Utah Lawmaker Sees Nanny State In Mandatory Education For Kids

After nearly 100 years of universal public education, a lawmaker in Utah wants to repeal compulsory education in his state.
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    Utah Sen. Aaron Osmond (R-South Jordan) speaks at a Salt Lake City debate in January 2012. (Photo/Michael Jolley via Flickr)

    Utah Sen. Aaron Osmond (R-South Jordan) speaks at a Salt Lake City debate in January 2012. (Photo/Michael Jolley via Flickr)

    A Republican state lawmaker in Utah wants to repeal compulsory education in his state, violating federal laws and nearly 100 years of universal public education in all 50 states.

    What are state Sen. Aaron Osmond’s (R-South Jordan) gripes with public education? He believes “parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system.”

    “As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness,” he writes in an article posted Friday on the blog of the Utah State Senate.

    Osmond doesn’t want to do away with public education altogether. Rather, he’d like to make it an “option” for students.

    Universal compulsory education has been a reality in the U.S. since 1918, with some states mandating public education for children decades earlier. What are the gains that the U.S. has seen? For one, dramatic drops in illiteracy.

    According to historical data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, 20 percent of adults and 70 percent African-Americans were illiterate in 1870. After years of reform and improved access to education, these numbers dropped sharply. By 1979, less than 1 percent of adults and 1.6 percent of African-Americans were illiterate in the U.S.

    These statistics demonstrate that mandatory education came as a result of a long history of unequal access to education for Native Americans, Blacks and immigrant groups. In 1905, the  U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must extend public education to the children of Chinese immigrants.

    Osmond’s objections to public education may center around inflammatory partisan issues such as the teaching of evolution and sex education, but the reality is that U.S. students are already falling behind in basic math, reading and science skills. The problem is not one of too much education, as Osmond might suggest, but too little.

    Using the standards put forth by the U.S. government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, Harvard University researchers published a report last year that said, “Very few U.S. students are performing at the advanced level and a clear majority of students score at a level below that which the NAEP governing board deems is necessary to demonstrate math proficiency.”

    They found that students in eight countries — Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania — were making gains at twice the rate of students in the U.S. An additional 13 countries appeared to be doing better than the U.S., according to the report.

    The picture is especially bleak when it comes to mathematics. Harvard researchers found that only 32 percent of eighth-graders in the U.S. are proficient in mathematics, placing the U.S. 32nd out of 49 participating countries.

    Within the U.S., Utah ranks near the bottom in most indices of progress in public education. Although all U.S. states enjoyed some improvement in mathematics performance, Utah ranked 42nd when it came to total student growth. An aggregate examination of U.S. student performance in math, science and reading found that most students in Utah failed to meet the NAEP standards for average performance.

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