Research on Community-Sized Districts

Deregulation of Public Education Proposal

PUBLIC EDUCATION DEREGULATION
A PROPOSAL TO THE UTAH STATE LEGISLATURE

by
Representative David N. Cox

Introduction

This proposal is a little different than most proposals for competency might be. In business terms, it is more like the historical deregulation of AT&T than the usual program changes that come and go. Though the change to AT&T was monumental, no one can deny the benefits both financially and in service since then. Like AT&T's deregulation, this proposal gets to the root problem, will be less expensive in the long run, and more rewarding than other programs might be.

The total package consists of: 1. structural changes in the system, 2. changes to infrastructure, 3. curriculum changes, and 4. simplification. However it preserves public education. I include a rationale with each component. The different components can be taken separately, but the total program will ultimately be the most long lasting and will tend to prevent migration back to where we are today.

Certain assumptions have been made in preparing this proposal. These assumptions together with a definition of public education can be found in the appendix under "Initial Proposal". Also included in the appendix is the presentation made to the RFP (Request For Proposals) committee, which gives a historical background to these ideas and shows how and why they all fit together.

This proposal is not expected to reduce costs. However, it will also not require ever increasing infusions of revenues and will bring better results than anything else government can do. We must stop trying to become the parents and social services center for the children. Some children will fail because of their own choices, or influenced by parental choices. However, by implementing this proposal, more children will succeed and more equity of opportunity will happen for those who are willing, than what we are currently doing. We cannot guarantee that every student will succeed, because that assumes that every child is just a widget to be worked on in a factory. Children are individuals with the ability to make choices. If we try to manipulate them all to "succeed," most will fail.

This proposal does not pretend to "Leave No Child Behind" by building more dikes along the stream they should follow. It dredges the stream of the weeds that are clogging it, making it easier for all to follow the course leading to success.

This proposal is not a competency-based system as described in the RFP. It does not attempt to define how local citizens and educators will provide for competency. It sets up a system that creates natural accountability to the local patrons, whose children they are, instead of artificial accountability to the state. The responsibility of the state is to set up a system that will promote self-governing on the local level, thus raising all patrons in the process, through participation. As we improve the citizens in a community, we improve the education of the children. The only other option is to become a centralized government that runs every aspect of the citizens’ lives. This of course doesn’t work, as history has proven.

This proposal does not require increasing state tax revenues, however some of the newly created small districts would likely raise local taxes for specific needs they felt important enough to need extra funding. These would not likely be the same in each district and would only pass with broad support.

In addition to the basic proposal, I am also proposing a pilot, state-sponsored "charter district" to test and work out the bugs and to work as a model before statewide implementation. This pilot program is detailed at the end of the proposal and would consist of two schools, a K-6 elementary and a 7-12 secondary school. I have indications that the Bill Gates Foundation, which gives funding to promote smaller schools, and others will donate a significant portion of the initial building cost if the state also contributes to this project.

This "charter district" would be used to:
1. Model best building practice,
2. Model how to best structure and administer community sized school districts,
3. Model best methods in teaching and how to set up curriculum on a local level,
4. Implement other promising practices such as the other RFP proposals before attempting to impose them on the entire state.

Report on RFP Grant

Upon the acceptance of the first phase of this proposal and lacking a specific request for funds, the RFP committee granted $15,000 to more fully develop this proposal. Committee members specifically mentioned a desire to see the feasibility of creating smaller community school districts as mentioned in the Initial Proposal. The due date for the full proposal was December 31. In searching for persons qualified to do such a study regarding the financial viability of creating smaller districts, it became evident from their comments that there was not sufficient time to complete that kind of research in the time allowed.

During this time a petition was accepted by the Utah County Commission requesting a study to see if those living within the Lehi High School boundaries could successfully establish and maintain a new school district based on those boundaries. The Commission estimated that the cost for such a study would be about $15,000. I am therefore asking the indulgence of the Interim Committee to use this funding for that study, as it is substantially the study I was planning to conduct and the most important part of my proposal.

The Utah County Commission has appointed seven members, of which I am one, to the ad hoc committee designated to study the issue. This committee is made up of members with legal, financial, educational, and community leadership backgrounds. They are charged with completing the study before July 1, 2004. The grant does allow funding to provide a credible study on this portion of my proposal.
Structural Changes in the System

This first component of my proposal is the biggest and most important part of the proposal because without it, the other components will only be short-lived and probably would not be fully implemented. Even if this were the only component adopted, it would sooner or later solve the other problems, because it creates a self-correcting institution, provided the mechanism is installed to replicate this practice when growth occurs.

Divide all school districts into unified, but stand-alone, separate high school districts. This means each high school, combined with its feeder schools, would become the educational corporation for that community. The term community may mean only one part of a large city, meaning that there could be several districts in a larger city, autonomous, with their own school board. Future state law should provide a way whereby these divisions happen automatically. As districts grow, they are required to divide in an organized way with some flexibility allowed and supervised by the USOE (Utah State Office of Education).

Rationale: Systems, larger than this, tend to have mission creep and become social service centers instead of educational centers. A system of this size creates accountability from both the patrons and educators toward each other because they can’t hide in the bureaucracy. This would indeed make education a local issue instead of a state or national issue to be exploited by politicians and needing constant interference.

This system size is the right balance. On one hand the big business education model of big districts has created the situation where parents have lost both control and responsibility. On the other hand are charter schools and private schools which are really too small to truly provide the best in education and the economies of scale that a unified system can provide. They are also too easily controlled by a handful of parents or a particular dogma.

Details: To implement this component of the proposal, the USOE would be charged with helping local districts create autonomous single high school districts and facilitate divisions in the future after a district grows large enough for and has built a second high school. Requirements should be placed in statute that all new high schools may not be built for more than 1000 students. Students should be free to transfer to other districts without penalty to the accepting district.

Alpine School District currently has a process started that could culminate in creating a new community school district, pending the outcome of the study supervised by the Utah County Commission and funded by the grant from the RFP committee. The Legislature should watch this process closely and if necessary aid any one-time difficulties. As the process is worked through, we will learn specifics on how to set in place community sized districts. At that point we can then plan for a time line. This conversion, of course, will take time to implement.

Changes to Infrastructure

Promote the creation of smaller schools by either restructuring junior highs into:
1. 7-12 high schools, or
2. Smaller 9-12 high schools with K-8 schools feeding them, eliminating junior highs and middle schools altogether.

Rationale: The research of the past 15 years is overwhelming on the value and economies to the larger community of building smaller schools. The consensus is that no school should be over 1000 students. This is difficult to do in the existing system that already has large schools built and with the growth forecasted for Utah. The transition I am proposing will make possible the housing of this expected growth within our budget possibilities and will create smaller neighborhood schools at the same time.

In my initial proposal I spoke of the cost effectiveness of K-8 schools and eliminating junior highs and middle schools as Utah looks toward greatly increased enrollment growth. K-8 schools are more efficient to build and administer because, while they house the same number of students as a larger school to a point, they function like a smaller school since they have a smaller grade level size. For example, a K-6 school of 500 is a normal size school because there are about 70 students and three classes per grade, but a K-2 school of 500 would be considered very large because there would be about 170 students and perhaps 8 classes per grade. What makes a school large or small is not the total students, but the students per grade. Teachers can’t work effectively together as a grade when there are more than 3 of them. Scheduling becomes a nightmare. Students are lost in a sea of children. Each year their new class is as different as if they had moved to a different school, because the students are all mixed in the next grade level. Each year they have to re-establish themselves.

Grade level size is actually more important than class size and not nearly so costly to remedy. Studies that I have conducted of Utah fifth graders show a significant and consistent drop in expected test scores when there are more than 90 students per grade. The wider the grade-span in a school the longer parents are involved there and feel ownership in that school. Siblings are more likely to be in the same building to look after each other and there are fewer trips parents have to make to different schools.

K-8 schools provide more flexibility than the narrow grade configurations of middle and jr. high schools. Many districts nationwide, both rural but especially urban, are building new schools or remaking existing schools into K-8 schools as they are able. Some of the areas that are changing to this configuration include Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Harrisburg, Hartford, Miami, Palm Beach, Phoenix, and Seattle. I have included some articles on this subject in the appendix.

After continued research on this topic, I am in stronger support of the remaking of all secondary schools into 7-12 schools. This may well be even better than the K-8 configuration because we already have so many big high schools and jr. highs. These junior highs would work better as smaller, local high schools. This would provide high schools that are closer to the neighborhoods, reducing traffic congestion and busing costs. This configuration would be just as cost effective in terms of students per building, but would bring the benefits of smaller schools because the grade-level size would be cut at least in half.

Creating 7-12 high schools would save much of the $56 million Utah annually spends on transportation in two ways. These 7-12 secondary schools would draw from a smaller area to fill them, eliminating most daily busing. They would also create more schools of a similar size in proximity to each other, eliminating much of the intramural activities’ busing across the state. This of course is in addition to the benefits of improved behavior, family involvement, higher graduation rate, and better academics and post high school performance that these smaller schools are much more likely to provide.

Creating 7-12 schools would be a better way of controlling course offerings than trying to manage it on a state level with state mandates or with complicated state budget maneuvers. Smaller schools do fewer things but do them better. We cannot continue to think that the community schools can be all things to all people. Schools must focus on providing a good basic educational foundation. If a community can come together on some extra things they are willing to fund, let them, but the state’s responsibility should be that of providing a solid foundation for children and families to build on.

With 7-12 schools, quality programs would gain continuity through six grades. Siblings would be together in a school. 7th and 8th graders would be less egocentric and better behaved. There would be one less school transition for students to make.

By establishing the proposed charter district and schools, present districts would probably be more likely to attempt implementation on their own. Changing public understanding is the biggest hurdle and the state sponsored charter district, as proposed, would be the best way to highlight, educate, and gain the public trust on this issue.

Curriculum Changes

Require all teacher candidates to pass the American Board Passport test on competency and methods.

Rationale: This test requires college-level competency from our teachers and understanding of teaching methods backed by scientific research instead of the popular-but-ineffective methods currently being promoted in most pre-service and in-service teacher training. The popular methods over-emphasize self-esteem, discovery learning, and “higher level thinking” while downplaying competency. They virtually tell the teachers not to teach, but rather to let the students discover everything, usually in cooperative group centers. This approach, called constructivist, is very inefficient and requires ever-smaller class sizes, more interventions and assistance from specialists and trainers, and most of all more excuses, because it never produces well.

The American Board Passport test is based on methods scientifically proven nationwide with the largest studies ever completed. Project follow-through alone cost over a billion dollars and covered almost 30 years of study (1967-1995), but has been largely ignored by too many teacher trainers. Currently too many college teacher preparation programs eschew these methods, teaching feel-good ideas which just don’t produce. If this test were required for certification, not only would the teachers have to know best practice, but also the colleges of education would then become accountable to teach correct methods or their students would not pass the qualifying test. They would still be free to teach their constructivist methods, but would also have to teach scientifically proven methods as well.

This test can be required of the teachers in the charter district within a year of their employment. I have a bill filed that allows this test to be used to certify teachers in Utah. If teachers have a complete understanding of the science of teaching, they can use their own judgement for its best use for individual styles and situations.

Government Mandates

State or national standards and accountability schemes by very nature have to be some kind of consensus measure for a very large group of diverse people. At the very best they are "middle of the road", but usually end up as a "weakest link". They also produce a "top down", "we-know-better-than-you" mentality. We would be much improved by freeing up each school and then charging each of them to set their own standards and curriculum as we once did.

The only way to free them up is to make them small enough, both district and school, so the establishment doesn’t take over. Once they are free, however, too many rules and regulations from the government do the same to education that they do to business. They stifle ingenuity and drive up costs.

States with the most state control have the lowest average scores. States with weak state control and strong local autonomy have the highest scores. Utah’s local districts did a better job of choosing curriculum and standards that fit them than when the State CORE was forced on them. My own experience backs this up as well. I helped create my district’s curriculum and then was hired to try to align it to the state CORE as the state office continued to increase pressure for compliance. The district curriculum was more specific and of a higher standard and it was supported better from the local educators. The State CORE is not nearly the quality that Alpine’s Curriculum for Excellence was.

The state should only require one norm-referenced test for certain grades and let local districts decide if or what other testing they want to pay for. If school structure is close enough to the people, by not being too large, they will usually rise to the challenge. Otherwise they will fight it, either openly or passively, such as with the "closed door veto", where teachers close the door and do what they believe in anyway. For this reason state “standards” and curricula are not particularly effective.

Conclusion

The reforms spelled out in this proposal will provide the best education, for the most children, the most economically. The state needs to provide for public education, but the local community needs to control it. However they cannot control it if the organizational size is so large that the bureaucracy takes control. No matter how benevolent, the bureaucracy becomes patronizingly repressive.

These proposed structural changes would create accountability to those the system is supposed to serve. The American Board Passport test, the more it is used, will provide for competency in teachers and students, without force. Those who rejected the correct principles of teaching have created other teacher tests. These tests reinforce incorrect principles and do not provide competency in teachers.

The state sponsored charter district, as outlined in the following pages, is likely the best way to implement and encourage these major changes. The study by the Utah County Commission’s ad hoc committee will show how viable community districts would be to create. These are my recommendations to the Utah State Legislature.


State Sponsored Charter District

Proposed: that the legislature sponsor, with grant money from groups like the Bill Gates Foundation which promotes small schools combined with a one-time capital appropriation, a charter school "district" of two schools. This "district" would consist of a K-6 elementary school separated by a parking lot from a 7-12 high school. The purpose of which is to be an example of best structure and curriculum to function as a model for the rest of the schools statewide.

This small "district" would have an oversight committee made up of legislators with veto power, but would be run by a locally elected board and superintendent within a specific geographic area to emulate a typical public school setting rather than some specialty. The school buildings would be designed as models, to be replicated statewide where feasible, as more efficient and serviceable without being too large. This could be in connection with the other RFP groups proposals and help with their implementation.

The elementary school should house between 60-90 students per grade. The high school should be designed to house between 90-180 students per grade, so that the high school could function with only one or two feeder elementary schools. This configuration gives flexibility in growth areas. As an area grows too large for one elementary, another can be built still funneling into the same high school, and the three can function until enough growth provides for another 7-12 high school. At that point, the two new schools would split off from the original schools.

Feedership would be linear rather than cone-shaped and both schools would be placed together. This allows parents one stop for all children. The schools then become a real gathering place and much more family-friendly. There is only one transition of buildings for students during the entire K-12 experience and the close proximity and familiarity the entire family would have with both schools would soften even that. Transportation costs for both the school and parents would be very minimal.

Eliminating jr. highs and middle schools would eliminate many problems with behavior. Students do better academically during those middle grades and afterward when combined with other grades in either an elementary (K-8) or high school (7-12) setting. Having grades 7-9 with the high school makes a smaller school situation (where the grade level is smaller) function economically as well as a big school. It also makes it easier to build a program such as band when unified under one person or department.

With the electronic high school that is now available, students in a school of this size would have all the advantages of a large comprehensive high school with none of the negatives. Smaller schools allow more participation and involvement than large impersonal ones, less violence and substance abuse, and a better post high school track record later. They are more satisfying to parents and they improve recruitment and retention of teachers. Thus a 7-12 school would be the best of both worlds and would be much easier to manage and involve the citizens. They should cost less to build than we currently spent on buildings since it would be almost the same size though they would not need to be so grandiose (quasi-jr. college facilities).

Along with best building size and governance structure with this charter school "district," we could implement best curriculum and methods without having to lose control to the politically-correct educational establishment that is mostly run from the liberal universities. We could implement scientifically proven methods that curriculum specialists continually subvert. We have tried to implement these methods with the back-to-basics movement, outcome-based, accountability, standards, competency, and other schemes such as NCLB. However the establishment has continually undermined these efforts as evidenced by the naming of the constructivist curricula as "standards-based" when they are the opposite of that.

To implement these methods, teachers would be required by the end of the first year to pass the American Board Passport test, which is based upon these proven methods. The "district" would pay for this. Savings would be manifested with less need for curriculum specialists as teachers were taught best practices and how to evaluate research on their own. These methods, while being more productive, are also less time intensive and support-personnel driven.

This charter "district" would need to be in a relatively average place, be a regular school in every way (not a specialty charter), and take all students wishing to attend within a particular area, being subject to normal fluctuations in enrollment in order to be credible. Since the initial capital expenses would come from the state and grants, the local school district would be allowed to keep its tax base under this geographic charter "district". Only the funds that are currently going to charter schools would come to this "district". It would need to be in a growth area so as not to negatively impact any particular school within the parent school district. There would have to be a population center in close proximity to the schools, but not too close to an existing school.

I have such a place and would donate the land if I could have some control over its development in order to help make it successful. My father and I own six acres next to an LDS Church farm, which is just being rented out. I believe they would sell a few acres for this purpose as they are beginning to be surrounded by new subdivisions and cannot farm it.

This should be a welcome relief to the schools in Lehi and I believe Alpine School District, which has not been able to keep up with the growth. When the time comes to dissolve the state’s involvement, the two schools could either be sold to the local district or the local people could be allowed to buy out the state’s interest. The optimum would be to allow the area to become its own district at some point in the future.


APPENDIX

INITIAL PROPOSAL


Introduction

This proposal is a little different than perhaps the other proposals will be, because it does not establish a way to provide pay based on competency of the students. However, it gets to the root problem, will be less expensive, and more rewarding than other proposals will. The different components can be taken separately, but the total program will ultimately be the most long lasting and will tend to prevent migration back to where we are today.
The total package consists of structural changes in the system, changes to infrastructure, curriculum changes, simplification, and some other minor changes. I include a rationale with each component.

Assumptions

This proposal is based on the following assumptions:
A. That the ultimate goal is for students to exit the system competent in reading, writing, and mathematics, with a background in science, history-geography, and the fine arts. That exiting students be prepared to pursue higher education, specific training, raise a family, or work and be able to help perpetuate our system of government.
B. That the system be able to run without the need for continual governmental interventions and regulation.
C. That the system works without continual demands for ever-larger real funding.

Components

I. Divide all districts into unified but stand-alone separate high school districts. This means each high school, combined with its feeder schools, would become the educational corporation for that community (Community may be only one part of a large city, meaning that there could be several districts in a larger city.), autonomous, with its own school board.
Rationale: Systems, larger than this, tend to have mission creep and become social service centers instead of educational centers. A system of this size creates accountability from both the patrons and educators toward each other because they can’t hide in the bureaucracy. This would indeed make education a local issue instead of a state or national issue to be exploited by politicians and needing constant interference. This system size is the right balance between the big district monopolies, yet would be larger and more efficient than having each school be separate as with charter or private schools.

II. Promote the building of or restructuring into K-8 grammar schools instead of middle schools or jr. highs and limit future buildings to no more than 1000 students, in accordance with virtually all research on size.

Rationale: The research of the past 15 years is overwhelming on the value and some economies of building smaller schools. The consensus is that no school should be over 1000 students. Recently many districts nation-wide are finding that K-8 grammar schools improve behavior and test scores and are more economical. They combine the efficiencies of a large school with the benefits of a small school. These schools can be built in neighborhoods and generally eliminate the need for busing below the high school level in urban and suburban areas. They can have up to 1000 students without being big because the grade level size is small. This is more important to quality education than class size reduction and doesn’t have that enormous price tag. These schools make programs such as band available to 5th or 6th grade students where these programs are not generally economical in an elementary school. If all high schools were also built at that size, busing across the state for sports would be dramatically reduced because they would play schools near them instead of going all over to meet schools of the same size. The more this is explored the more benefits are found, both financially and in quality of education.

III. Require all teacher candidates to pass the American Board Passport test on competency and methods.

Rationale: This test requires college-level competency from our teachers and understanding of teaching methods backed by scientific research instead of the popular-but-ineffective methods currently being promoted in most pre-service and in-service training. The popular methods overemphasize self-esteem while downplaying competency. They virtually tell the teachers not to teach, but rather to let the students discover everything, usually in cooperative group centers. This approach is very inefficient and requires ever-smaller class sizes, more interventions and assistance from specialists, and mostly more excuses, because it never produces well.

IV. Eliminate most state accountability, licensure, and testing measures. Use the SAT 9 only and let local patrons choose their own texts and curricula without special state funding or requirements.

Rationale: These measures are costly and restrictive. They were created by legislators trying to get the accountability that smaller districts and schools create, as well as the competency that correct teaching methods bring. By implementing the first three components, accountability and competency are created and these other limiting mandates are unnecessary.

Conclusion of overview

If all the districts are made to the size prescribed, competition between the districts will keep them vibrant, healthy, sufficiently funded, competitive, and productive. This is evident in areas where small districts predominate. Local real estate values then help drive good schools as well. Smaller schools build support and involvement from patrons, equity of opportunity, and caring attitudes from educators. Proper teacher training based on scientifically proven methods provides competency in students. Less state and national interference creates responsibility from local citizens and educators when the size and structure is such that they can make a difference.

ANSWERS TO THE RFP REQUESTS

I have compiled much research showing that smaller schools and districts improve student performance in all categories, including academics, behavior, performance later in higher education, and self esteem. Most of it is on my website www.smallerschools.org, but I would be happy to present the findings in committee as well. I have research to show that both of these do not need to cost any more. However smaller schools and K-8 schools will probably not be able to happen if the districts are not also made smaller.

Scientifically proven teaching methods are much less expensive both to teach and implement. They require less teacher-time and in-service. Most importantly they provide much better performance from students. I have much research on this as well, including the findings of Project Follow Through which cost over 1 billion dollars and covered almost 30 years. I would be happy to present on this topic to the committee as well. Less mandates and interference from government would simplify and streamline the whole process.

This proposal is not expected to reduce costs. However, it will also not require ever increasing infusions of revenues and will bring better results than anything else government can do. We must stop trying to become the parents and social services center for the children. Some children will fail because of their own choices, influenced by parental choices. However, by implementing this proposal, more children will succeed and more equity of opportunity will happen for those who are willing, than what we are currently doing. We cannot guarantee that every student will succeed, because that assumes that every child is just a widget to be worked on in a factory. Children are individuals with the ability to make choices. If we try to manipulate them all to “succeed” most will have a substantially poorer experience.

This proposal does not pretend to "Leave No Child Behind" by building more dikes along the stream they should follow. It dredges the stream of the weeds that are clogging it, making it easier for all to follow the course leading to success.


Richard Rowley wrote my definition of public education as follows:

Public Education is an institution created by state and local governments to create, in as much as is possible, equal opportunity for access of the knowledge necessary to:
Create an enlightened electorate capable of self-government,
Create a highly skilled and productive workforce, and
Aid all citizens in their pursuit of happiness.

At its roots the notion of public education grows out of the statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. While the founding fathers knew that men and women are of varying levels of ability and determination to learn, Jefferson and others envisioned a society in which neither station of birth, financial condition, nor any other irrelevant circumstance such as gender, race, religion, or country of origin, would be allowed to limit an individual’s educational growth by preventing their having access to knowledge. They wanted men like Benjamin Franklin to be free to emerge from all social levels and take the place in society they earn with their genius, hard work, and determination, unfettered by any artificial interference.

To implement this proposal I suggest that the State Office of Education be charged with helping local districts create autonomous single high school districts over 5 years and to facilitate divisions in the future after a district grows large enough for and has built another high school. Requirements should be put in statute that all new high schools may not be built for more than 1000 students and that the USOE help promote the lowering of current size to that standard where feasible. Buildings will have to be made simpler. State funding of transportation should be block granted with capital outlay funds. This will promote the building of neighborhood schools instead of increased busing currently being practiced. Students should be free to transfer to other districts without penalty to the accepting district.

Successfully passing the American Board Certification Passport examination should be made to be the only requirement for licensure of teachers and must be passed by all current teachers within 5 years to retain their license. Eliminate all other requirements for licensure.

This proposal is not a competency-based system as described in the RFP. It does not attempt to define how local citizens and educators will provide for competency. It sets up a system that creates natural accountability to the local patrons, whose children they are, instead of artificial accountability to the state. The responsibility of the state is to set up a system that will promote self-government on the local level, thus raising all patrons in the process through participation. The only other option is to become a centralized government that runs every aspect of the citizens’ lives. This of course doesn’t work as history has proven.

Individualized student instruction programs can economically only be provided for by parents and guardians. The state should provide for a basic education and the local district patrons can choose how much more in the form of choices it is willing to pay for. Whole class instruction is more efficient and economical, when based on scientifically proven methods, than any individualized programs which become ever more complicated and need ever more class size reductions, aides, specialists, expensive consultants, and new programs.

The SAT9, administered at the end of each year, is sufficient for testing and comparison purposes. Other examinations, if desired locally, should be created or purchased by the local district. Results should be published annually. This would give the local patrons the needed information to make decisions. The consequence of these decisions would effect real estate values. This would provide financial incentive for the local community and district, in addition to their own motivations, to do well.

This proposal does not require increasing state tax revenues, however some of the newly created small districts would likely raise local taxes for specific needs they felt important enough to pay extra for. These would not likely be the same in each district and would not pass without broad support.

As for a time line, the USOE could start with perhaps Alpine district for the first year dividing it into 7 high school districts over a 2 year process to transfer assets and personnel. The second year another large district, perhaps Jordan, followed by Granite, Davis the fourth year, and the fifth year the medium sized districts like Nebo, Weber, and Cache. Salt Lake and other large city districts could be divided during the sixth year. The state could pilot this with only one district for three years if desired before beginning with the others.

With the advice and guidance of a few other legislators, I believe this could be worked up without additional funding.

Presentation to the RFP Committee October 2003
by Representative David N. Cox

My 23 years of experience as a teacher, my graduate studies in public school administration, my studies of governing societies, and particularly public education’s history, especially Utah's, form the basis of my assertions and proposal. I have seen first-hand the build up of tensions and loss of trust toward education from the 60’s until now. The only way to save public education is to reinvent the local community school district.

It was in the 60's that we began the dramatic increase in size of schools and school districts through growth and consolidation. That was when the current philosophy of training teachers really took hold as well. Since then the real cost has about tripled. What did increasing size or that training philosophy get us? It didn’t produce better, nor did it cost less. The big district and state offices of education have put at least as many mandates on teachers as has government.

The current system over the years has become so big and encumbered with programs, requirements, and unrealistic expectations from within and without that it is making no one happy. We are all becoming more divided, distrustful, and polarized. The less we really know each other and work with each other (mostly because of size), the more distrustful we become.

The only antidote is to return public education to its roots, for they are good roots. They were a large part of what built this country. Most of these were what we would call today a one high school district. If we create community districts statewide, so that there are no big districts to dominate politically and be a target for national agenda groups; and if we eliminate accountability schemes to the government that tie everyone’s hands that deal directly with the students, the parents and teachers will step up and provide better monitoring and quality than anything centralized government can do.

The concern of a local community toward their own is greater than we in government, state offices, or even big district offices can ever have toward their children. There is too much temptation for people who are far removed to use the children for their own career or financial promotion. Most of the "new" programs in learning over the last 40 years were produced to gain a promotion or to sell for money. We cannot tell who these wolves are in large systems, but in smaller systems they reveal themselves because they cannot hide.

We cannot force accountability or competence from the state or national level. Standardization breeds mediocrity. Harrison Burshuron spoke of a future where equality had been achieved and all were alike. However since everyone had different weaknesses that could not be overcome completely, everyone else had to be brought down to the highest level that the weakest could do. In this society, if anyone was gifted in a particular area more than others were, they were given a handicap to make them equal. Standardization does not raise the bar. It lowers it.

Smaller systems build leaders and the community in general. This single change, be it called reform or revolution, is the most important thing that can be done for our children and our future in education. It will do more than all the competency-based or accountability programs combined.

To summarize, the other parts of this proposal are important.
1. We need smaller schools, particularly K-8 schools. They produce better than Jr. Highs or middle schools and are much more efficient. That is why private schools use them. When private schools do better than public schools, the size of school and system, where kids aren’t lost and which creates accountability to parents, is the main reason.

2. Most of the teacher training now being done in the colleges of education
continues to complicate what teachers do while providing poorer results. They are feel-good methods that have been proven over and over to be false, but they are pleasing to the ear and they sell programs and gain advancements for the promoters. These philosophies are driving out good competency minded teachers as much as low salaries are. They can’t stand to use or promote what doesn't work, nor do they like the overly sweet, drowning in self-esteem promoting methods that set kids up to fail.

3. Mandates from national, state, and the larger district offices are tying teachers and principals' hands preventing them from rising above anyone else.

Nevertheless, even if we solve these problems, they will only be temporarily fixed if we do not begin dividing school districts as they grow beyond a one high school unified system. Let me refer back to the three problems I just mentioned.
1. School size: Nationwide, the single most causal factor of size of schools is the size of the district. In other words, big districts are more likely to build big schools.
2. Teaching philosophies: Smaller districts are more likely to reflect the local community's values rather than catering to some national agenda. This fact makes it more unlikely that teaching philosophies contrary to the community values will be forced on the teachers, as they many times are in large systems.
3. Mandates: Local community districts don’t have the size of budget that they can force mandates unless the local people are willing to pay for them. School boards in large districts are at least as likely as the legislature to create mandates without adequate resources on teachers and schools.

Creating smaller school districts puts in place the most accountable system there is. It is self-correcting because those who make them feel the consequences of decisions. This system size is the right balance. On the one hand the big business education model of the big districts has created the situation where the parents have lost both control and responsibility. On the other hand are the charter schools and private schools which are really too small to truly provide the best in education and the economies of scale that a unified system can provide. And they are too easily controlled by a handful of parents or a particular dogma.

What would help this proposal would be an unbiased study of the financial implications and more the engineering of implementing it. This could be accomplished if we had truly committed legislators and educational leaders sitting down together to engineer it.

REPORT TO THE EDUCATION INTERIM COMMITTEE
ON PHASE TWO OF EDUCATIONAL PROPOSAL


In my original proposal, I cited four items of reform that would bring competency and would do so by simplifying. They were: create smaller community school districts, build or remake smaller schools, have teachers pass the American Board Passport test to show that they understand correct (scientifically proven) principles of teaching as well as have competency in their field, and get rid of state (and federal) accountability mandates. I will address each of these individually with a further developed proposal.

Smaller School Districts

In searching for and discussing with university and private researchers, it became evident that, as one researcher stated, "No matter how many vitamins and exercise plans are implemented, a baby cannot be made in less than 9 months!" The topic of the viability of creating smaller school districts and structure of smaller schools could not be adequately done in so short a time.

However during this time, a petition has been filed, accepted, and is being implemented on the possibility of creating a Lehi High School District. That process includes the creation of a committee to do a study of the financial and otherwise benefits and consequences of creating a new district based around the boundaries of Lehi High School, which was the major part of what my study was to be. The Utah County Commission estimated that the study would cost about $15,000, which is what my grant was for.

Therefore my proposal begins with the request that at least a major part of my grant be used to fund this study by Utah County, since it is virtually the same as I was proposing to do. The committee charged with the study appears to be a very credible committee with legal and financial backgrounds as well as the school district business administrator and myself. This group should be able to do a more complete appraisal of the issue than I would have been able to do.

In addition I am submitting a proposal detailed on the succeeding pages for a state-sponsored charter "school district" consisting of two schools, a K-6 elementary and a 7-12 secondary school. I believe the Bill Gates Foundation, which gives to promote smaller schools, and others will donate a significant portion of the initial building cost if the state also contributes to this project.

This "district" would be used to model:
•Best building practice,
•How to best structure and administer community sized school districts,
•Best methods in teaching and how to set up curriculum on a local level,
•Implement other promising practices such as the other RFP proposals before attempting to impose them on the entire state.

Smaller Schools

In my original proposal I spoke of the cost effectiveness of K-8 schools and eliminating jr. highs and middle schools as Utah looks toward increased enrollment growth. K-8 schools are more efficient to build and administer and provide more flexibility than the narrow grade configurations of middle and jr. high schools. Many districts nationwide both rural but especially urban are building new or remaking existing schools into K-8 schools as they are able. Some of the areas that are changing to this configuration include Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Harrisburg, Hartford, Miami, Palm Beach, Phoenix, and Seattle.

After continued research on this topic, I now add my stronger support to the remaking of all secondary schools into 7-12 schools. This may well be even better than the K-8 configuration because we already have so many big high schools and jr. highs. These huge jr. highs would make better high schools. They are nearer the people and more family-friendly. We would be most able to create smaller schools with our existing schools by going this route. This configuration would be just as cost effective in terms of buildings, but would bring the benefits of smaller schools and reduced busing and traffic congestion.

Creating 7-12 high schools would save much of the $56 million Utah annually spends on transportation in two ways. These 7-12 secondary schools would draw from a smaller area to fill them, eliminating most daily busing. They would also create more schools of a similar size in proximity to each other, eliminating much of the intramural activities' busing across the state. This of course is in addition to the benefits of improved behavior, family involvement, graduation rate, academics, and post high school performance.

7-12 schools would be a better way of controlling course offerings than trying to manage it with state mandates or with complicating state budget maneuvers. Quality programs would gain continuity through six grades. Siblings would be together in a school. 7th and 8th graders would be less egocentric. There would be one less transition for students to make.

By establishing the proposed charter district and schools, present districts would probably be more likely to attempt implementation on their own. Changing public understanding is the biggest hurdle and the state sponsored charter district as proposed would be the best way to highlight, educate, and gain the public trust on this issue.

American Board Passport Test

The American Board Passport test is based on methods scientifically proven nationwide with the largest studies ever completed, costing over a billion dollars and covering almost 30 years of study (Project follow-through 1967-1995). This test can be required of the teachers in the charter district within a year of their employment. I have a bill filed that allows this test to be used to certify teachers in Utah. If teachers have a complete understanding of the science of teaching, they can use their judgement for its best use for individual styles and situations. Currently too many college teacher preparation programs eschew these methods, teaching feel-good ideas they wish were true instead.

Government Mandates

State or national standards and accountability schemes by very nature have to be some kind of consensus measure for a very large group of diverse people. At the very best they are "middle of the road", but usually end up "weakest link". They are also "top down", "we-know-better-than-you". We would be much improved by freeing up each school and then charging each of them to set their own standards and curriculum as we once did.

The only way to free them up is to make them small enough, both district and school, so the establishment doesn’t take over. Once they are free, however, too many rules and regulations from the government do the same to education that they do to business. They stifle ingenuity and drive up costs.

States with the most state control have the lowest average scores. States with weak state control and strong local autonomy have the highest scores. Utah’s local districts did a better job of choosing curriculum and standards that fit them than when the State CORE was forced on them. My own experience backs this up as well. I helped create my district’s curriculum and then was hired to try to align it to the state CORE as the state office continued to increase pressure for compliance. The district curriculum was more specific and of a higher standard and it was supported better from the local educators. The State CORE is not nearly the quality that Alpine's Curriculum for Excellence was.

The state should only require one norm-referenced test for certain grades and let local districts decide if or what other testing they want to pay for. If school structure is close enough to the people by not being too large, they will usually rise to the challenge. Otherwise they mostly fight it, either openly or passively, such as with the "closed door veto". For this reason state "standards" and curriculums are not particularly effective.

Conclusion

The reforms spelled out in this proposal will provide the best education, for the most children, the most economically. The state needs to provide for public education, but the local community needs to control it. However they cannot control it if the organizational size is so large that the bureaucracy takes control. No matter how benevolent, the bureaucracy becomes patronizingly repressive.

These proposed structural changes would create accountability to those the system is supposed to serve. The American Board Passport test, the more it is used, will provide for competency in teachers and students without force. Those who rejected the correct principles of teaching have created other teacher tests. These tests reinforce incorrect principles and do not provide competency in teachers.

The state sponsored charter district, as outlined in the following pages, is likely the best way to implement and encourage these major changes. The study by the Utah County Commission’s adhoc committee will show how viable community districts would be to create. These are my recommendations to the Utah State Legislature.

REFERENCES AND NOTES:

Much of the supporting research behind the district and school portion of the proposal (with several links) can be found at www.smallerschools.org and www.smallschoolsproject.org.

More K-8 and 7-12, eliminating junior highs information and quotes:

In an article at, http://www.missouri.edu/–news/releases/dropout.html entitled “Student Achievement, Dropout Rates Linked Directly to School Size, District Structure”; the following quotes were made:

• "The best set-up for a student is K-6 and 7-12," said John Alspaugh, education professor emeritus at MU. "The lowest dropout rates tend to occur in small high schools with limited course offerings and a high percentage of their budgets devoted to extracurricular activities. The long grade spans allow students the opportunity to establish long-term relationships, which may tend to keep them in school. The expansion of course offerings, which might initially appear to be a good idea for increasing student retention, may in reality fracture the school social structure by breaking down relationships among students." (I believe this also holds true regarding the relationships of students with teachers.)
• "The students attending a middle school experienced a greater achievement loss in the transition to high school than students making the transition to high school from a K-8 elementary school."
• "Thus, as the high school size increases, there tends to be a decrease in student participation in student activities, which leads more students to drop out."

In an article at, http://phkhome.northstarnet.org/ikepto/GradeCenterReport.htm entitled "Elementary School Grade Span Configuration: New Evidence on Student Achievement, Achievement Equity, and Cost Efficiency", Kathy Gregg makes the following quotes:
• "This new research suggests that the most equitable and cost efficient means of delivering high student achievement is through smaller schools with broader grade spans."
• "… Moffit’s research concluded that schools with narrow grade configurations have a negative impact on family-school partnerships (p.195)."
• "Measuring student populations using total enrollment gives only half the picture when describing school size (Howley, 2001, p. 4). In fact, when a school contains fewer grades per building, more children per grade attend that school and the dynamic of a larger school setting is created (Howley, 2000, p. 2). Thus, two schools with exactly the same total enrollment can actually have a completely different size dynamic depending on their grade spans. Howley (2000) believes enrollment per grade is a more useful and improved measure of a school’s size (p. 2)."
• "The studies showed that smaller schools outperformed larger schools on a level playing field, and they were more cost-effective than larger schools and districts in producing achievement (p.5)."
• "Students reported feeling safer and more connected with adults in these schools. Teachers reported a greater sense of efficacy, job satisfaction, and connection with parents, as well as more opportunities to collaborate with other teachers, build a coherent educational program, use a variety of instructional approaches, and engage students in peer critique and analysis. Parents and community members reported increased confidence in the schools. (Wasley, 2001, p. 23)"
• "Only recently have scholars begun to feel confident that enough research has been done to make strong claims about grade spans, grade level configurations and school size."

In articles at, http:// www.middleweb.com/MWLresources/K8schools..html and http://www.philaedfund.org/notebook/TheGreatK8Debate.htm entitled "Some Findings About K-8 Schools", "The great K-8 debate" respectively Keith Look makes the following quote:
• "Middle grades students in a K-8 school behave differently than in a middle school. They take on the role of protector and role model as opposed to having to establish new reputations upon entering a middle school."

The article "K-8 Schools: An Idea for the New Millenium?" at http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin115.shtml the following quote from Phoenix was included:
• "Higley school officials say that, generally, older children in K through 8 schools are less likely to succumb to negative peer pressure than they are in middle schools and junior highs, which are basically mini high schools."

http://www.philaedfund,org/notebook/TheGreatK-8Debate,htm
http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-17/31middle.h17
http://www.catalyst-cleveland.org/08-00/troubledmidd.htm
http://www.catalyst-cleveland.org/08-00/cincin.htm

Regarding teacher tests, methodology, and constructivism:
Research supporting the methodology and curriculum portion can be found at the following URL’s: www.abcte.org , http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/–adiep/ft/151toc.htm, http://people.uncw.edu/kozloffm/, http://mathematicallycorrect.com/, www.math.nyu.edu/mfdd/braams/links/ .

Regarding standardization, regulations, and state and federal mandates:

The article "States with Local Control of Their Schools Achieve Higher Test Scores," School Reform New, February 1998, showed a direct line relationship between lower NAEP scores and more centralized governance of schools. Conversely significantly higher scores came from states with little control over local schools. All states were listed, with Utah being listed among those most heavily centralized.

In "Will Standards Save Public Education?,"(2000) Deborah Meier makes these comments:
• "We need to surround kids with adults who know and care for our children, who have opinions and are accustomed to expressing them publicly, and who know how to reach reasonable collective decisions in the face of disagreement. That means increasing local decision making, and simultaneously decreasing the size and bureaucratic complexity of schools. Correspondingly, the worst thing we can do is to turn teachers and schools into the vehicles for implementing externally imposed standards." (p.19-20)
• "Standards, yes. Absolutely. But as Theodore Sizer, who put the idea of standards on the school map in the early 1980s, also told us then: we need standards held by real people who matter in the lives of our young(underlining added). School, family, and community must forge their own, in dialogue with and in response to the larger world of which they are a part. There will always be tensions; but if the decisive, authoritative voice always comes from anonymous outsiders, then kids cannot learn what it takes to develop their own voice." (They can’t learn to govern themselves!)