Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Ever since I first felt Jonah move inside my belly, I've been concerned about my children's' education. I feel like my parents were involved the right amount: not too much, and not too little. We were fairly smart kids and they made sure were placed in the right programs to help us succeed. Once we hit high school, my parents moved us to a town that offered us a truly innovative education, laying a solid foundation for our future. After accepting a job in a different state, my father commuted well over an hour each way in order to allow me to remain in my high school. This didn't go unnoticed, and I've always known that as a parent, I would be expected (and willing) to make sacrifices for my children to ensure they have every opportunity to fulfill their potential.

We live in Utah, which creates a number of almost insurmountable obstacles when it comes to my kids' education. We're a state with a huge number of children and not enough money to support them. Our state government has consistently demonstrated that education sits fairly low on the priority scale, and our embarrassingly low test scores/competency rates reflect that. No money, no resources. No money, can't attract or keep quality teachers. No money, sub-par facilities. If all of these things are neglected (as they are), its our children that suffer. We will be graduating scores of young adults unprepared for their future and the responsibilities they will ultimately face. I don't know about you, but that's just not okay with me. Our neighborhood elementary school does a lot in the area of grant writing for additional funds, but we're also a community of young professionals who have the means and know-how to pursue such resources. Not many schools in our district or state are so lucky.

Jonah happens to be an exceptionally bright little boy (no doing of mine -- he just came out that way). We're not even certain what his reading level was when entering kindergarten because they only test up to a second-grade reading level, and he aced that with little effort. His sweet teacher does everything she can think of to challenge him but the reality is, he's bored. Every day. We're not in the financial position to provide him with a private education, so we began investigating what the district can do to help him, or kids like him. This is what we found out: The district has only three classes for kids that need accelerated learning. Those classes are housed in three different schools downtown. Each class accepts 26 students. So for each grade level, a maximum of 78 children are allowed to exercise that particular resource (and for clarification's sake, 26 of that 78 are put in a Spanish-English immersion program, so they don't necessarily get to learn state curriculum any faster). I haven't been able to get many specifics from the district as far as how curriculum is altered or general test scores for this accelerated program are concerned, and it worries me that so little information is provided to parents. These magnet programs also reside in schools whose test scores fall below the state average. Perhaps they put them there in an effort to bring up each school's overall scores? Either way, as a parent, I'm really, really concerned about what is (or is NOT) going on. My concern isn't only for my children. I worry about how we're serving all of the children in our state, how we are accommodating various needs and learning styles, and how we are failing to provide enrichment programs in addition to ensuring there is a proficiency in basic, general education.

My best friend teaches at a high school in the Jordan School District (we reside in the Salt Lake School District). We spend a lot of time talking about the educational undercurrents in the state and how that effects both students and educators. Unfortunately for the past few years, there has been nothing positive to report and this year is no exception. I received the following email from her today, and I think its something that all parents of Utah children should read and be aware of because if something similar hasn't already happened in your district, it seems like its only a matter of time before it does unless residents/parents/taxpayers start getting involved:

"So last night was the school board meeting where they told us the budget decision for the coming year. We knew they would have to cut from a variety of sources, so we were prepared for some cuts. Of all the areas they could find money, the biggest revenue is in a tax raise. It would come to about $100 more per year for every $100,000 of home. That makes a difference, but not that much. I live in the school boundary and I have no children to support in education, yet I was willing to take the tax increase. The other options for finding necessary funding were small money producers in comparison. The board voted against a tax increase and in favor of personnel cuts, increased class sizes, and less prep time for the teachers with no compensation. Elementary classes are scheduled to increase by two students, middle school classes will increase by three students, and high school classes will increase by 4.5 students per class. (Of course that will be greater since the geniuses who figure the ratio of students to teachers figure in administration, classified employees, and non-teaching licensed employees. Right now the "ratio" is 1:28, but when just the teachers in the class rooms are counted, the ratio is 1:36. We are looking at an increased load of something more like 7 students to each class.) Additionally, we will no longer be teaching 6 of 8 classes with one preparation period each day, but 7 of 8 classes with one preparation period every other day. Our funding now says we have 216 students each, but with the changes, we will be at 301 students with half our normal preparation time. They voted to balance the budget on the backs of the teachers instead of the general public or a combination of both. Specifically, they are balancing it on high school teachers where the increase of class sizes is greater and the 8 period day is in force. Now tell me how I am going to teach 300 students to write if I have no time to read their work? How am I going to teach them to analytically read and think if we don't have enough books to accommodate that many students nor the money to buy more books? How am I expected to be effective at all in my job with half the prep time, a third more work, and no pay raise (even for cost of living) at all? Do they not understand that they voted to limit my ability to teach which results in students who are even less prepared to college and other jobs? And there is nothing we can do about it. I am so mad and disgusted with this decision I can hardly believe it is really the reality for next year. This decision cost 600 people their jobs. Most of them are classified employees (office and custodial staff, aids...) We need them, but they will be gone. The board says it thought long and hard about the cuts; but I don't buy that for a second. They sold us out so as not to upset the tax payers. There is no talk of removing such restrictions once the economic hardship subsides. We are just expected to keep working for free while being cut and abused even more. I can't see how this has a silver lining, and I am getting angry again just thinking about all the ways we are metaphorically being thrown under the bus. It makes me sick."

It makes me sick, too. We live in a state where few but teachers and classified employees are expected to sacrifice in order to keep things going. I joke with my friend that next year her district will be sending her a bill instead of a paycheck. When you think about what our teachers are asked to endure, you can't help but wonder why anyone would want to subject themselves to that treatment. Its a thankless job on so many levels. I know my friend does it because teaching is her passion -- and she's amazing at it. As a parent, I'm just not sure what I need to do in order to guarantee my children get the best education possible -- with teachers like her. Common sense tells me that nothing is going to change for the good until taxpayers get involved and become more vocal about their expectations from the state and individual districts.

I know the move has to be mine, but what, exactly? I wish I knew where to find those answers...because my kids deserve it.

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