STATELINE: From Olympics to Education Reform

Article excerpt

FAUX PAW, the "first cat" of Utah, might not be able to define an "omnibus" bill, nor will he be able to demonstrate the competencies that S.B. 154 in Utah now requires, but, as a cat with an extra toe on each foot and a name to match, he probably appreciates things that are different. An omnibus bill is a bill that addresses a number of issues within a specific area -- in this case, education. S.B. 154 was both an omnibus bill and a very different kind of bill. Although some of its provisions generate skepticism and conflicting opinions regarding their consequences, the same provisions demand recognition for the way in which they push the envelope.

Following the legislative session in which S.B. 154 was passed, Faux Paw's family member, Gov. Michael Leavitt, included the following in the list of specific priorities that he reported to the public via his website: 1) no backsliding in education funding and 2) sweeping reform toward competency-measured education.

The omnibus bill of many faces, S.B. 154, reflected these priorities by institutionalizing a focus on competency-based education, not just for students, but also for administrators and teachers. Gov. Leavitt and the state board lent their support. And the major provisions of the bill warrant some examination.

Competency-based graduation requirements. A new section of the law requires the state board to establish rigorous curriculum and graduation requirements for grades 9-12, beginning no later than the graduating class of 2007. Utah high schools must 1) use competency- based standards and assessments, 2) include instruction that stresses financial literacy, and 3) raise the existing graduation requirements of three units in language arts, two units in math, and two units in science. The state board is also required to establish competency-based standards and assessments for elective courses.

Role of local boards. Local school boards must select instructional materials that best match the core curriculum and graduation requirements; must administer the required tests and create plans to improve student progress; must use progress-based assessments as part of a plan to identify schools, teachers, and students in need of remediation and then determine the type and amount of resources required for that remediation; must develop early warning systems for students or classes that are failing to make progress; must work with the state office of education to establish a library of best practices; and must implement training programs for school administrators, including basic management training, best practices in instruction, budget training, staff management, managing for learning results and continuous improvement, and methods to help every child achieve optimal learning in core academics.

Task force. S.B. 154 establishes the Public Education Legislative Task Force, which will bring together parents, employers, and representatives from the public education community, business, and industry. The charge to the task force is to establish a clear mission, objectives, and accountability; to consider the governance structure; to combine authority with accountability; to set educational priorities; to strengthen financial viability; to monitor and evaluate the implementation and effects of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation; to consider school choice, including the enhancement of charter schools; and to consider the merits of studies and reports done by others. A final report, including any proposed legislation, is due by 30 November 2003. After that date, the task force provision is repealed.

State board candidates. S.B. 154 establishes a nominating and recruiting committee with broad-based membership to recruit potential candidates for the state board.

Collective bargaining. Local boards may not enter into a collective bargaining agreement that prohibits or limits individual contracts of employment. …