Wednesday, November 3, 2010


If you still have one of my signs, here's what to do. Either leave it in place or put it somewhere easily visible at the front of your house, and I'll have people picking them up. If it's still there by Friday, we missed it, so please let me know by at Be sure to send me your address! Thanks!

The Results Are In

All precincts are in, and John Burton has about 58% of the vote, to my 42%. I congratulate him and wish him well. My heartfelt thanks to all who voted for me and everyone who worked on my campaign. It has been an honor to serve on the Alpine School Board.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thanks, and How You Can Still Help Today

I just posted a message for my supporters at my campaign web site. It updates you on the campaign, thanks you for everything you've done, and suggests something you can still do to help, between now and tomorrow morning. Please read it there.

For supporters who might like to pass it on, and for anyone still deciding how to vote tomorrow, here's a two-page flier in PDF format, which is easy to read, e-mail, and print.


One More Note on My Blog Post about Math

Last week I removed a post from my campaign blog, but not because it was untrue or widely misunderstood. It was true, and there wasn't a lot of room for misunderstanding. I removed it because it was being misused, and to prevent further misuse. You can see my explanation here.

I understand the frustration of the local media and others with my decision to pull the story from my blog and with my refusal to provide additional details to the public. But those decisions stand.

I am satisfied that many parents are awakened to renewed vigilance where their children's math instruction is concerned, which is the most important outcome of all this. And, after conversations with the superintendent about this matter, I am also satisfied that he is addressing the matter appropriately at the administrative level.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Short Answers to Common Questions

Here are my short answers to some questions I am often asked on the campaign trail.

What's the biggest difference between you and your opponent?

It's a difference in our views of what a school board is, how it should operate, and what it means to represent the people. For more about this, see my recent blog post, "It's About Two Different Views of How a School Board Should Work."

Why does the district want to borrow $250 million more dollars?

The final decision on any proposed bond issue would be by the voters. As of now, the board has not made a decision to propose any bond issue to the voters. There has been no decision of what the amount will be, if we propose it. The short answer to the question why is that it may be the best and most sensible way to provide for the rapid growth we must accommodate, without raising property taxes. We need to build some new schools and replace a few failing ones.

Just so you know, the Alpine School District's bond rating is the best possible rating for a district with our size of tax base. The district is only at about one-third of the maximum amount it would be allowed to borrow, and even $250 million more, if that's what's proposed, wouldn't even get us close to the limit.

The questions the school board will have to answer soon are, Is a bond issue the best way to provide for growth this time? (It might be.) And have we reasonably limited the things for which we propose to bond -- if we do -- so that we're not borrowing for things we really don't need?

In the meantime, the difficult economic times have hit the Alpine School District fairly hard, but many schools and teachers have done a wonderful job not just doing the same with less money, but doing more with less.

It seems as if the only thing we ever hear about the public schools is that they need more money. How much would be enough?

Great question. I've been asking it for years, and I still don't have a firm answer. But I do believe that, if we are willing to rethink our ideas about how we teach and in what settings, and use some new approaches which are already working in parts of the Alpine School District and other places, we will eventually figure out how to do well with less money, not more.

Why should I care about a dumb old mission statement or the district's goals, vision, or values, as long as my child is learning and ends up getting a college scholarship?

I'll be the first to admit that what happens in the classroom matters a lot more than some document posted at the district's Web site. Eventually, though, some of these things do affect the classroom. That's what happened when the district imposed an ineffective math curriculum, which embodied its flawed educational philosophy, and then its flawed political philosophy made it unwilling to address the problem for years, even though many parents, teachers, and others could see that the curriculum wasn't working well. This damaged the math education of about half a generation of math students in the district, except the ones who parents felt the need to teach their children more math at home.

When you're in the vehicle that's moving, it can be hard to judge how fast you're moving. Sometimes we don't realize we've moved at all, or in which direction, until we're already at a place where we don't want to be. Where we are right now, still, is in a place where most students in the district are getting a good education, or better. But all those documents are an official expression of where the district wants to go, not where it is. We have to get them right, or we'll end up someplace we don't want to be.

The fact that a child is learning at all is not a good indicator of the quality of our schools. A better question might be, Is the child learning as much and as well as the child reasonably can? If not, someone is partially failing that child, and it might be the schools.

A college scholarship is wonderful, but it's not a great measure of the schools' quality, either. Let's see how our students perform in college and how much remedial work is required, if any. Let's see how they fare as adults in the job market and how competitive they help us to be as a nation. Let's see what kind of citizens them make, and how they help us preserve our freedoms. Let's see how committed and effective they are in making education a lifelong pursuit. Unfortunately, by the time we see all this, it's far too late to help that generation of students by going back and improving the schools which didn't serve them as well as they could have.

With the wrong educational and political philosophy, we're at greater risk of making decisions which will have negative consequences down the road, and of missing the early signs of trouble. I happen to love root beer, Hostess Chocolate Donettes, any kind of pizza, and chips and salsa with tons of sour cream. If I decide to make this my daily diet, the health effects might not be obvious right away, and I'll have a lot of fun eating for a while. Months or years down the road, when it is too late or nearly so, the consequences might be quite painful.

What do you think of home schooling, charter schools, and private schools?

I've been told that my job on the school board is to make the case, over and over again, for increased funding of the public schools -- but no one who thinks this can tell me how much funding would be enough. I see my job a little more broadly: advocating for high quality, affordable education for the public, whether in home, charter, or private schools. The Alpine School District supports home schooling by providing help with curriculum, among other things, and I definitely support that effort. Parents should decide which educational options are best for each child, and the public schools should do their best to help them succeed -- even if the chosen option is not full-time attendance at traditional public schools.

Did you really say the other night that you like No Child Left Behind?

I said something like that in a candidates meeting. I was trying to be sarcastic. It didn't work.

In theory, having standards, measuring outcomes, and having consequence for poor performance is a good thing. In practice, increased federal control of public education is a bad thing -- and NCLB does more bad than good.

What's wrong with the "balanced" math curriculum your opponent and the Alpine School District advocate and say we already have?

The math battles (among others) are over some big words that make normal people's eyes glaze over: constructivism, which says it's best to let children find their own way and discover things, and instructivism, which says it's important to do a lot of teaching, including drilling and memorization, among other things. We really do need to balance the two approaches. Discovery is important, and the best traditional teachers have encouraged it for generations. But the math a twenty-first century student needs to master in 13 years took some of the smartest people who ever lived thousands of years to discover and develop. There has to be a lot of instruction, drill, memorization and other traditional things, with some discovery mixed in. That would be a balanced program.

The opponents of this approach like to say they're the ones who are balanced, if they use a constructivist curriculum at school and then send the multiplication tables home for the parents to help with. They talk as if anyone who is dissatisfied with this approach wants nothing but drill and memorization. That would be foolish, and I have never met a single person in the Alpine School District who advocates that.

A properly balanced math curriculum produces students who are good at using math to help solve useful problems. It's not enough just to know a lot about math, feel really good about yourself, and point to the good math grades on your high school transcript. Every day, in my work in the aerospace industry, I see the need for more workers who are really good at doing math, and who can use it reliably in such fields as physics and engineering.

You've been an American Fork High School Marching Band Dad for six years. What do band dads do?

We don't actually march, and we don't play the instruments. As some of the other band dads proved at a band family event a few weeks ago, we don't dance very well, either.

When the band goes to competitions, we load the truck and trailers that haul instruments and other things. Then we unload them at the competition. Then we haul the some of the instruments and other equipment on and off the field for performance. Then we load up the truck again, and unload it when we get back to the high school.

We do whatever else we can to help. At the Mt. Timpanogos competition last Saturday, which the AFHS Marching Band hosted, we helped run the whole operation. I spent much of last Saturday on a four-wheeler, running two-way radios around to bands that were arriving, unloading, warming up, etc., so all 34 bands could stay on schedule. I'm spending part of today on the band's trip to a competition in Logan.

The band moms do a lot, too, including keeping the band well fed and looking sharp, among many other things.

It's real work, but we love it. We're proud of the band.

Sometimes we brag a little, too. Mostly about the band.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's About Two Different Views of How a School Board Should Work

There is an important philosophical difference between me and my opponent. But I need you to understand that it's a political difference, not a moral one. My opponent is a good, honorable, intelligent man, with a distinguished career in the Alpine School District. This is widely known, and the fact that he and I have a few political differences doesn't change it. Neither does anything that may have been said or written by third parties interested in the race.


The short explanation is, there are two ways to look at a school board. I'll call them "collaboration" and "representation," but I almost don't want to, because each includes some of the other. The difference is in how we balance them and which we put first.

Maybe 80 percent of the business which comes before the school board is uncontroversial and routine. On these matters the board can and should be unified and collaborate efficiently with the administration. No responsible school board member would try to obstruct everything.

In the other 20 percent of the board's business, representation is more important to me than unity. I know that debating and discussing important issues seriously and in public can be messy and chaotic. It makes a lot of us uncomfortable, because it's not what we're used to at work, at church, or in some of our other activities. But it's how representative government works. It's how it has to work, if all the people's competing views, needs, experiences, and interests are to be represented, and if the people are to know they are represented and also understand what goes into the board's decisions. This is especially true in fundamental things like the district's mission, vision, values, and goals.

I'm sure my opponent values representation as an essential part of a school board member's role. But based on his own words, at his campaign web site and in the one public event of this campaign (see below), he puts collaboration well ahead of representation. In this model it's less clear that the school board is in charge, and the board tends to avoid important but divisive issues, so everyone can get along. It may ignore or suppress important voices in the debate in order to avoid division. This may be a useful model in other areas of life, but it's not government by the people, through their elected representatives.

In the Alpine School District, the effect of this model is that the many of the people feel that they are not in charge, and that the district is unresponsive to their needs and values. Maybe that's because, in this collaborative model, the board ends up being managed instead of representing and governing.


That was the short version. Now I'll circle back and explain things in more detail, beginning with the school board's code of conduct and some things my opponent said about it at a public event last week.


At his campaign Web site, my opponent mentions his dedication to the school board's unofficial code of conduct. Where the code came from and why it's unofficial are subjects for another time. In any case, it's a single page, and you can read it at the district Web site. It is more appropriate to collaborative management than to representative government. What it leaves out makes it inadequate for a body of representatives elected by the people to govern their public schools.

The code speaks of representing the Board of Education and representing the needs of all the students. It never mentions or even hints at the board members' obligation to represent the people.

It says we should "continually ask what is best for children." That's an important question, I agree. We should never forget the children. Unfortunately, it does not also suggest these other important questions: What's best for the teachers? What's best for the schools? What's best for the taxpayers? What's best for the parents? What's best for the republic?

In fact, there is no mention in the entire code of parents, taxpayers, or the people generally. The closest it comes is a warm, fuzzy generality: "Value every voice in the educational community" -- and it does not define "educational community."

The code advocates unity, but never mentions representing the people.


At the candidates night at Shelley Elementary in American Fork last Thursday evening, the moderator asked this question of all six candidates (four for county commission, plus my opponent and me for school board).
What's the biggest need, the biggest problem that you see in the county or on the school board, and how do you plan to address that?
Here is my opponent's answer, transcribed (like the question) from an audio recording of the event. It is complete, except for a few omitted uh's, um's, and similar things which commonly occur when we speak but don't look good in print.
I think that one of the biggest needs on the school board is to adhere to the code of conduct, that the board membership should adhere to. Whenever a board member is sworn in, he or she agrees to do the following: serve with dignity and integrity -- I'm sharing a list of things here -- ethical conduct, value diversity and some others. Be open and approachable, listen to one another, speak your perspective, support both the board, the superintendent and staff, keep confidences, avoid surprises, air your dirty laundry out behind closed doors, not out in public or in the media, but behind closed doors. It doesn't mean you can't have differences of opinion, but those differences of opinion should be settled in private, and then when you come out as a board, you come out as a unified group. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't as a single board member, but you come out as a unified group when you come.
Most of the items he lists from the code are direct quotes, and most of the rest are good paraphrases. But there is no reference in the code of conduct to airing your dirty laundry in public. And it's probably important that a school board member's oath mentions the United States Constitution and the Utah Constitution, but no other document.


If there's no unity, nothing gets done, not even the uncontroversial 80 percent of business. But if we emphasizes unity too much on the school board, the people lose their representation. When that happens, the school system starts to think of the people only as consumers, not as the ones who also are ultimately in charge. This is a problem, because in the United States, all political power comes from the people. They delegate parts of it to various types and levels of government, including the Alpine School District, and they elect their representatives to the school board to govern their public schools.

This representative model is chaotic, because there's no single, individual authority under whom elected representatives can be unified, as there is in a band, a sports team, or a church. There are thousands and thousands of authorities, each with an equal vote and an equal right to be heard, and each with a different set of viewpoints, needs, experiences, and interests. School board members individually and together are supposed to represent these complicated people. Members have different views and visions of their own, too, which actually helps them do that.

In our democratic republic we don't hide, avoid, or repress these differences. We respect them. We think they're important. We think discussing them openly leads to good government. We think that avoiding these discussions or holding them in private leads to unresponsive, ineffective government.

Intelligent board members with good intentions will disagree on some issues, and they will keep disagreeing after winning or losing a vote. Obviously, as a member of the board, whatever my views, I should avoid undermining the implementation of legitimate decisions made by a majority of the people's representatives. But hiding my views and my constituents' concerns, just because a majority of the board has voted otherwise, doesn't make me a good representative.

My opponent probably didn't actually mean Thursday night that we should debate, discuss, and settle policy differences "behind closed doors," away from the public and the media. That's not even legal. With only a few, very narrow exceptions, the Open and Public Meetings Act (Title 52, Section 103 of the Utah Code), requires that virtually every meeting of a school board to conduct virtually any sort of the people's official business must happen in public.

I'm not suggesting that the current school board is conducting business illegally behind closed doors. It actually tends to avoid a lot of difficult discussions instead. My attempts to begin such discussions during the last four years, in my role as an elected representative of the people, have been unwelcome. Repeatedly, I have been told that they are inappropriate, because they "undermine the administration." That's what the collaborative model does when it bumps against the representative model.


So this is our basic difference of opinion.

I envision an active, open, representative school board which discusses and debates and disagrees in front of the people it represents, and takes the leading role in setting the  district's mission, vision, values, and goals, and making sure they reflect the community's values.

My opponent prefers the school board to put unity and collaboration ahead of representing the people in all their diversity. That's why he thinks the school board's unofficial and inadequate code of conduct is so important. This excessive emphasis on unity and collaboration leaves the board to take its direction in some important matters primarily from the administration, and to avoid the messy business of representing the people and actively governing the district.

Again, this is a political difference about how a school board should work. It's important, but it does not change the fact that Dr. Burton is a good and honorable man. We simply have different visions.

This is why I'm running for another term on the school board and hoping for a majority of members who think similarly. This is why I'm asking for your vote.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Real Position on Democracy

The Daily Herald has an article about the Alpine school board race which mentions me but doesn't quite get my position right. It's called, "School district candidates oppose the term 'democracy'," and it mentions me as one of those candidates. It begins:

Several school board candidates in the Alpine School District are earning parental support for wanting to eliminate the use of the term 'democracy' from the district's mission statement.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports a small group of parents has been protesting Alpine's mission statement, which says it is "educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy."
The parents want to scrap the word democracy because they say it is contrary to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, which describes the nation's government as a republic.

The Salt Lake Tribune article appeared yesterday and is entitled, "Alpine district parents say democracy is unconstitutional."

Actually, there are different kinds of democracies and republics. Not all democracy is bad, and not all republics are good. Democracy and republic are not opposites. In our case, they overlap. Both are present in the United States Constitution, which begins very democratically, "We the People," and goes on to provide for democratic elections of representatives to make laws for our republic. The Bill of Rights protects individual rights, which is considered an essential feature of our kind of modern democracy, at least.

I'm not opposed to revising the mission statement, but it is proper to refer to the United States as a democratic republic or as a representative democracy.

The related problem in the Alpine School District is that the district's official statements of goals and values include promoting social democracy, a very specific term for a gradual route to socialism through democratic means instead of revolution. I don't think for a minute that any significant number of teachers and administrators in the Alpine School District are socialists of any kind. We need to remove the promotion of social democracy from our official statements and make sure it's not a part of our curriculum at any level, but I think very few people in our schools or our community actually want to promote social democracy, or even understand what it really is.

Once the parents mentioned in these articles come to a better understanding of this, they may focus their arguments a little differently, on social democracy specifically, and eliminate quite a bit of unnecessary confusion.

For a detailed discussion of these terms, I suggest a recent four-part series called "What the Words Mean" at David Rodeback's blog.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parents: "Trust But Verify"

I have removed this post. Here's why.

In it I told of something I recently heard at an elementary school in the Alpine School District. My intent in reporting it in the first place was to emphasize that parents need to pay attention to what's happening at school, not just what the schools send home with students. I also wanted to show that we still have a way to go in our battle for an effective math curriculum in each school.

Since then, others have used my story for their own purposes. Some have used it to support conclusions and demands which are inappropriate and extreme. Some have exaggerated, distorted, or misread it. I do not wish to be a party to such abuses.

As far as I am concerned, this race is about two honorable men who have different visions of what makes a good school board. Any attempt to destroy anyone, personally or professionally, along the way is unworthy of the good people of Utah and the Alpine School District and damages the cause of good government.

Tim Osborn
October 25, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Note about Third-Party Materials

My opponent and I each have some supporters who are sending out their own letters, passing out their own fliers, blogging, or putting up their own Web sites, describing their own views of the issues and the candidates -- but who are not part of either campaign. They have the right to do these things, and I'm grateful to everyone on either side for caring enough about children and their education to get involved in an intelligent and responsible way in the discussion.

Just as there are different opinions on the issues themselves, there are different opinions of what is appropriate and justified in a campaign and what is not. I would like all my supporters to be calm and civil, to be very careful with the facts, to stay "on message" (at least something close to my version of the message), and to avoid angry personal attacks. In some cases, because they are angry or inexperienced or both, they still do something inappropriate and inflammatory. If I happen to learn who they are and what they're doing, I can ask them to temper language I think is inaccurate or goes too far. I have already done so in a few cases. Sometimes I've been able to persuade individuals or groups to modify the content and tone of their materials. Sometimes I haven't.

Whether or not third-party materials are accurate in their content and appropriate in their tone, it's important to remember that they are third-party materials. They are not produced, funded, endorsed, or distributed by my campaign. If you want to know what I think and how I approach my campaign, please ask me directly, or study this blog and my official campaign Web site,

If you want to know what my opponent thinks or how he approaches his campaign, please ask him or consult his campaign materials.

Then make your own judgment, rather than accepting someone else's.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meet the Candidates Thursday Evening, and Something Strange in Advance

Thursday evening, October 21, at 6:30 p.m., other local candidates and I will be at Shelley Elementary School in American Fork (602 North 200 West) for a meet-the-candidates event sponsored by the American Fork Youth City Council.

It will be a typical format, with the audience submitting questions in written form and a moderator choosing some to ask the candidates. We candidates will get opening and probably closing statements, plus a minute or so to answer each question.

I'm looking forward to seeing you there. Please introduce yourself. There should be plenty of time to talk face-to-face afterward.

Meanwhile, here's a rather strange thing related to this event. Recently, Ron Firmage, Director of Bonneville UniServ -- essentially the Utah Education Association's umbrella organization, which administers several local teachers unions, including the Alpine Education Association -- sent this e-mail message to union reps around the Alpine District, expressing the importance of union members attending this event, because he's afraid that, if too few of them do, it might not be "fair and equitable."
Dear reps,
As the election for School Board nears, there are a few races that are becoming somewhat heated. One of the races that has become quiet [sic!] contentious is the Alpine School Board race between Tim Osborn and John Burton. We would like to make you aware of an upcoming “Hear the Candidates Meeting ” that is going to be held, at Shelly [sic!] Elementary, on the 21st of October, at 6:30 pm. This is scheduled to be a question and answer format. We feel like there may not be equitable representation at this meeting. We would like you to please get this meeting date out to your members and strongly encourage them to attend. We would like fair and equitable representation on both sides and feel that this may not happen.
Thank you for all you do,
Ron Firmage
Bonneville UniServ Director
(I deleted the phone numbers below the signature, in case he doesn't want them posted on the Web, but if anyone wants to call him, let me know and I'll supply them to you individually.)

What's odd about this is his evident concern that the event will be unfair, unless union members are there in force. But, as long as both candidates show up this time, I'm not sure how someone would slant such an event, to keep it from being "fair and equitable." Even if there were no one there from the union side to plant questions for its candidate, a competent moderator would make sure the questions were balanced. Even if the moderator didn't do that, the candidates could answer the fair questions they wanted to be asked, not the unfair ones actually asked -- and even score some points off the loaded question. There's no public vote taken at such events, so numerical representation doesn't matter much. Each candidate gets the same time to answer each question, and the people running the event go out of their way to be fair in other respects.

Perhaps Mr. Firmage owes the event organizers an apology for questioning their competence or their motives in an official communication.

In any case, you may be interested to know that Mr. Firmage's union has officially endorsed my opponent. This is no surprise, and I appreciate them for clarifying the race. The choice for American Fork and two precincts of Pleasant Grove voters really is clear:

On one hand is yours truly, Tim Osborn, who believes that the people should be in charge of their public school system, and that the people, through their elected representatives, should be the ones setting the school district's mission, goals, and values.

On the other hand is my opponent, a good, honorable, well-respected man with a long career as an administrator in the district, who is nonetheless an establishment insider favored by the local educational establishment, which wants to institutionalize its own values in our public school system, and for the most part already has.

By the way, in case you're uncertain about the union's values, the first words of Bonneville Uniserv's Mission Statement, as of this writing, are "to provide progressive leadership" (my bold). So I suppose I should thank them for being clear about their motives, too, not just for clarifying my race with their endorsement of my opponent.