Misconceptions persist about public education
Education frequently takes the brunt of criticism when it comes to spending money in Utah.
Schools in Utah spend less per pupil than all other 50 states per year on education.
And while teachers pay is below the national average and class sizes are bigger in Utah, it all comes down to the total amount of money spent that seems to exacerbate the argument.
Some of the arguments about public education come from a misinformed public, people who think that schools should still teach only the three Rs and today's system is doing less than it has ever done for Utah's youth.
But the facts disputes the statements.
"Schools are doing more and providing more services than they ever have in the history of public education," said Debbie Blackburn, a member of the Carbon County Board of Education last week during a presentation. "Things have really changed in the past 30 years."
Not to mention the last 120.
In 1888, Utah had 344 school districts. All small towns had school organizations.
But after becoming a state in 1896, Utah took over the supervision of schools, a job that had previously belonged to various individual communities.
Today the state has 40 school districts encompassing 478 elementaries and 257 secondary schools.
In the early days, there used to be a lot of single room schools with kids from every grade incorporated within the classroom. They had a lack of text books, teachers were not trained very well, in fact some of them were just those that had the highest education level in the community, and sometimes that was because the graduated from the school they were teaching in. Schools took kids in at 8 a.m. and sent them home at 3 p.m. There was no school lunch, no special services for handicapped students, no social workers or psychologists and if kids misbehaved, the parents took care of the problem entirely.
Jamie Vollmer, who once was a well know national opponent of public schools, and now is a advocate of them says that most Americans are suffering from what he calls nostesia; a belief in the nostalgia that schools were once much better and the amnesia to go along with it that the past was never like people want to remember it.
In recent years the requirements that schools face have gotten even tougher. With such national mandates like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as well as state testing programs (such as the Utah Basic Skills and Compentency Testing or UBSCT) school districts have more to contend with than ever.
Within NCLB is a section of the program called yearly adequate progress (AYP) and recently the annual state report that AYP requires was released. Superintendent David A. Armstrong, of the Carbon School District announced last week that all but one school in the district made AYP, keeping the district fully within compliance of the federal NCLB.
"All the schools met the academic requirements of NCLB but Carbon High did not meet the participation rate for the students with disabilities subgroup," he said in a release.
NCLB requires, among other things, that every school test at least 95 percent of all of its students annually in reading and mathematics. Utah uses the core criterion-referenced tests given to all students each spring to fulfill that requirement. Students passing those tests are deemed proficient in the subject matter. NCLB will require all students to be able to pass those tests by 2014.
Each school must test at least 95 percent of its students in each of ten separate subgroups (African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, White, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students, students with disabilities, and whole school) to even be considered for making AYP.
Schools that meet AYP in participation then must ensure that each of those ten subgroups is also making academic progress. To make AYP this year 65 percent of 3-8 grade students had to be proficient in language arts and 57 percent had to be proficient in math. In secondary schools, 64 percent of 10th graders had to be proficient in language arts and 35 percent in mathematics. Those percentages will rise incrementally until 2014 when all students are to be proficient in both subjects.
This year is the year that seniors in high school will have had to pass all the requirements of UBSCT to graduate with a full diploma too. In the past 30 years testing, promotion and graduation have changed dramatically. In 1970 a high school senior just had to pass classes with acceptable grades to get a full diploma. Today the hoops to jump through are much more complicated and convoluted. Just attending school and coasting along isn't enough anymore.
That old view of education, and how it supposedly used to be, is what complicates things for educators today.
Editors note: This is the first in a series of three articles on what the truth and what the misconceptions are about public education today.