Educational philosophies reflect changing times
Many parents in Carbon County may remember getting milk and graham crackers in kindergarten as 5-year-olds.
Local adults may also remember having an afternoon nap in the same classes.
Some parents remember half day classes in first grade. Others remember night time junior high dances.
Some adults remember when the only inter schools sports that included women were track and field and swimming.
The memories of parents have changed a great deal in the last 35 years.
Evolving educational philosophies at the state and local level, increased federal funding for programs which controls purse strings and a general change in American society have made public schools as unrecognizable to most adults as modern automobiles would be to people who drove Model Ts in the 1920's.
But just as the basis of the Model T and modern car is to get from point A to B, public education has the same goals for generations: to graduate students with an experience that will help youth find jobs or to go on to a higher level of instruction.
However, many people believe that public education is not doing its job as well as it used to. Along with remembering the graham crackers and milk, they think education was more pertinent and comprehensive in the past.
"People often think that schools used to be better and did a better job of educating students," notes Debbie Blackburn, a member of the Carbon County Board of Education. "But that's not true."
"Considering all the responsibilities that have been added to schools over the years that have made the job much more complicated, the schools have actually improved the education they are providing students," points out Blackburn.
The naysayers point to falling national ACT test scores and poorer comprehension by students of the basic principles of math, reading and science.
However, what the nation does is not necessarily what Utah schools do.
ACT scores are a good example of the myth that things are getting worse.
The composite score for students nationally last year was 20.9.
In Utah, students had a composite of 21.5.
In addition, Utah has more students than the national average taking the ACT test.
Across the United States, apprpoximately 40 percent of students actually take the college entrance exam. In Utah, 67.5 percent take the test.
The increase in the basic education of students has occurred while Utah's funding rates per student have dropped considerably.
In the early 1970's Utah's expenditures per student ranked in the middle of the pack of all states reporting.
Today, Utah ranks 51st nationwide in spending, falling below traditionally low states like Mississippi.
Overall, Utah's total taxes that went to education in 1993-94 was the seventh highest in the nation.
By 1998-99, the level of funding had fallen to 35th in the country.
One of the reasons for the drop is the high birth rate to adult taxpayers in the state.
Utah averages approximately 1.5 more children per household than the national average.
Therefore, Utahns per capita pay more for education than almost any other state, yet spending per student is less.
Projections show the problem becoming more pronounced. Utah's school age population (between 5-17) was at 508,160 in 2003.
The governor's office of planning and budget projects that there will be 659,720 students enrolled in Utah's public schools by 2013.
Statewide, the number of new students entering the schools this year was around 7,000.
By 2013, the number is projected to be 19,610.
After 2013, it appears the trend for growth will start going down, but remain at more than 8,000 new students annually through 2020.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming obstacle, Utah high schools graduate almost 90 percent of the students who enter the doors. Nationally, high schools graduate at a rate of 71 percent.
Because of the cost of education in the state, federal dollars become more important.
And the federal government has more control over what local public schools can do.
With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools have to provide extra services to students who are notstaying up with classmates.
Complying with the federal mandates means more increased costs as well.
By 2014, all schools are mandate to meet the goal of NCLB and to do that will be schools must provide a lot more in school tutoring, more before and after school programs, summer school, Saturday school, night school and other remediation courses.
In addition to adding to the load of making sure students of all social and economic classes meet passing standards, teachers themselves are also under scrutiny under NCLB. Within this school year, all teachers must prove they are high qualified with a major or equal qualifications of time and expertise in each subject they teach in public schools. Educators say in large school districts with large schools this will not be as hard to achieve, because there is enough availability of personnel, and enough students to teach in any one subject so that those schools will easily qualify. But in rural districts with small student populations and smaller qualified teacher pools may have a hard time keeping up with this part of the program.
But regardless of new federal programs or state mandated testing, probably the biggest difference between schools today and those of the mid-20th century is the fact that the countries social structure has changed and what is expected of schools has changed along with it. The diversity of students that schools must accommodate today is very different than it was then. In 1970 schools did little to accommodate students who were different from what considered the norm. Today schools, based on both societal and legal pressures must deal with cultural, ethnic, and language problems. They have to consider the socio economic class their students fall into and whether they are homeless, in poverty and what the home environment is like. Schools also must provide more services than ever for those with disabilities, mental illness and those with substance abuse problems.
The legalities of handling students with and without problems, including the possibility of litigation, both personally for teachers and administrators as well as liabilities for school districts has grown far beyond what anyone going to school or teaching in a school in 1970 could have imagined. Today administrators must be more concerned than ever about being even handed with all students and to be sure all are served equally.
School face the same problem that society as a whole faces; things change. Sometimes it happens quickly and vastly as well, but for those who are not involved directly in the day to day operations of schools, situations are fixed in the mind. Finding a way through those myths and to the truth of the present is not an easy process.
Editors note: Today's story is the final in a series of three articles highlighting the facts and misconceptions about public education.