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Students are not widgets
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Another school year is half over and the Utah Legislature has returned to Capitol Hill, with some lawmakers once again full of new ideas for reforming our public schools. As an educator for the past 36 legislative sessions, I have always had a knot in the pit of my stomach during this blessed 45-day period.

When I actually spent some time at the Legislature to see what was going on, that knot grew to the size of a softball and my heart began to ache for our children.

Here we have a cute and sweet little lump of clay enter our school system, and teachers have 13 years, with the immeasurable help of family and community, to mold these children into responsible adults with the necessary knowledge and skills that entails. This is an awesome task.

Yet, many teachers feel that their hands are tied and are frustrated at being overregulated, micromanaged, and with not meeting this lofty goal as it could be met.

School accountability is now the buzzword in school reform. Now that the public schools are being rated from the best to worst and letter grades will soon be assigned, I wonder what that will accomplish.

I know the intent is to raise the bar on our public schools and provide the motivation for struggling schools to improve through competition.

But, will it really work? I don't think so.

Competition has its place on the athletic field, but even the Utah High School Activities Association has the foresight to rank our schools according to student population to avoid giving unfair advantage to larger schools.

In our present rating system, the schools with the most racially diverse students and the highest percentage of at-risk students are not on a level playing field with the rest.

Supposedly, demographic factors will be taken into consideration, but will they really? By that token, Tintic and Skyline high schools should be in the same region for athletic competition.

I am sure that when human nature kicks in, and in the spirit of competition and one-upmanship, some school administrators will exploit the children in order for the school to look good for their peers and supervisors.

Their salary increases may even be tied to how their school performs. It can and does happen. Sadly, the children are the ones caught in the middle.

Business models, such as free-market competition, are being foisted on our schools. One problem: Children are not a commodity or a product. Widgets can be produced with exact precision, provided you start with the same, consistent supplies of raw materials. Children don't come that way. Schools are not an assembly line. Children are real people.

Teachers using scripted presentations and drill-and-kill test reviews will not meet the needs of our ever-changing and more diverse population. We will either serve all children, or cater only to the students who show the greatest chance of success (in test performance), and cast off the rest.

What a sad state our society will be in when we turn our backs on our children. That shame will be felt for generations, and our republic will be forever weakened.

Richard M. Heath is a retired educator and lives in Kaysville.

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