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Times change, laws change, and schools face challenge keeping up

Creekview Elementary students jumping rope show that recess games have hardly changed over the generations of public education in this country. However, what goes on in the classroom has undergone some dramatic changes and those changes continue.

By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Reading, writing and arithmetic.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

All of these are truths we have heard time and time again when it comes to education. Education comes in many forms. There is the education we gain by being raised by our parents; the one we gain from being with friends, another that we value in our experience from work and play. Yet when we talk about education, most of us think of it in a formal sense; Kindergarten through 12th grade.

The simplistic ways we can think about education makes it easy for us to grasp the reality of it. If we can read, our minds can grow. If we can write we can send our deepest thoughts out to others. If we understand math, we can reach for the stars and understand how they move as they do.

But education is not simplistic, whether it be in the mind of a child who is starting school for the first time or for the instructor who must teach that child.

The need for a formal education was set forth as a cornerstone of our country. Public education was founded on the belief that an educated citizenry would make a stronger country and a more productive work force. It would allow America to become a world power, one without equal.

What that education was in the 1700s hasn't changed much in concept. But in detail it has grown immensely and today the procedures, vehicles and delivery techniques that are involved in educating students are so very different from what they were then, and actually very different from just a generation ago.

Educators and administrators today must face a world vastly different from the one they viewed in 1950, 1970 and even 1990. Over the years articles have been written about how much technology has changed education, but there is a lot more to it than that. There is no doubt that computers, tablets, readers and smart phones, along with the social media many people use, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Skype, has revolutionized the way information is passed between teachers and students and the students to student. But the real revolution in education lies beyond circuit boards, codes and applications. And there has never been a time when there has been more challenges to face in education.

Some years the Utah State Legislature passes dozens of laws and regulations pertaining to public education. Core tests, teacher and administrator evaluations, student well being and dozens of other subjects are addressed time and time again. Last session, Senate Bill 64 sponsored by

State Senator Aaron Osmond probably made some of the biggest legal changes in how schools operate than any similar bill in the past.

"While laws and regulations have changed year to year, that bill really changed education in Utah," said Carbon School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen. "It will affect how educators are evaluated and also could affect funding for districts that don't meet certain standards."

How teachers are trained and then how new ones are brought on line has also changed a great deal.

"When I started teaching they basically said, 'There's your classroom,' and I went to work," said Joan Atwood, the Elementary Supervisor for the district. "I'd seldom see the principal in my classroom during the year. Now we have master teachers who observe along with the principal on a regular basis. Then they work with the teacher to improve."

She said that poor teachers used to slip through the cracks, but when weaknesses in teaching techniques are discovered now, something is done about it.

"I overheard one of the evaluation team talking about a teacher one day and one of them said something about that the teacher they just watched had some real weaknesses," she stated. "But the person also said to the other 'But we can fix that."

Testing has also taken on a whole new meaning in recent years. When The No Child Left Behind law came into affect many didn't like it, especially since it was a mandate from the federal government. But many educators today can see that it did some good.

"I think it made us look at some things we hadn't realized before," said Judy Mainord, the district Secondary Supervisor. "That was a good thing."

More recently the state core testing has been at the forefront. It used to be that that kind of testing was reserved for reading, writing and math. Now tests include many other aspects including science and most other subjects that students take.

The future will also bring Adaptive Assessments, with students quizzed more often. These tests will be used to pace an individual student's learning, with teachers being more in tune with what each individual will need. These tests will help spell out what a student will need to move from point A to B.

There is also the change in the students themselves. Students today are usually one with technology; they often come into school with a lot of ability in using computers, pads, etc. But the attitudes toward education and learning has also changed. So has the sense of responsibility towards learning.

Over the next few weeks the Sun Advocate will be running a series of articles about how the classroom of yesterday has evolved into a much different place today. Articles about educational technology, laws affecting education, teacher and student responsibility, teacher training, instruction methods and evaluation, new curriculum models and families dealing with their students school environment will be addressed.

It's a new map to follow in the world of education, one that parents must understand to their children to be successful.




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