As candidates for school board fill out the questionnaire, their responses will appear here. Click a name to read their detailed answers.
Name: Tony Zani
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/mrzaniforusbe11
Race Type: State School Board
State Board Political Party: Unaffiliated
State School District #: District 11
School District & Seat:
What is the purpose of education?
The purpose of education is the ensure every child has the skills needed to be successful in whatever endeavors they choose in life. Obviously this includes teaching academic skills, but it also means teaching our children the skills of life. We need to help our children learn to be respectful, thoughtful, creative, and innovative. Our children are not widgets that just get information crammed into their heads for a test. Education is meant to grow and develop the whole child into a well-rounded, thoughtful, successful citizen.
What is your vision of the future for education in Utah? How do we help families and children get the education they desire?
As I’ve campaigned for school board, I’ve heard over and over that families do not feel heard by the school board or their schools. There is so much pressure to ensure that children pass the tests, that everyone in the school system prioritizes this over the needs of families. I hear parents tell me over and over that they want their children to enjoy school and find it meaningful. So, we need to listen to families and develop an education system that is meaningful and fulfilling to Utah’s students.
As a school board member, you will bring to the position your own agenda you have campaigned on. What are the top 3 things you wish to see happen during your time on the board?
1. I want to see a reduction in testing. Excessive testing has not improved education in the United States and it only serves to demoralize students.
2. I want to see more of focus on developing skills that focus on leadership. Creativity, innovation, resilience, and hard-work are skills that aren’t taught now because they can’t be tested. The mantra in education is “what gets tested is what gets taught”. Just ask leaders in the business world. For years we’ve been producing “book smart” students that struggle in the real world because they lack skills of leadership.
3. Increase funding to the classroom level. I want to find every way I can to reduce overhead and put that money to reducing class sizes and improving classroom conditions. As a teacher, I see how state and federal requirements to “prove” everything we do is effective actually costs us money. We spend more and more paying people to meet these requirements when this funding could be better used to reduce class sizes and actually make improvements at the classroom level.
Some organizations believe members should drop all personal agenda’s when elected, how will you resolve any commitments you’ve made to voters during your campaign?
Every voter I’ve met has agreed that we should reduce testing, especially for elementary school students. Every voter I’ve talked to agrees that we need to increase our students “soft” skills by teaching students to be leaders instead of just making school into year after year of test prep. Every voter I’ve talked to has agreed that we should reduce administrative costs and increase classroom level funding. I have no need to drop those agenda items and pursuing those agenda items resolves my commitment to voters.
In 2010, Utah adopted the National Common Core Standards and later adopted the national science standards. Since then, numerous data has showed that this was a step backward for education. As a state school board member, will you work to completely replace Common Core standards with something better?
I’d like to do a review of them with parental involvement
In recent years, Utah has adopted a number of initiatives such as computer adaptive testing through SAGE and Aspire tests. What is your vision for how testing should function in Utah schools?
For elementary and middle school students, we need to eliminate state level testing. Teachers should test the students in their classes to determine the progress of their students. The real purpose of testing is for teachers to measure how well their students are progressing and then provide additional/different instruction as needed for their students. As the SAGE/RISE tests are used now, teachers are unable to use the information to make adjustments for their students. I know USBE and districts say teachers can use the information, but teachers often don’t see the results until the next school year and teachers never see how students do beyond a total score. In fact, teachers aren’t even supposed to read the test questions. Students take a test that their teachers haven’t seen and no one gets the results for months AND we spend millions of dollars on this? Enough of that.
High school students, however, should be given the opportunity to take tests that are necessary for their career choices. Students should not be forced to take the ACT, but the opportunity should be provided. Opportunities to take other tests should also be provided, especially if students are choosing to begin a trade that does not involve attending college.
Explain your position on data privacy as it relates to education? Who should have access to student information and under what kind of controls?
Student data should not be used for research or data analysis without parental consent. The student and the student’s family should have access to all student information. The student’s teachers should have access to data that is necessary for instruction. School administrators should have access to data that is necessary to oversee school programs. No one else should have access to student data without the consent of parents.
There is a push to remove Utah’s abstinence-based education and replace it with a Comprehensive Sexuality Education program for K-12. Where do you stand on this issue?
I believe it is the role of families to teach sex education. I would like USBE to develop a variety of resources for parents to use to teach sex education. These can be a combination of print and online resources with a range of information. Parents should have access to the materials to use when and how they see fit. Across Utah, not every family has the same values and timelines for teaching their children about sex. My son has been taught about sex in school since 5th grade and has often developed misconceptions because he was taught concepts he didn’t understand. Why are schools even taking on this role to determine what to teach about sexuality and when to teach it? This is a role for families and we should return it to families.
What role does the federal government play in Utah schools?
Too much. Right now the federal government plays too many games with tax money to get states to do what the federal department of education wants. This is wrong. The constitution leaves education to the states. If the federal government is going to collect tax money and distribute it has education money, then it should be done with a lens of equality for the students. I can certainly see a place for providing additional federal funding through programs like Title I. I can also see a small role for the federal government in ensuring there is no discrimination in education. Segregation in the south is an example of when the federal government was right to step in. Trying to micromanage every state is wrong. Further, the amount of administration required to prove to the federal government that we are meeting all of their requirements is ridiculous. The money should be distributed because it belongs to the taxpayers and students. If the federal government wants to withhold money, the burden of proof should be on the federal government.
What is your vision for technology in Utah schools, particularly with the massive cuts coming due to the Covid-19 lockdown actions depleting our resources?
Students with better access to technology have generally done better during the school dismissal. We need to increase funding for technology to ensure every student has access to a computer or tablet and the internet. Even without Covid-19, we live in an age of technology. Students should be using modern technology and schools should facilitate access for those that need it. The federal government is providing money through the CARES act to school districts and many are using that money to purchase technology for students. The state school board and the legislature should provide additional funding for technology.
The State Board of Education had to recommend cuts to education funding at 2%, 5%, and 10% What would your budget cut priorities be?
Testing and administration. We spend millions of dollars each year on testing programs that don’t work and aren’t proven. Test development requires a lot of manpower. Test analysis requires a lot of manpower. Every school district employs a large assessment department dedicated to the development, administration, and analysis of tests. USBE spends millions developing, administering, and analyzing tests. Decades of standardized testing have not improved education in the US, let’s start saving money there.
There are many different roles in education. At the state level there are board members, the superintendent and USBE staff. In your opinion what are the differences between these roles?
The superintendent makes the day-to-day decisions of USBE and is the public face of USBE. The school board members create and approve policies that affect the decisions made by the superintendent and USBE staff. The school board members also hire, evaluate, and terminate the superintendent. USBE staff are responsible for carrying out the policies of the superintendent and the school board.
Utah law recognizes a fundamental liberty interest of parents in the education of their children with schools as a secondary support. As such, should Utah have a criminal compulsory education law? Please explain the reason for your answer.
Utah should not have a criminal compulsory education law. Parents should be able to educate their children in ways that work best for their families. However, parents do have a responsibility to ensure their children are educated.
What is your relationship to the education establishment in Utah? UEA/USBA/PTA. Have they contributed to your campaign or endorsed you in any way? (if so, how?) What schools, districts, or organization’s do you feel need represention to the state board through your efforts?
I am a literacy specialist in Salt Lake City Schools. I am a member of UEA, but I have not received their endorsement or any funding from them. I see my role as a father as greater than my role as a teacher. My experience has a father gives me insight into what families want from the education system. My experience has a teacher gives me insight into where we can streamline and improve the system.
School board members represent all stakeholders in education, but students and parents should be the school board’s primary constituents. I understand that school board members need to hear the point of view of the business community, religious community, teachers, and school districts. Everyone is impacted by the decisions of the state school board and should express their points of view to elected officials. However, I see school board members as primarily representatives of children and parents.