|Public education systems in Carbon County, across Utah and throughout the United States continues to evolve, changing dramatically from the classrooms of the bygone era. Currently, a significant number of federal regulations, as well as state laws, seem to be added to the public educators' plates on an annual basis. President Bush's no child left behind legislation provides a prime example of the regulations.|
Many educators believe that President George W. Bush's no child left behind legislation, currently in the third year of implementation, added another layer of problems to public school systems.
And the Utah Legislature has also determined that the law goes beyond the boundaries of where the United States government should meddle.
During a special session in March, the state body repudiated some of what the law requires, under the threat of losing up to $76 million in federal aide each year.
On May 2, Gov. Jon Huntsman signed the bill. The new measure indicates that Utah intends to adhere to some of the benchmark requirements, but sets the priorities of the state over the federal standards.
It appears that more than a dozen other states are considering taking similar moves.
However, the federal law continues to move ahead nationally, even though states are trying to wiggle out from under the legislation's tentacles.
But U.S. officials have not stopped inserting the federal government in education yet.
Recently, Bush began pushing his high school initiative to raise graduation levels.
"Getting every child to graduate high school, with a meaningful diploma in hand, is one of the biggest challenges our country faces," said secretary of education Margaret Spelling in late February.
"Only 68 out of 100 entering ninth graders will graduate from high school on schedule. Fewer than 20 percent will graduate from college on time. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the fastest growing jobs will require some post secondary education," added the U.S. secretary of education.
Spelling apparently wants to build on what she and the president consider the standards and accountability of the NCLB provisions.
But many Utah educators question what NCLB was designed to do.
Some of the educators in the state believe that the federal guidelines were developed like an office memos about problems in the workplace issued by weak supervisors who do not want to confront offenders.
The memos from the supervisors are intended to make all of the employees do something extra in order to force offending workers to follow the rules.
The educat feel that way because Utah, despite it's high number of students, low tax base and lowest in the nation expenditure per pupil, still does a good job of getting a lot of kids through high school. And with the latest competency testing that the state has instituted (UBSCT) that result may even get greater.
A recent report by the Utah State demographic and economic analysis section of the governors office points out that Utah ranks fifth in the nation in the number of adults that hold high school diplomas (91 percent) only following leading Minnesota by 1.3 percent. Utah also ranks 12th in percentage of adults with bachelor degrees, with 30.8 percent of adults holding those diplomas. Washington D.C. had the highest percentage with 45.7 percent.
`Somehow, say educators, Utah is getting a big bargain for ranking that high because the state only spends $4,860 per student, the lowest in the nation. Next in line is Arizona which lays out $5,672 per year per student. The highest amount spent in the nation per student is Washington D.C. with a $13, 328 expenditure. Minnesota, which ranked highest amongst the number of adults with a high school diploma ranks 21st at $8,073 per student.
The low funding ratios are largely due to student population as it is relative to the general makeup of the public in Utah. Nationally, only 16.4 percent of the population in a state is enrolled in public schools. In Utah it is 20.5 percent, one of the highest percentages in the country.
But putting fingers in the pie of local education isn't just left up the federal government; the state gets involved too. In this years regular legislative session, no less than 20 bills were introduced in the state house and senate relating to public education. Of that total, 12 passed both houses and eight died. All in all this was an average year for school bills. For some who view it the entire process gives a whole new meaning to the knock off of Benjamin Franklin's saying "...in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," to which a common cliche has become "Except death doesn't get worse each time congress (the legislature) meets."
Few who have had to deal with NCLB like it. The program sets definite, seemingly inflexible and sometimes undefinable standards for school districts and states to meet. There is one thing that most educators agree is ridiculous. That is the part of the plan that says all third graders, regardless of socioeconomic background or handicap, must be reading at grade level by 2012.
To do this all students must be able to grow and for some that is just not possible.
"The fact is that students with disabilities would not be in Special Education if they could grow," says Carbon Superintendent David Armstrong.
The other thing that NCLB does, and many feel is not only unfair but ridiculous as well, is to evaluate schools on multiple levels, with what is basically a pass/fail system. That part of the program is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and schools must evaluate 100 different parameters, 50 for language and another 50 for mathematics. Each box on the form used indicates an evaluator and can be filled in with one of three answers; yes, no or not applicable. One no answer on the entire form means the school does not pass AYP.
For instance, during the 2003-2004 school year, Carbon High School did not pass because despite the fact that the school had yes or NA answers in nearly all the boxes, it received a "no" in academic achievement for students with disabilities. Carbon is not unusual; in fact many schools do fail based on evaluation points like this.
"Unfortunately they use this as a test to judge an entire schools total program," says Richard Wood, the testing coordinator for Carbon School District. "It's not a complete evaluation of the all the good things that are going on in a school."
Both Armstrong and Wood say that the focus of a school should have to do with competency or to prepare students for real life, rather than to focus on content only.
But despite most educators opposition to NCLB and in their estimation impossible goals that can not be consistently achieved, they do agree on one thing; that having students read well by the third grade is critical to the rest of the scholastic and life's success.
Editors note: This is the second in a series of five stories concerning testing, academics, goals and outcomes in Utah schools in general and in the Carbon School District in particular.