This is an excellent comprehensive report by the Frazier’s who went to the Logan school district meeting on AIR/SAGE put on by the Utah State Office of Education. This is fairly representative of several meeting reports that have come in that illustrate how questions are not answered for the public.
SAGE MEETING REPORT – APRIL 22, 2013
BY AUDREY & JOSHUA FRAZIER
My husband and I went to the Logan SAGE regional meeting on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, which was put on by the Utah State Office of Education. SAGE stands for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence and is the name of Utah’s new computer-adaptive testing system which will accompany the Common Core standards. Researching the topic, preparing for the meeting and then attending it took up the entire day for us. Although the meeting was officially from 4-6 pm, a good portion of people stayed at least 30 minutes past that. My husband and I arrived at 3:55 pm and did not leave until 7:20 pm. For us the meeting lasted nearly 3 ½ hours and was quite exhausting and unnerving. It was intense, and all over the place with agendas, emotions and power struggles.
I have been reluctant to spend more time discussing the meeting because 1) there is too much to write and 2) the meeting was very emotional and confusing. I knew it would take hours and days more of my time to do a good report of the meeting, if I were to do it justice. Until now, I have not had the clarity of mind or frankly, the interest, to review and mentally process the experience. I initially tried to “sum it all up” in a few simple, succinct statements, but found it impossible. Following are 20 pages representing both my husband and me. I am writing in black font color and will interject about 7 pages written by my husband in blue font color. It has been very challenging for me to make an even-handed reporting of the meeting, but here is my perspective.
Judy Park was the presenter. She is an Associate Superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education and is the main person in charge of the Data, Assessment, and Accountability Department. She has a very leading position, one of only four employees who are second in command in the state. She knew her material well and has no doubt been a significant decision-maker. Her personality style was from my grandmother’s generation with polished social graces, an upbeat and positive attitude, even-temper, and diplomacy. (Think of a smooth politician.) The downside of this is passive-aggressive tendencies and the ability to be condescending with a smile, or redirect the conversation without actually answering the question. Her voice was level and reassuring, but she seemed more like an actress on a stage than a genuine communicator. She was well prepared for parental concerns and had pat answers for everything. Therefore, I did not feel like she really listened to or digested any of the feelings that the parents were expressing. I kept thinking her personality reminded me of a softer version of former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. There was an extreme disconnect with anything negative or challenging to her way of thinking, yet she had the appearance of grace throughout the evening. I felt very conflicted in her presence.
Dr. Marshal Garrett was the local person in charge. He is the superintendent of the Logan School District. He seemed to have an intense take-charge, type-A personality, domineering and very no-nonsense. He was very upset and uncomfortable with any negative questions or comments. He did not like anyone to question his authority or the decisions that have been made. He struggled to stay in control of his emotions. Even when he was calm and polite, his voice was strained. I did not have to wonder what he was feeling; he did have emotional integrity in that sense, although his temper made me feel uncomfortable.
Right at 4:00 pm, Ms. Park started the meeting saying she was so happy and excited to introduce us to the wonderful and amazing new testing and data collection system which will be implemented next year in 2014. She said she had been to many such meetings across the state and was on the home stretch of finishing these public presentations. With a smile, she said we were lucky to be getting the efficient and polished evolution of the meeting. She said based on her past experiences she would structure the presentation as follows. No questions during her presentation. After it was over, she would open the floor and the questions would be answered in three groupings: first, SAGE questions; second, data questions; third, any other questions. She said without these rules, audience members seemed to get worked up among themselves and conversation steered off-topic.
A woman in the audience commented that the 4-6 pm time of these public meetings seemed to exclude husbands who were still at work.
Ms. Park asked that all comments/questions be saved to the end of her PowerPoint and assured the audience that she would stay until the last question was answered. Her conversational style was very persuasive. She was a salesperson with a job to do.
The PowerPoint was a presentation of WHAT IS ALREADY DECIDED AND IN PLACE. It detailed the technicalities of the new assessment system connected to the new Common Core standards. It was an introduction and overview training session of the SAGE system, which is the adaptive testing coming next year.
Here is some basic information on the history of SAGE: In 2012, House Bill 15 provided money in ongoing funding for Adaptive Assessment. A meeting was held with the State Board of Education where they appointed an RFP (Request for Proposal) committee. The RFP committee consisted of administrators, educators, professionals and parents. In connection with the new Utah Core Standards (Common Core), the RFP committee detailed what their goals were for a new assessment system and wrote those up in a report. Bids were received from various assessment companies (13 or 14 different bids came in) to fulfill the committee’s goals (referred to as Utah’s goals). There was a statewide review. The State Board of Education appointed a separate committee to review, score and select an assessment provider from among the bids. AIR is the company the FRP selection board chose unanimously as the best choice which offered the best package to fulfill Utah’s goals. AIR stands for American Institutes for Research. AIR had the proven history and cutting edge technological abilities the committee was looking for. It was a clear and easy choice. The FRP board then submitted its choice back to the State Board of Education. Ms. Park made references to Utah “stakeholders”, although I am not sure exactly who those people are. When discussing the committees’ and board panel’s decisions, Ms. Park referred to them as “them”, but I do believe that she was in attendance and making powerful decisions at these meetings. She did not use the more accurate pronoun “we” which would have acknowledged her role in these decisions.
I cannot adequately sum up her PowerPoint presentation, but she said the whole thing was available on the state’s website. I wrote notes as to what stood out in my mind from her words.
- SAGE will give us greater information, greater assessment and greater reporting with more data than we have ever had before.
- We have never really had a good reporting system.
- The test results will be immediate.
- This has been implemented on a really quick timeline – almost scary quick.
- This is something new which has not been done in Utah before.
- Utah chose AIR out of about 14 other options. AIR was chosen for what they are capable of doing.
- There was consensus. Everyone agreed.
- I am really excited. (Repeated often)
Ms. Park presented from 4:00 – 5:20-ish. During that time she went over a lot of technicalities and details of the new system. Some people did try to ask questions, right as the question would arise in their minds. Sometimes the question was answered directly, sometimes it was avoided and sometimes the person asking the question was yelled at by the superintendent or crowd members, and the person told to wait until the end to ask any questions. In general, simple questions/comments in support of the new assessments were answered directly, while questions/comments which questioned the assessments, or were asking details which made Ms. Park or Dr. Garrett uncomfortable were postponed until after the PowerPoint was over. This unfortunately meant that some very important questions were never honestly acknowledged or answered.
As a note, for the first half of the meeting, Ms. Park presented alone. At some point though, the meeting got heated enough that Dr. Garrett stood up and joined her up at the front for the remaining time. Ms. Park had been to many such meetings and seemed prepared for it. Dr. Garrett may have been apprised also, because he seemed on guard and quick to react. I do not think the great concern being voiced by parents caught either of them off-guard in the slightest.
Interesting things worth noting about the SAGE system:
- Children will no longer need an IEP for certain basic testing accommodations, such as the text being enlarged to a bigger font on the computer screen, taking breaks or extended time for tests.
- The testing/data system will be available in Braille.
- The adaptive testing technology itself is “smart.” The test results are more accurate and paint a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the child. The test gives a child the chance to “show off” all he knows, or have the test end quickly if he does not know many answers. (I think it would be like the ALEKS math program, but much more technologically advanced)
- The SAGE system is compatible with iPads and tablets.
- On any given test, a child will get about 50% of the test questions correct and 50% incorrect. The computer presents questions until the child can’t answer them correctly. Every test path will look different. (Think of a flowchart or a Choose Your Own Adventure book.) The test may be over after only 15 questions, or may last for 100 questions, for example.
The SAGE system has 3 parts:
Formative: individual observations by the teacher
Summative: state mandated end of year testing which will replace CRTs
Interim: tests during the year, such as in fall at beginning of year, or at other times as deemed necessary by the districts
During the presentation, Utah’s SAGE demo was pulled up on the AIR website. Some parents voiced concern over this and were assured that by the time it is up and running next year, Utah’s assessments will be hosted by Utah’s own computers, and that what was being shown was only a bid demo.
After the PowerPoint presentation was over, it was now time to officially hear the answers to all the questions which had built up. However, even at this point, Ms. Park took charge and structured the question/answer period. She said there would be three phases of questions based on the subject matter. First, she would answer questions about the SAGE assessment system; second, she would answer questions about data; and finally she would answer any miscellaneous questions.
At some point, a parent expressed concern over the $32 million price tag for AIR’s services saying that that amount was simply not enough money to compensate the incalculable work load this would require AIR. He wondered if AIR were benefitting in some other way which would have motivated them to accept the task of completely overhauling Utah’s testing and data collection for such a small compensation in proportion to the work involved. As an IT person, he understood the technicalities of what this would require and said there was no company which could do what was proposed for such a little amount. He thought that no other company even had a chance to come close to being competitive with the AIR bid. Ms. Park was surprised at his comment and replied that, “Oh, no, the bid was not for 32 million dollars, Utah does not have that much money. We only had 6.7 million dollars available.”
To which the parent expressed even more surprise and said something to the effect of, “Well that is even worse! That makes even less sense! Now I am more worried. Look at how much we are getting for not much money.”
Ms. Park laughingly chided, “Oh, wow, oh, I could’ve used you on the hill!”
He replied “No I’m serious, for them to provide what they are doing for that little money would be charity on their part. What I’m worried about is general evidenced based social change, based upon data in the aggregate, and the way in which they use that data.”
Ms. Park said “No, they can’t use the data for any purpose at all.”
He replied, “Oh my, that is so naïve.”
Dr Garrett injected, “That’s the contract, folks, that’s the contract they have. I’m sorry but if the state office has broken contracts when there has been misuse, then that happens. The reality is that the data can only be flowed through, it cannot be utilized.”
The parent then asked, “Does anybody here really believe that is what will happen? Let’s be honest here”.
Dr Garrett said, “I’m sorry that that is how you feel.”
(At this point, I will use excerpts from my husband Joshua’s notes. The good thing about both of us attending was that we each recorded different things and had our own perspectives. This is actually a condensed, abridged version of the meeting, there are many more things that were said that I would like to include. My husband focused on documenting the concerns which were brought up and the administrators’ responses. This is my husband’s report in blue font color.)
A lady commented about her concerns with the program and said, “AIR is associated with George Soros, so why did Utah choose that company?”
Ms. Park replied “You know, it’s interesting, if you go on their website, there are probably 200 groups/companies associated with AIR. They run the whole gamut. So if you get on there you’ll see a little bit of everything. So of those 200, I’m sure there might be 1 or 2 that might be concerning to folks, but you have to look at all of it.”
I stated, “I think she is talking about who primarily is funding and pushing it, not just some small, insignificant association which just happens to be on the list.”
To which Ms. Park and Dr. Garrett both explained that there was a FAQ section on the website and referred her to check out the website. Ms. Park then said, “So that took care of your question, let’s move on to the next.”
A person asked a question about data, and Ms. Park said, “Ok, we are going to answer questions about data after we answer questions about assessment, so next question please.”
A person asked about the parent panel that will be put together to review the test questions, and asked how many parents would be on the panel and what the process will be to get on the panel. Ms. Park replied that the legislation requires 15 people to be on the panel. The group audibly gasped in shock that it was only 15. Many immediately asked how they could be one of the ones on the panel. She replied, “If you are interested then go ahead and send me an email.”
A lady then suggested that they accommodate 15 parents from each school or at least each district, not just 15 total. Ms. Park replied that they simply don’t have the resources for that. The lady replied “Well, I would suggest that you think about how to accommodate that because there are at least that many concerned parents in each school.”
Dr. Garrett then said, “Let me put this into perspective, we have been testing since 1986. We’ve had end of level tests. What we are trying to do now is no different than what we have ever done before.”
A lady in the audience said, “But it is the way you are approaching and implementing this what is now starting to scare us a bit.”
He replied, “There is nothing different in the approach now than what we have ever done before, and I’ve been an educator in this state for over 30 years. What we are doing is consistent with what has been done in the past.”
I said, “But it’s consistently getting worse, not better.”
Dr. Garrett replied, “Well, that’s an unfortunate perspective for you.”
Ms. Park said, “Let me give you another perspective, we have 2 assessment systems now required by law. I have one that’s a computer adaptive test that is owned by Utah, controlled by Utah, written by Utah. I’m Utah born and bred; I’m not an alien that was just transplanted. Everything is under Utah control. Then we have another assessment system called the ACT. We have no control. We don’t get to see the questions. We don’t know anything about it. It’s going to be administered to all our kids. I haven’t had one concern about ACT. But the test that we are in total control over seems to be where all the angst is. So I just find that all kind of interesting.”
A parent in the audience said, “Actually there were a lot of concerns when the ACT came out, but no one listened then either and we’re just trying to avoid the same types of concerns now.”
One lady was concerned that the adaptive nature of the tests was designed to make all kids fail 50% of the questions no matter how good they were. Ms Park said it was ok and noted that many kids already do not do well on tests and are used to it. She said that the kids would be prepared and trained for what this new system would be like.
The lady restated that she was concerned with kids taking a test that didn’t end until the test adapted to outwit and fail them, stating “At which point does the test let up, once the child is vomiting?”
Dr. Garrett said that it was going to be fun and challenging for good students to be newly presented with things in the test which they had never seen before or been taught before. He said that the kids will recognize when the test starts quizzing them on new, never before presented material, stating that they would feel empowered that they must be doing well on the test and that it would be a positive thing for them.
A parent stated that he was concerned about the group which put together the RFP (goals for the new assessment system). His concern was that the group that put together the RFP was not the same group which would review or accept the proposals. He stated that only one group should be doing it.
Ms. Park said, “Well, that’s not how we do it, you have to understand that we are a state agency.”
He replied, “That is insane, why would you have one group make it (the standards and goals) and a totally different group evaluating it and accept bids? No company in world would ever do that.”
Ms. Park said, “The Board of Education wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any bias, that those writing the RFP were not targeting a particular company, vendor or test; so one group writes it, and another group reads it and gets to choose.”
She continued, “I mean, I can only say what the Board of Education did.”
A lady then commented that there was this big presentation and focus on the first group, stating that great efforts were taken to show how fairly the group had been selected (containing parents, teachers, etc…) But never any mention that the group which would actually be making the final decision would be a totally separate group of people. If anything, this was fishy at best and introduces greater room for bias, not less.
Ms. Park and Dr. Garrett replied that the names in the groups were listed and could be looked up.
A man in the audience then said, “So then the 2nd part of my question is, can we see the contract that was put together?”
Ms. Park said, “Yes, it’s on the website.”
The man repeated, “It IS on the website?”
And she replied “Yes, I told you to go to State Office of Education, go to assessment, go to SAGE, everything is there.”
A lady said, “I have some concerns about the math curriculum. Ivy league schools such as Harvard have come out and said that they are against this and that is going to destroy math and …”
But Dr. Garrett cut her off and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry but we are trying to stay on topic and..”
A person in the audience interrupted and said “I would like to hear what she is saying; I’d like her to finish her question and hear your response.”
Dr. Garrett said, “That’s fine and you can, but only if your question is about SAGE then that’s what we’re here for and the 2nd set of questions will be on data. Judy (Ms. Park) has said that she was more than happy to stay after for other questions.”
The lady asking the question kept trying to talk but Dr. Garrett repeatedly cut her off yelling loudly, “I’m sorry, ma’am, no, I’m sorry, but this is the process and this is how we are going to do it, and we will have plenty of time to get to your questions.” Several people continued to try to get the question answered.
One person stated, “Some of us may have to leave earlier. This is a public meeting and we would like to hear your answer to that question.”
Dr. Garrett angrily cut off each person and insisted that the questions now had to be in relation to data and as soon as it’s all over Judy has committed to answer other questions.
Another lady said, “We want it to get answered now because we don’t think you are going to answer it later.”
Dr. Garrett said, “It doesn’t matter ma’am. This is how we are going to do it.” His voice was intense, thundering, and intimidating.
Ms. Park took a different approach to changing the topic. Instead of arguing, she simply began talking, stating “Let me give you some basic information about data, I know there’s been a lot of concern about privacy of student data and there should be concerns about that, about how they collect that data and how they use that data. I mean I just go crazy when I go online and I see children who have their pictures on Facebook, and their names, and the names of their schools, and their birthdates and information on Facebook, that has absolutely no security on it. I just cringe because we need to protect our kids. We need to protect information about them and we need to protect the data about them. So let me tell you the process we have in our office and what we do with data.” She kept talking about how they have been collecting and keeping data on students at the state office since the 70’s. She assured that it was a secure system that their IT department keeps the data very secure. She said that they use that data in order to make reports or answer question that people ask them.
So I said, “But the difference between that and Facebook is that I have a choice whether or not I have a Facebook account. My children and I get to exercise our freedom to choose whether or not to post to Facebook, and we get to choose what we announce, when and how we do so. The difference is that you collect data without consent and make that choice for us. You decide when and with whom you share that information. That is the difference, and that choice is taken out of our hands.”
Ms. Park said, “Well, as a society we could choose not to have this data resource, but for now our society has chosen that we do want that information.”
Dr. Garrett once again pointed out that this is how things have been done for a long time and so why be concerned about it now?
Then Dr. Garrett asked, “Are there any other questions on SAGE before we move on to take questions on data?”
My wife then said, “I appreciate positive things like better assessments, especially when they are in private hands, not government hands. There are private assessment tools out there that parents can get for their children, on their own, independent from public school systems. I like the equal accommodations and the brailed computers, tablets etc. Which is a given because of Bill Gates’ connection with AIR, so of course they will be leading that technology. However you stated an interesting question when you asked ‘Why are people all of a sudden upset now, and why is it suddenly a hot topic now, when for decades we have always done end of level testing and data collecting in the past?’ I guess I want to comment that the political climate is not even remotely what it was decades ago, and the dramatic and drastic changes that are happening nationally, and locally, are so significant that every huge overhaul of anything demands caution and scrutiny. When you have people who care deeply about their children, and they are scrutinizing this, I don’t think we should be pushed or persuaded to do anything. So my question is, are you aware that it is no longer the 1980’s? It is 2013, and it is a different thing. So when you are introducing great change, this is of concern.”
Dr. Garrett replied, “The change we are making is consistent with the changes we have been making since 2002 when No Child Left Behind came in,” (to which the crowd grumbled) “so the reality for us as educators is that we are just ratcheting it up to where we have wanted to see it for a long time anyway.”
A lady asked “What if we want to opt out?”
Ms. Park replied that parents can opt out of lots of things at school, if they don’t want their child seeing a particular film or taking a particular test then they can elect to have their child stay home, just as long as it is not more than 10% of the school because state law requires that no more than 10% opt out because the school fails. Since it is an accountability system, such requires at least 95% participation or the entire school is considered a failure or gets a zero score, and that is currently what is in state law.
Throughout the night, Ms. Park repeatedly mentioned how hard they were working. She assured us that they were working hard and because contracts are in place, their hands are tied and have to do what they are doing.
I said, “I understand that legislation has already past. I understand that the contracts are already out there and that you say they have to be fulfilled and cannot be broken. I understand that you are working hard. I have no question, I have no doubt that you are working hard, all my questions lead back to this one; who are you working for? And the answer is that it is not for me, nor is it for these other parents here today. It is a top-down mandate that is driving Common Core and I’m not being represented.”
To which she replied, “Thank you so much for acknowledging all our hard work! Yes, we are working very hard. I appreciate the fact that you recognize that I’m here doing a job. That I’m fortunate that I have a fabulous job and I love my job. But who do I work for? I work for the State Board of Education. I have to comply with state law; that’s an absolute mandate, I don’t have a choice to ignore state law. I have to comply with federal law, so you’re absolutely right with that. And the frustration is that, well, we didn’t get to chose state law, and you know what? Neither did I. We didn’t get to chose, we are the firewall. I know, dump it on me, it’s ok. I so appreciate you pointing this out. If we are unhappy with state law, if we’re unhappy with federal law…Gee, I don’t have that kind of power, …wouldn’t it be nice if I did, but I don’t have the power to change that. But all I can do is come and try to help you understand, try to give you as honest questions as I can possibly give. It doesn’t mean that I can make it better, that I can change it, that I can make anything go away, I just hopefully can make you understand what it is, kind of why it is, and what we’re trying to do to meet those requirements. That’s all I can do.”
Someone in the audience began explaining how this is about social change and taking control over children.
Ms. Park loudly cut her off mid-sentence said “Ok, let me ask this. Could I ask you a question now?” The group quieted down and she said, “If I can be helpful, I’m happy to stay, but if you kind of want to talk amongst yourselves, I don’t know that you need me to stay for this, I’d just as soon be on the road.”
The questions then turned to the problems with the testing process and the new “fuzzy math.” Dr. Garrett and Ms. Park had been referring to Utah Core all night long, as if it was something different, isolated and untouchable by Common Core. If anyone referred to Common Core, Dr. Garrett would defensively correct the person, saying that there was no such thing as Common Core, only Utah Core, and that those were the standards they were accountable to uphold.
Finally the Harvard/Ivy League school question re-surfaced on how this Common Core program was going to destroy math and make it so that kids could not take calculus in high school.
Ms. Park said, “I know that part isn’t true because any student who wants to prepare and take calculus can. We haven’t lost calculus by any means. I know people struggle with math because it is now looking at math differently.” She explained that the new core combined everything all-in-one instead of separating classes into algebra or geometry.
A teacher in the room defended the math program saying how she loved it. The room seemed split on if they liked it or not.
Then, Dr. Garrett then apologized that he had to leave. He said, “If you are from Logan and have further questions, I’m going to throw the ball to Dave Long, my director of technology and educational support services. If you have any questions, he will make sure they get to me and we will work on some things on our district to help you understand both sides of the court.” And he left.
Then I stated, “We are in a great age of technology, I’m sure there are some amazing tools that are being created and are a part of this new overhaul of the education system, but what is ideal for one child may be terrible for the next, so good systems should not be commonly enforced for all. I have no question that many programs within the system are good, positive, and exciting. It is not these particular items that I’m here to debate over. My problem is with the vehicle in which such tools are being delivered. I’m sure there are neat tools within Common Core. It would be crazy if there wasn’t at least something redeeming, positive or luring about it. However, it is the vehicle called Common Core or Utah Core, that we should be focusing on and rejecting.”
Once again completely changing the subject, Ms. Park stated, “The thing that is the most valuable is that education is really about the teacher and the student. And for the most part I think we have some great teachers and some great educators. Keep in mind, curriculum is done at the classroom level. The standards are just the basic standards, they are not how it’s taught, they are not what is taught. It’s a standard of what the students should know. It’s the teachers that design and deliver the curriculum.
I replied, “That is not my understanding of how it works.”
The few people that were left disagreed and said that what is taught and how it is taught is exactly what is being mandated to the teachers, and that they do not have a say in what is to be taught or how to teach it. They are being handed a very specific agenda of what is expected to be taught, and that is exactly what they have to teach. Someone suggested that there are many teachers and educators on all levels who are afraid to speak up or stand up against it because it could mean their jobs. It was stated that the standard is what creates the curriculum.
Ms. Park replied, “Well it does, but is not how its taught or what we teach. There is a difference.” She went on, “The teachers are happy with this, they love it!”
The group replied that they did not believe that was the case.
Several people stated that the particulars are not the point. The point is where it comes from, how it is implemented, and who pushes for implementation. All the neat programs and “free stuff” within Common Core is just the sugar coating on the rotten apple.
Ms. Park then announced that it was 6:30 and that she had a long drive. She asked for any last questions and said goodbye.
She then turned to me and said, “I just want to be clear that I stayed to answer any questions.”
I told her that I had heard echoed from others at other SAGE regional meetings that they felt that they could not get their questions properly answered. Ms. Park said ,“If you’ve heard that about any of the meetings that I’ve been to then that is absolutely false because every meeting I’ve done exactly what I’ve done tonight and I’ve always stayed to answer every single question, so don’t believe everything you hear.”
I found it ironic for her to claim to have answered all of our questions and yet have those who remained still feel that she had not even begun to listen to or respond to their questions or concerns.
If, as Ms Park stated, this was exactly how she treated every other group that she has spoken to, then no wonder so many others claimed that she did not listen, that she cut off and avoided their questions, that she steered the meeting. Ultimately, she, in fact, did not answer the questions because successfully getting a crowd to stop asking questions is not the same as actually answering questions. My experience with Ms. Park or Dr. Garrett felt fruitless and was exhausting.
In addition to my husband’s record, I want to add a few more things. Interspersed throughout the frequent parental concerns and questions were positive teacher comments. There were multiple teachers who endorsed the new Common Core standards and curriculum at the meeting. There were testimonials of how it is improving and aiding the teachers in new and exciting ways. Different teachers explained in detail how the changes are helping them reach children they never have been able to reach before. I could feel of the teachers’ genuine excitement and conviction as some of them talked.
The notable opposition being voiced by many was a surprise to at least one person in attendance. Near the end, a teacher stood up bewildered. She said she was shocked at the opposition that was being voiced and asked, “Where is this coming from? I just don’t understand where this is coming from?” She made several statements about being so surprised and I sincerely believe she did not know there was such conflict surrounding all the new Utah Core (Common Core) standards until that evening.
To sum up, I am very glad I went to the meeting. As uncomfortable as it was to be there, I needed to see and feel the dysfunction first hand.
I could clearly see 3 groups in attendance: (I hope I’m not oversimplifying.)
- The administrators leading the meeting
- Teachers, administrators and other paid employees in the audience
- Parents in the audience
(In addition there was a member of the press, too.)
The administrators and teachers are all paid by the state. Their income and livelihood depend on their ability to adapt and accept this new system. What they personally feel, if in opposition to the status quo, was not welcome at this meeting. Endorsements were. There was no invitation, spoken or unspoken, for the teachers or administrators to have personal complaints or concerns.
The parents, on the other hand, were free to be upfront and honest. There was no conflict of interest. There was no boss in the room, no paycheck to consider. Many parents openly expressed resistance.
Unfortunately, the voices of the parents were the least understood or valued. To be at such a meeting, where concerns were blankly ignored, postponed or re-directed was a very demeaning and insulting experience. It is ironic, because what parents stand to lose is supremely more precious than income, employment position or reputation. The stewardship of parents over their own children is in the balance right now. The future of our children’s education has taken a monumental jump away from anything “family friendly”. Each child, precious and individual, must look to parents as the last line of defense now.
Ms. Judy Park is in a significant position of influence and decision-making power. Yet her presentation of who made the state decisions was spoken almost all in second-person. She did not own or take responsibility for the choices she has made or is making, and what exactly her part in this is. For the majority of the time, she spoke of the Utah State Office of Education as “them” or “they”, instead of “we”. I think if she predicted the statement to be well received, it was “we”, otherwise it was the distant pronoun, “they”. The word that kept going through my mind for the whole presentation was p-l-a-c-a-t-e. She went through the motions of a public informational meeting with a question and answer period; however there was no actual addressing, acknowledging or resolving of most of the real concerns from parents.
It was clear there were reputable teachers in attendance that genuinely supported the increased tools they have and will be given to reach their students. Who can blame them? They are in the trenches everyday and appreciate any helps they can get to “do their job.” No doubt there are many intelligent and caring teachers who have their students’ best interest in mind and feel relieved to reach especially at-risk students better.
But do those teachers and administrators understand the conflict of interest inherent in their position? Have they taken the time to research in documents and resources not endorsed or specifically provided by the Utah State Office of Education? In other words, have they researched Race to the Top, Common Core, SAGE and AIR independently? Do they know where and how these changes came to be? Do they understand the greater political agenda which may be behind these changes? Can they see how these decisions are undermining personal freedoms, personal life goals, and individuality, not to mention privacy?
I have had to ask myself some questions: Do I really want the local school district, in compliance with the state’s new core standards (Common Core) and with the technological advances afforded by AIR, getting more information about my children? (Information is power.) Do the positives outweigh the negative? Do I want to further embolden and empower the school district? The State of Utah? Do I trust their intentions? Do I trust the Utah State Office of Education? Do I trust the technology provider AIR with whom they have contracted? Is the best interest of my family and my child represented in any of these?
What does the U.S.O.E really know about AIR? Do they understand the controversy surrounding that company? Either they don’t know and have been negligent in their due diligence process, or they do know and are OK with it. I am not sure which worries me more. To not know would make them so very careless. If they choose knowingly, then that may mean the U.S.O.E’s goals are compatible with AIR’s goals. That is unacceptable to me.
All in all, I feel pretty discouraged. As one concerned parent commented to me after everyone was finally filing out of the building, “We are always one step behind, aren’t we?” My voice, as well as my husband’s and other parents, did seem small and ignored. But attending the meeting was the right thing to do. Voicing concern and intelligent counterarguments is a necessary and needed resistance to a growing situation I find very alarming.
We have a real problem on our hands and, and quite honestly, I am not sure what our available options are at this point. The Utah State Office of Education has a mind of its own with a growing ring of power. Their goals, values, and programs are not in alignment with many voices of concerned parents in Logan Valley.