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Bill proposes 'foundational principles' for public education

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 2:04 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Public education in Utah will have an official vision written into state law, along with additions to its official mission if SB48, approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee, becomes law.

Sponsored by Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, the bill would establish in state code four "foundational principles" as part of that vision.

Because it includes such core principles, "This is not something that can be referred to five years from now, but 50 years from now," said Debra Roberts, a member of the State Board of Education.

SB48 is based on "Promises to Keep," a mission statement adopted by the State Board in 2009.

While that bill and a resolution, SCR5, which encourages parental involvement in their children's education, received unanimous approval from the committee, some public witnesses expressed concerns.

Of the first listed foundational principle, "citizen participation in civic and political affairs," Eagle Forum representative Dalane England said, "We are concerned about that getting out of hand in the classroom."

Addressing SCR5, Judi Clark of Parents for Choice in Education said the best way to get parents more involved is to give them more choice in their children's education.

And, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, persuaded the committee to amend SB48 to include language that the Legislature "recognizes that parents are a child's first teachers and are responsible for the education of their children."

As originally written, the bill made it sound like the state has the first responsibility to educate the young, Stephenson said.

Utah statute currently outlines learning and occupational skills, character development, literacy and basic knowledge as public education's mission "to assure Utah the best educated citizenry in the world," but it does not include a statement of vision and foundational principles.

The bill would drop "basic knowledge" from the mission statement list and add numeracy, high quality instruction, high curriculum standards, and assessment and accountability.

SCR5 notes that one study showed that parents' participation in their children's education is twice as predictive of students' success than socioeconomic status, and "more intensive (family involvement) programs had effects that were 10 times greater than other factors."

Emphasizing the need for parental involvement in education, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, related the story of a Utah student who went on to Stanford University, and the first thing a professor in one class said was, "We don't even know that Moses lived."

If parents don't get involved in what their children learn, Hillyard concluded, they won't be prepared when "they hear things that we don't want them to hear."

The proposals now go to the full Senate.

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com

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