Standing up for Education

By Denise Willmore

The upcoming election offers constituents the opportunity to take a stand for children in Utah.  

In the wake of the Great Recession, educators across the country experienced the effects of the economic shortfall.  In Utah, teachers have seen a decrease in wages, cuts to retirement and benefit plans, increase in class size, and reduced funding for classroom resources.  The economy has recovered, but public education has not. According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, funding in Utah was 9% lower in 2016 than it was pre-recession.

Funding deficiencies are not all that teachers have faced over the last ten years.  Policy makers have initiated programs that have established high-stakes testing, school grading, new licensing rules, and implementation of new standards.  

Educators enter the teaching profession with a passion for their content area and the desire to inspire and motivate students to reach their highest potential.  Over the past few years, many educators have had to spend far more time preparing and administering standardized tests, resulting in a loss of instructional time.

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The school grading system does not consider constantly shifting student enrollment as families move in and out, and unfairly judges low-income schools.  Lower performing schools experience a disproportionate amount of pressure to improve test scores. Oftentimes, low scores are not because students cannot learn but because of the circumstances they face on a daily basis.  When a single parent is working long hours at minimum wage to put food on the table, helping with homework simply has to take a backseat. This has nothing to do with teacher or school performance but demonstrates students’ needs for more resources to assist them in their homes and community.

In 2016, the Utah State Board of Education passed ruling 277-511 which allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree to enter the classroom.  This is simply a band-aid solution to the teacher shortage, as these individuals are not always equipped to meet the needs of students. This puts added pressure on current teachers, as they attempt to mentor and guide these individuals in classroom management, pedagogy, and even daily lesson planning.

Less qualified individuals in schools, fewer resources to meet increasing needs, and teachers leaving the classroom are a few of the results of policy-making decisions at the state level.  This is not what is best for students. In fact, it is detrimental to student learning, growth, and development.

While many educators across the country are walking out in protest, Utah teachers are taking a different approach.  In fact, four Utah educators stood up and registered to run for Utah State Board of Education. Cindy Davis, Thomas Nedreberg, Craig Pitts, and Patrick Riley are current candidates for the State Board.  Collectively they have over 90 years of experience working directly with children in the classroom, instructing and advocating for Utah students. These public servants understand education and would represent the best interests of teachers and students.  

Now is the time for all supporters of public education to stand up and walk.  Walk to your polling place or walk to your mailbox and get your ballot. It is your turn to have your voice heard by casting your vote.

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Denise has taught preschool special education and 1st through 3rd grades for the past 22 years. She has spent the last nine years in Davis District and currently teaches at Valley View Elementary. She’s a member of the Executive Board of Davis Education Association, Chairperson of DEA’s Teaching and Learning Committee, a member of UEA’s ESSA Implementation & BPR & R Committees and a former participant in NEA’s Teacher Leadership Initiative. Denise earned a Bachelor’s in Pre-School Education and Family Life Services from Northern Michigan University and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from The University of St. Thomas.

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