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UTAH MUST CHANGE EDUCATIONAL PRIORITIES

The announcement by the State Office of Education recently that almost two-thirds of Utah's high schools may fall short of Northwest accreditation standards in the next year or so triggers some interesting thoughts.

Is accreditation worthwhile? From the comments made by State Office staff and a State Board member, it may seem that accreditation by an official agency no longer holds the significance it once did.At one time, they said, accreditation of a high school was one of the factors that assured its graduates entry into institutions of higher education.

That condition appears to be diminishing, they said, although some private colleges and universities still bar entry to high school graduates whose schools are not accredited.

From my point of view, even if the selection of a college or university is not seriously hampered, Utah has no excuse for operating schools that are not on a par with peers throughout the region.

Why should there be even the perception that our students are being shortchanged? And they are, when their schools fail to provide equal opportunity with schools in neighboring states.

One of the State Board's responses to the negative report is to suggest that the Northwest Association should consider what Utah accomplishes despite not meeting the prescribed standards.

Why not look at it from the perspective of how much more Utah might achieve if we DID meet the standards? Settling for mediocrity is asking for mediocrity.

Utah test scores generally are at the national average. Average shouldn't be good enough in a state where education is highly valued and where there is not the same degree of minority, ethnic and social problems many other states experience.

The primary sources of concern regarding accreditation of Utah high schools are the shortages of counselors and library/

media specialists.

How important are these personnel to our students?

Today's students who don't learn the skills of retrieving information will be seriously behind in the competition for jobs. Education is becoming more a matter of being able to find information than to memorize it. Teaching such skills is the job of trained, qualified library/media personnel.

The state board is proposing that every student receive an individualized education and that every high school graduate leave school with an occupational skill, or at least a recognition of their potential for ultimately finding a satisfactory life work.

That makes the role of counselors key. Schools with 600 to 1,000 students per counselor have no hope of providing the kind of counseling that will achieve those goals. (The Northwest standard is one counselor for every 400 students).

I'm not naive about the problems Utah could have in meeting accreditation standards. The costs would be enormous - more than $100 million, in all likelihood. But I do think that with a little reordering of priorities, we might do better than we're doing.

For instance, why were some school districts hiring athletic coaches at the same time they were laying off media specialists and counselors? Why, indeed, are counselors and librarians the first groups targeted for layoffs when budget push comes to budget shove?

I love high school athletics and I think they serve a very worthwhile purpose in building character and providing a healthy outlet for many students. But if they were moved out of the school arena into the community domain they could serve the same purpose while freeing up money for the athletic program.

I cast my vote in favor of fully accrediting Utah's high schools, just as a matter of principle, if not for the benefits it would give our children.