Utah teachers want an active voice in education policy decision-making

Published: Friday, Jan. 31 2014 6:48 p.m. MST

Teachers are Utah's education experts and should have an active voice in policy decision-making affecting schools, they told state lawmakers Friday.

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers are Utah's education experts and should have an active voice in policy decisions affecting schools, they told state lawmakers Friday.

The teachers called on education stakeholders to create an education plan centered on students, adding that such a plan would require "ongoing, sustainable funding" for public schools in Utah.

They also called on Utah teachers to look beyond their traditional practices and work toward innovative changes.

All of this came out of a report from the Educational Excellence Task Force, a group of 13 teachers commissioned by the Utah Education Association, the state teachers union, in 2012 to make recommendations to policymakers.

"We are the ones on the front lines. We are the ones in the classrooms, and so we would really like to have an active voice in any type of policy with regard to public education," said Park City High School teacher and task force chairwoman Anna Williams.

After 18 months of study and research, the teachers presented the report, which has specific calls to action for the Utah State Board of Education, the Legislature, school districts, educators and parents.

Williams said teachers have never had an active voice in such discussions, and many educational decisions are made by people outside of education. She said the task force looked into whether Utah was meeting the needs of the changing demographics teachers see in their classrooms and how to achieve the highest possible student outcomes.

"There’s nobody who knows what’s happening in classrooms better than our educators, and we feel very strongly that we needed to have a stronger voice in what was happening in our schools here in Utah," said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh.

The teachers were asked to identify priorities for Utah classrooms, which have the lowest per-pupil spending in the country and some of the largest class sizes, according to Gallagher-Fishbaugh and Williams.

"In order for teachers to be highly effective, we need to start examining things like the lack of funding for Utah public education, which is going to impact class size … and the way we recruit and retain the most highly effective teachers," Williams said.

Gallagher-Fishbaugh said the report is part of "an important dialogue for change."

"I think it's going to take a concerted effort on the part of all stakeholders," she said, "… and it's going to take some major commitments on the part of everyone to move the needle forward."

House Minority Caucus Manager Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, spoke with members of the task force and asked where to start. He said some of them pointed to more professional development days, which have been cut.

"To be professionals, teachers need more time to keep up with changes," said Briscoe, who started teaching U.S. history at a junior high school 35 years ago.

Briscoe said the challenge in following through on the recommendations will be getting the Legislature, which he says "takes frugality to a religion," to want to spend the money.

However, Senate Minority Assistant Whip Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, said people will pay to see significant changes in investments in public education.

"I hear over and over that people are willing to spend more for education if the money ends up in their neighborhood school," Jones said.

She agreed that professional development days need to be restored.

"Teachers need to be appreciated and honored, not dismissed," Jones said.

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: madeleine6

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