

I would love to hear more of your ideas on this issue. More specifically, as a state senator, what kinds of things could our state legislature do to help move public schools in this direction?


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