From: CenturyLink Customer
To: Ann Millner, Steve Urquhart, Jim Dabakis, Wayne Niederhauser, Mark Madsen, Jerry Stevenson, Howard Stephenson, Aaron Osmond, Marie Poulson, Michael Noel, Carol Moss, Daniel McCay, David Lifferth, Eric Hutchings, Greg Hughes, Francis Gibson, Justin Fawson, Steve Eliason, Kim Coleman, Lowry Snow, Brad Last, LaVar Christensen,
Subject: S.B. 196 Math Competency Initiative
Date: Mon Feb 23 00:04:01 MST 2015
Dear Senate and House Education Committees,

    I am sorry that this is so long, and if it sounds a bit negative, but I am having to transition my thinking about the purpose of the legislature regarding our public education system, following a meeting last week in which Representative Dan McCay stated unequivocally that one of the roles of our legislature is to be a “quasi State School Board.”  I have always been critical of what I felt was micro-managing, that if I were a legislator and a constituent came to me with an education problem I would first help that constituent work with the State School Board, who by our constitution is assigned “general control” of the public ed system.  Now I am having to shift my thinking, accepting that “general control” doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. 
    So my comments today are directed to what I now know officially to be the “quasi State School Board.”  I know that in that capacity you have a big job reviewing all of the public education bills that you have to study during a session, and I understand that passing a bill in committee doesn’t necessarily say you totally support the bill, but feel that it needs a full hearing by the Senate body.  But you could save yourselves a lot of time by not passing bills like SB196.
    First, the purpose of the bill, as I understand it is to relieve the colleges of the problem of providing teachers for the 12,000 students every year that have to take remedial math on college campuses.  The assumption apparently is that those students didn’t learn enough higher level math in high school to be able to succeed in college, which is probably true in many cases. 
    But then the question is why did they not learn enough higher level math. Had they given up on what I call the “engineering level” type math that our schools teach exclusively now starting in elementary school?  Did they not plan on going to college when they were in high school?   Did they just struggle with math type of logic and reasoning?  Had they given up on math, and felt good to be able to pass the courses that they did?  Could they have handled the higher math, but simply chose to take other electives that are equally valuable to a person’s life, such as music, drama, technology, on-job-training, mechanics, arts, etc. ?
    The current graduation requirements for high school classes beginning in 2013-2014 are as follows: “Successful completion of Secondary Mathematics I, II, and III or higher.   Parents may request that students replace Secondary III with a course from the Applied or Advanced approved course list.    Students who successfully complete Calculus have met graduation requirements regardless of the number of credits they have taken.”  Mathematics III difficulty level is pretty much the equivalent of what we used to call analytic geometry and trigonometry.  My understanding is that if a student gets a D or less from Secondary Math I or II, that student will be required to take a supplemental math class the next year along with the required II or III class.
    I am concerned that the math requirements as they are now will increase high school drop-outs.  And I am also concerned that so much emphasis is being placed on math education, when we know that a significant number of occupations do not require what I call engineering math skills.  In fact, employment projections for Utah indicate that in 2022 at least 24.8% of Utah jobs will not even require an high school diploma.  And blaming high schools for not producing enough highly educated students to go into engineering/computer programming jobs is bogus.  Utah schools produce a lot of highly math educated students, but those students choose not to go into engineering and computer programing jobs. 
    And also to be considered is staffing.  It is my understanding that high schools are having a hard time finding qualified math teachers now.   If this bill passes, it will be nearly impossible to staff the required high school math classrooms with qualified teachers, even if the bill does “establish a consistent process to qualify high school teachers with an upper level mathematics endorsement to teach entry level mathematics concurrent enrollment courses.”
    So the question is whether or not requiring more math, as this bill proposes, would have solved the problem of 12,000 students not being prepared at the level the colleges now want?   I don’t think so.   My guess is that it will cause other problems.  I think it will cause a higher high school drop-out rate (but some people don’t worry about that because they know there is a need for low-educated workers that will accept work for low pay).  There will be staffing problems. And SB196 requires students to pass college level math classes, or have a career and/or technology education certificate in order to graduate from high school.  I really struggle with this last concern: why do we need our students to take and pass college level classes, or qualify for tech certificates in order to graduate from high school?  As a quasi state school board, I wish you would authorize a study to see how many high school drop-outs left school because of higher math requirements.
    There are weakness and strengths in everything.  The “old” A-F grading system’s strength was teaching responsibility and accountability; its weakness was that it left the slower learners behind (yes, some people learn slower than others, and some can’t ever reach the level of others).  The new NCLB benchmark process’ strength is that the slower learners are not left as far behind, but the weakness is that it slows down those whose learning skills and abilities are higher.
    A reality that the college people don’t mention is that higher math is not a requirement for every subject area, but students who excel in math, usually have stronger higher level reasoning skills needed in college level classes, so being able to do higher level math is not a requirement, as much as it is a factor in predicting success in the higher level learning environment.  We all know people who struggled in math, who with effort were able to complete college and succeed in other ways in life. 
    I have talked too long.  But I hope that you as the quasi State School Board will look closely at this proposal, and other proposals, and not jump at every wave that comes up on the beach; that if you really want to be the state school board, that those of you who have only been students in public schools go into the schools and actually see what it is like there as a teacher, to spend time not just observing, but participating in teaching, finding out that teaching a classroom of 30 teenagers is not the same as teaching a Sunday School class of ten, recognizing that just because a student can’t do math as well as you might expect, he/she can still benefit by being in school learning how important it is to be prompt, complete assignments, follow instructions, get along with and work with others, learn to appreciate that he/she has special gifts and abilities that others don’t have, learn how to be him/herself as much as possible while not taking away others’ rights to safety, fair treatment, and freedom to be/develop self.
    Sorry this was so long, but if you took the time to read it, thanks.

 Fred Ash, Legislative Chair of the URSEA