Public Education’s Focus is the Student [The Hub Debate]

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Photo by: Anna C. Brandao

This is  a Hub Debate on the role of boards of education. For more background, read this.  Participate in the comments or submit a response for publication to UtahPoliticoHub@gmail.com. The question is: “Who do you think the board should serve?  Parents? Students? Why?


Public education’s target for change is the student. The evidence of excellent or poor teaching is based on assessments (test scores) of our students.  Every aspect of education reform is judged by its effect on student achievement.

If schools were to serve parents, perhaps parents would, or should, be the ones being tested by SAGE assessments.

We can compare teaching to another profession, for example, medicine. Should pediatricians serve their patients or the patient’s parents? The parents pay the bills and parents are the first healthcare providers for their children. They are responsible for their children’s safety and nutrition; they bind up their boo-boos and nurse them through childhood disease. They should certainly be a partner with the family doctor. A wise doctor will confer and communicate with a patient’s guardian, but I would not expect a doctor to set aside medical expertise in treating a child, in order to please the parents.  If parents don’t have confidence in their doctor, they should seek second opinions or transfer to a different doctor.

Similarly, schools serve the students, and do so best in collaboration with parents, but the focus is the student. Teachers create lesson plans based on students’ needs. Curriculum is designed to aid student learning. Education standards are set with student success in mind.

While it is true that the income and property tax dollars of parents do help to fund public education, the education tax dollars also come from childless adults, empty nesters, and businesses in the state. In light of tax exemptions, I wonder whether the share of taxes from families with school age children even comes close to the sum of other sources.

Using the medical profession analogy, one could say insurance companies pay the health care bills; however, we see the effects on health care when insurance companies determine healthcare practices and procedures!

Parents have choices –choices between district, charter, and private schools and the choice to homeschool, if they desire. Their choices should be based on good information but it is ultimately up to them, regardless of the basis of their decision.

Utah’s State Board and education professionals should serve students statewide, according to the best practices known, and parents should partner with their child’s teachers in order to support their children’s success. Collaboration beats contention every time.

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