Listening to stakeholders is certainly a critical part of governing and leadership. We wholeheartedly agree with the emphasis former Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser placed on listening to experts in a recent guest opinion.
So, we’re puzzled why Niederhauser would claim the Utah Education Association was included in “a powerhouse group of educational experts” who helped shape the 2015 School Turnaround and Leadership Development Act. The UEA was never asked to participate in discussion around the creation of this law.
In fact, legislators crafting the bill apparently didn’t take the advice of these “educational experts” since several of the “powerhouse” groups cited by Niederhauser, including the UEA, opposed the 2015 bill. The Turnaround Act was, and continues to be, flawed in its methodology, its metrics and its emphasis. As educational experts, we would say it amounts to educational malpractice.
The turnaround law awards tax dollars to a private vendor to “swoop in” and intervene to improve test scores. The monies set aside for a vendor intervention would be better spent on investment into the local school communities to address real and sustainable change; not just a rise in test scores.
In his article, Niederhauser seems to be making a pitch to doggedly cling to what has become an increasingly unpopular and untenable school turnaround law despite the fact it’s almost entirely focused on the equally unreliable and ever-changing school grading law. The school grading model, along with its underlying standardized testing, has been modified every year since it was established in 2011.
We remain hopeful our current legislators will listen to the educational experts now. What works? We advocate for the community schools model. A community school is based on partnerships between a public school and community resources. In addition to academics, community schools focus on health and social services, youth and community development and engagement. These community-centered components lead to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier neighborhoods. Rather than shuttering schools as required under the turnaround model, the schools become the center of the community and are open to everyone.
The Coalition of Community Schools has developed a framework to define results. This is where our tax dollars need to be invested. This is long-term, sustainable improvement for both the schools and communities.
Teachers were not involved, nor were we listened to, in 2015 when the School Turnaround Bill was created. Can you hear us now?
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is a National Board Certified Teacher, the 2009 Utah Teacher of the Year and former UEA president.
Heidi Matthews is a Park City teacher and the current UEA president.