The "Nation at Risk" report on America's education system, released five years ago this week, has been a major driving factor in the quest for excellence, says the head of Utah's largest teachers' union.
But, says Utah Education Association President Jim Campbell, "Utah's wilting economy also deserves much of the credit or blame for the new look in schools."Many of the positive reforms in Utah public schools were spurred by the "Nation at Risk" study spearheaded by Utahn and then-Education Secretary T.H. Bell, Campbell said.
He said some of the "explosive changes" include a dramatic increase in the number of high school students taking foreign language, math and science classes; increasing ACT scores for college-bound high school students; and the career ladder program aimed at providing supplemental income for teachers doing extra work.
Other reforms benefiting Utah school students, Campbell said, are increased use of computers and technology in the classroom; $8 million provided for class-size reduction; an increase in scholarships for future teachers; a move toward block grants to school districts; a principals' academy for training administrators and programs for evaluating teachers and administrators.
"Teachers and administrators have worked hard these past five years in developing and implementing reform measures," Campbell said.
But, he said, while improvements have been made in line with the "Nation at Risk" blueprint, other "counter-trends" have hampered Utah schools.
Among these negatives, said Campbell, is career ladder funding "stalled at two-thirds of the target level; thousands of Utah public school classes have 30 or more students and some Utah teachers haven't had a salary increase in two years."
Campbell also complained the Legislature has failed to address recommendations for increasing beginning teachers' salaries, and said the state's per-pupil expenditures have dropped from 45th in the nation to a last-place tie with Mississippi.
The union head said more reforms are needed, including increasing accountability by local school districts and greater involvement by teachers, parents and administrators.