Friday, July 06, 2007

Governor Huntsman Wants to Limit My Parental Rights

Summertime, but the livin’ ain’t easy around my house. OK, so the normal routine is more relaxed, but we’re up to our eyeballs in busy. My wife runs a short home school program throughout the summer based on Summer Bridge Activities workbooks to keep the kids’ brains engaged. We’re running kids to church activities (including Especially For Youth), band camp, Scouting activities, summer camps, swimming lessons, music lessons, service projects, and a variety of family activities.

During the summer our kids are not engaged in the standard school classroom type of learning based on the old Prussian education model. Instead, they’re engaged in entirely different types of learning activities. It requires a lot of parental dedication to give our kids these opportunities, and to tailor the various options we choose to the needs, abilities, and interests of each child. There are costs associated with these activities, and frankly, we make a number of sacrifices to make them possible.

But Governor Huntsman is proposing to limit our ability to choose these types of opportunities for our children. Hewing to the concept that the state needs more control of children and that education can be properly achieved only through the formalized Prussian-style school model, Governor Huntsman is proposing an idea that just won’t go away: year-round schooling for our kids.

Speaking to our education system’s apparent inability to adequately teach children math and science, the Governor believes that simply doing more of what we are already doing is going to improve the situation. He and his likeminded believers in the infallibility of the educatocracy point to studies showing that children in other countries that outperform our students in these core subjects often spend more time in the classroom. This is, of course, an apples and oranges comparison that fails to control for a variety of other variables, including actual mode of instruction and percentage of population actually tested.

To me, the plan once again appears to approach the issue as if schools are more important than students; that students exist to serve the needs of schools rather than vice versa. Like the Governor’s cherished all-day Kindergarten, it expands government-run day care for parents that seek to use the schools in that manner. And in the end, it will not achieve its goal of substantially improving educational outcomes.

Coming at this issue from another angle is engineer Kenneth Nielson, writing in this D-News op-ed piece. Nielson writes that the Governor’s proposal appears to have four main points: “(1) Year-round school will help teachers earn a more competitive salary; (2) Year-round school will provide better utilization of the large buildings on each school campus; (3) Year-round school is being promoted as budget neutral; and, (4) Year-round school will help students progress better, particularly in the areas of math and science.” Nielson looks at each of the four points on its own.

#1: Since teachers that spend the summer working at other jobs will have that possibility eliminated to achieve only 10 additional days of instruction, many will experience a real income decrease. We’ll be able to pat ourselves on the back that we’re paying teachers more competitively, but we will actually be harming many of them.

#2: Although we’ll use large buildings more, we will increase wear and tear, while simultaneously reducing the capacity to perform major maintenance and upgrades during non-use times. From an engineering perspective, Nielson says, “Mobilization and overhead costs of such projects will occur three times,” instead of once annually. Short-term schedules will increase premium pay to contractors. Facility costs will go up.

#3: The budget neutrality claim is bunk. Nielson asserts that “if you are operating schools and paying teachers for extra days, you will pay more. If you are operating programs during the summer, costs of logistics and support must also be added.” Some school districts have discovered that the cost of air conditioning alone for a few days during the hotter times of the year is extremely expensive.

#4: Although an “additional 10 days may be helpful to students, particularly in the areas of math and science,” it might be better to provide “10-day workshops at the end of the year” or to develop programs to lift students that need the most help.

Nielson admits that the year-round model “does keep a student in the learning mode and somewhat mitigates the problem K-12 teachers now face of spending two to three weeks at the beginning of the year getting students back to where they were when school ended previous school year.” Apparently he is unaware of conflicting studies that suggest that students in year-round schooling actually require more review when starting a new grade than students that have had a summer away from the classroom grind to refresh themselves.

My oldest son is working all summer at a Boy Scout camp. The main adult leaders that run this camp are all schoolteachers. It takes two weeks to get the camp set up and ready to run. It runs for seven weeks, and then it takes time to winterize the camp. If year-round schooling were implemented, this camp could not operate, as it is reliant on schoolteachers and high school students to function. Who is to say that a camp of this nature is a less worthy education experience than spending 10 more days in a traditional classroom?

Who is to say that the activities my wife and I carefully choose and craft for our children throughout the summer are less worthy educational experiences than 10 more days in a traditional classroom? Ah, but what about the children who don’t live in such fortuitous circumstances? OK. Let’s develop programs to help provide options for parents of those children. But let’s not force all students and teachers into a model that will limit parental choice, economically harm many schoolteachers, narrow the students’ overall education, and ultimately not be in the best interest of society.

Education is vitally important. But lifetime education is about a heck of a lot more than what you can get in a classroom. And I resent government encroachment on my right to provide extracurricular educational opportunities that I believe to be essential to my children’s development and wellbeing.


Jeremy said...

I've never considered either side of the arguments on year round schooling.

I grew up having summer off and I loved it. I went to scout camp as a kid and I know now that I would have missed out on many rich and lifebuilding experiences without that. That one argument alone sold me.

Nice post.

David said...

I'm sure it's too much to hope that the Governor is making this proposal as a subtle way of increasing the public desire to pass the voucher initiative in November. I know my interest in vouchers would increase if the alternative is to send my children to year-round school.

I still remember the hassle in the community where I grew up when the elementary school went to a year-round model. Families that already had little time together suddenly had to juggle their summer plans around children who did not even have the same school schedule as their siblings.

Even if the schedules were all the same, more time in the classroom is not inherently better for the active minds of children. Some kids might be better off in year-round school, but I would avoid it like the plague.

Tom said...

(I only had a moment to scan your article--I'll come back and read the whole thing later this weekend. I promise.)

One thing that I think needs to be made completely clear: "all-day K" is *optional*. It was pursued with the understanding that "Part-day K" programs will continue in each district.

More importantly, *all* Kindergarten programs are optional. (My 6-year-old didn't attend; he thrived in 1st grade.) The best result for some children is to be at home, but not every family is the same.

Reach Upward said...

Tom, I did not imply anywhere in this post that all-day K is mandatory. But if you refer to the link on the post to my previous post on all-day K, you will note that I do raise that specter. The fact is that many of the states and school districts that started out with optional all-day K eventually ended up mandating it.

At any rate, year-round school will not be optional in any way, shape, or form.

Tom said...

... that's what I get for only scanning the post the first time. The link to all-day K jumped out.

The ideas you bring up (extended school year, etc.) come originally not from Governor Huntsman, but from the "K-16 Alliance" and study group comprised of education officials at all levels. The recommendation to "maximize the effective use of resources" (including buildings and educators) and and extended contract as a method of increasing teacher pay were among many suggestions, but have been getting the most press.

From most of the discussions I've been in since the report was released, there seems to be a common understanding that the year-round schedule as implemented across the state in the recent past was not successful, mostly because it was not well-received by the community. (With no little sarcasm, I've suggested that problem might be solved by shifting the football schedule to July/Aug.)

The idea is being bandied about in concept at the moment. I suspect Governor Huntsman is bringing it up because the report as a whole was well received by many legislators, including the education committees.

The way I've heard the topic mentioned, it's still being discussed as optional for teachers and parents. A trimester model where parents could pick which two semesters to send their child to. Or, all three if "accelerated learning" is a family priority.

I think the ideas are important to talk about publicly. Thanks for bringing it up.

Democracy Lover said...

I am not necessarily arguing for or against the full-year school term in Utah, but I do have to quibble about your title and its assertion.

I do not believe parents have "rights" as regards their children, only responsibilities. It is not that you have any kind of right to do as you wish with your children, but that you have an obligation to provide for their food, shelter, health, education and other needs until they are old enough to provide those things for themselves.

While you may be fulfilling your responsibilities as regards your children's education (taken broadly to mean their preparation for adult life), there may well be other parents who are unable or unwilling to do so. Their children should not suffer because of their parent's inability or unwillingness to carry out their responsibilities.

The state has responsibilities toward its children as well. Keeping them safe from criminals, abusive parents; providing a quality public education; insuring that none of them are hungry and homeless - all these are legitimate responsibilities of the state of Utah.

Whether year-round obligatory public schooling is right or wrong for Utah is a matter for your state and its citizens. I would not however, pose it as an attempt by the state to subvert parent's rights - there aren't any to subvert.

David said...

Democracy Lover,

Does not the parental responsibility of providing food, clothing, shelter etc. imply a certain amount of parental right to determine the manner in which those responsibilities will be fulfilled?

Democracy Lover said...


No it does not. Certainly one can fulfill those responsibilities in different ways, but there is no "right" to choose how to provide food, clothing and shelter. For example, many parents in Mexico are unable to provide for their families unless they travel to the US and obtain illegally offered employment - do they have a "right" to do that?

There are clear limits. A parent cannot violate the law to obtain the resources to provide food for his children. A parent cannot withhold food. A parent cannot restrict the diet of his child in a way that could cause physical harm, etc.

Reach Upward said...

DL, I find your argument extremely strange that parents have no rights with respect to their children; only responsibilities. Responsibility can only exist to the same extent that corresponding rights exist, and vice versa. Of course I have the responsibility to appropriately see to my children's needs. But that means that I have the right to determine how best to meet those needs within legal boundaries.

The state does not own my children nor are they my chattel. They have their own individual rights. But as long as I am a responsible parent, I am the protector and enabler of those rights until they reach the age of majority. The state may set boundaries and interpret my children's rights within the bounds of society's moral limits. But as long as I properly fulfill my role, the state may not abrogate my right to make choices in behalf of my children.

CBS commentator Charles Osgood once coined this interesting verse:

The problem with democracy --
The problem and the beauty --
Is that for every right we have,
We also have a duty.