Last year, Sutherland Institute released a report stating that "the authority to make education decisions for children rests primarily and supremely with parents."
The debate about tuition credits for private schools and formation of more and larger charter schools has been brought to the forefront based on the issue of choice and parental rights to selection.
People living along the Wasatch Front have had choices in education, including a number of private, religious and charter schools. But many other parts of the state have only charter schools as an alternative to regular public education.
The ongoing debate has been about more than choice. For proponents and opponents, it has come down to whether charter schools are making a difference in student achievement levels.
That point was answered to a certain extent last week when a national report indicated all 12 charter schools in Utah that were eligible to be evaluated passed the adequate yearly progress (AYP) scale set up under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.
In contrast, public education found that many of schools did not meet the standards.
There are several bills that will be introduced into the 2004 Utah Legislature to change the way charter schools are set up and operated. The recently released information appears to strengthen the hand of people promoting school choice.
The AYP report applies to student achievement in language arts and mathematics. It is used to identify areas where schools are weaker and to help administrators pinpoint where to apply resources to improve education systems.
Most public education administrators maintain that comparing public and charter schools is unfair. Public schools represent a total cross section of the population, while many charter schools represent groups that are not considered high risk in academic performance.
But many charter schools maintain that they have inherited students who were way below expected academic levels. They argue that parents often place their underachieving students into the charter schools when the regular public education system is not working.
The state currently has 19 charter schools, some of which have been set up by the state board of education and others that were formed by school districts themselves. These are the only two governmental agencies that can legally set up charter schools, but a bill that will be presented to the legislature next month may create a board that will be able to approve applications for new schools as well.
With the potential growth in charter school numbers, more groups of students that have some of the learning and environmental problems could become involved with the charter schools.
The NCLB law is tied to $11 billion in aide that comes from the federal government through Title 1. Adequate yearly progress is a series of performance goals that are set by the state for each school and school district and those standards are measured by minimal requirements that are sampled by standardized tests.
Tests results must be sorted by four groups, including racial-ethnic categories, disabled students, those with limited English skills and by student's families socioeconomic status.
NCLB dictates that gaps between the groups must be eliminated on a relative basis by the year 2014. Schools are working toward yearly goals in an effort to achieve the end goal in ten years.
The funding that the national government provides does not come factor into this first year, but the measurements are helping to pinpoint weak areas educational institutions have.
At the two year level, effects could include allowing parents to transfer students to better schools, developing specific improvement plans, and setting up costly technical assistance.
The program makes it progressively tougher and tougher on schools each year.
The current AYP report is based on scores for tests taken in the spring of 2003. In future years, attendance and graduation rates will be included as a third criterion for assessing AYP.
Locally, the Pinnacle Canyon tested students in grades three to eight. The testing process included 154 individuals, the most in any charter school in the state.
"We actually test more students than just those grades, but those are the grades the state measures," said Jenny Gagon, assistant administrator at the school. "We test in language arts, math and science."
Carbon High School did not achieve AYP according to NCLB because the number of students participating in the testing was less than the 95 percent required. Petersen Elementary did not make AYP progress because student scores in the student special education subgroup in language arts and mathematics did not reach the established criteria. No Title I schools in Carbon district are in school improvement.