The majority of Utah residents rally behind the state school superintendent's proposal to leng-then the school day.
But they're turned off by talk of trilingualism as a graduation requirement.Sixty percent of the 1,200 residents surveyed in a Deseret News poll believe more time is needed in secondary instruction; 52 percent felt the same about elementary school, according to the Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted last month.
"I think kids rise to the occasion with high expectations," said Salt Lake Superintendent Darline Robles. "I think it's time for us to look at ourselves and see what we can do better."
Parenthood factored into survey responses. Of those with children in public schools, 41 percent wanted no extra instruction time for secondary students; 51 percent felt the same about elementary instruction. Of those without schoolchildren, 27 percent wanted no additional time in secondary school; 37 percent felt the same about elementary instruction.
When it comes to foreign language, nearly 60 percent of registered voters surveyed said two foreign languages definitely or probably should not be required for graduation.
The survey has an error margin of plus or minus 2.7 percent.
A new target
Throughout his oversight of public instruction in Utah, State Superintendent Scott Bean has honed his goal to raise students' literacy base to match rapid increases in technology and information.
Bean's will present his proposal Thursday to the legislative Education Interim Committee in Cedar City.
While test scores are not the plan's impetus, increased requirements could catapult Utah, which generally scores among the top 10 in national tests despite having the country's lowest per-student spending, into even higher ranks and help it meet state education goals.
"Comparatively, we do well. But it doesn't mean we're meeting a standard set for ourselves," said state assessment director Barbara Lawrence. "Educational goals and the governor's initiative for education focus on the need to establish a high standard for education and (we're) working to meet that."
Globally, Utah and the United States fare well, considering the amount of time they spend in school comparatively, Bean says.
But the nation's rankings can be alarming. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study reported last February that the United States ranked last among 16 countries in physics and next to last in advanced math. No Utah students took the test. International comparisons are considered by many to be unreliable.
Bean's proposal, introduced last month to the State Board of Education, was a shot heard around Utah's education world. It has been answered by a barrage of questions, curiosity, praise and doubt from stakeholders.
"I think it's good people have interest," Bean said. "This is a huge step forward in the education of children that still needs to have public support. Once people know what the full proposal is, no one has been negative about it."
Bean wants to add 30 minutes to the average elementary instruction day and one hour to that of junior and senior high students. The extra time would allow for enhanced graduation requirements. Paying teachers or hiring specialists for that time would cost $104 million a year.
Requirements would include one more credit in math, science and arts, and two foreign-language classes with instruction starting in second grade. School days now average 5.5 hours, in step with most other states.
But some educators fear more requirements could be harmful.
"I think that we've got some potential problems, with some of the kids having a tough time as it is with the high school curriculum," said Davis High math teacher Mike Shaw.
But Bean says students can request requirement waivers and take applied-technology education their senior year at one of a dozen proposed State Board of Education applied technology centers throughout Utah. Those ATCs would cost $118.5 million, plus $13.7 million for annual operation and maintenance.
Bean also calls for credits to count toward graduation beginning in the seventh grade instead of ninth, a move that could help keep students on task.
"Now, if a student fails a class, there is not a real incentive for that student to make that class up," said Mary Kay Kirkland, principal at Alice C. Harris Intermediate School in the Box Elder School District. "I think we need to look at putting into place standards, and counting credit in the middle level would be a move toward that."
Some critics fear a downside, questioning whether students already handspringing toward college with Advanced Placement courses and concurrent enrollment could continue such loads with extra requirements.
Take Davis High student Alan Faerber. The 17-year-old's school day stretches from 7:15 a.m. to about 6 p.m. with academics, choir and track activities.
"Then I hit the books," Faerber said. "I'm already staying up really late trying to finish my homework. (A longer school day) will add a lot more (work) and I'll stay up later."
But Bean's proposal offers opt-outs for some requirements or summer school to graduate early. Also, a summer quarter would be held in 15 high schools throughout the state to allow for acceleration or remediation.
Students at any time could test-out or receive credits for some requirements, including proposed foreign-language classes, aimed at increasing competency in a global economy.
"We're pretty isolated in Utah, and I don't think we can remain that way," said Ron Drickey, senior lecturer for Utah State University's secondary education department.
But the proposed foreign language requirement has drawn criti-cism from some State Board of Education members, who question introducing new languages until English skills improve. Others fear students could become frustrated and drop out.
Consider Midvale resident Anthony Arnason's experience:
"My most stressful and aggravating memory of my California public education was taking mandatory Spanish classes in elementary and junior high schools," Arnason wrote to the Deseret News. "There was a small group of students who neither had the mouth muscles nor the brain to learn a foreign language."
While Bean must glean support and input to shape his concept into legislation, the real fight will be at the Capitol.
"To say the Legislature will accept all this in the first year would be beyond my wildest hopes," Bean said.
While the plan is in its infancy, some legislators' ears are perked.
"It's an exceptional idea and something we should very seriously consider," said Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-West Jordan and chairman of the Education Standing Committee.
"If you can fund millions to design-build a freeway because it makes sense to do so, why can't you design-build education, if the reason is equally compelling?"
Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden and co-chairman of the Pubic Education Appropriations Subcommittee, believes the Legislature could rally around the proposal. While lawmakers are strapped to identify new money, Montgomery suggests that school trust lands money and reorganizing education budget priorities could boost funding possibilities.
But if such funds could become available, some teachers and professors say they would better benefit ongoing school improvement efforts, such as class-size reduction and teacher training.
"We really do have good initiatives under way," said Susan Kuziak, executive director of the Utah Education Association. "(Bean's proposal) has its merits, but other things are equally meritorious, like class-size reduction."
But Bean, whose proposal includes more career ladder days for teachers to train or tutor students, says the Legislature is unlikely to fund more of the same.
"Putting money into the same sorts of things they've done for years and years doesn't make a lot of sense," he said. "If I thought we could take care of the academic achievement some other way, I'd recommend that. I don't think that's possible."
Deseret News Poll
For years, state school superintendent Scott Bean has advocated adding time to the school year. To accomplish that, the state school board may consider adding one hour to the school day for senior and junior high school students and 30 minutes for elementary students.
How much additional time should junior and senior high school students spend in school each day?
Up to 1 hour 43%
1-2 hours 13%
More than 2 hours 4%
Don't Know 5%
How much additional time should elementary school students spend in school each day?
Up to 30 minutes 26%
30-60 minutes (1 hour) 22%
More than 1 hour 4%
Don't Know 5%
Bean also has proposed that secondary school students be required to take two foreign languages. Currently, foreign language is an elective but is required by most universities for admission.
In your opinion, should students be required to take two foreign languages?
Probably not 25%
Definitely not 34%
Don't Know 4%
A poll of 1,219 adults statewide was conducted June 13-19 by Dan Jones & Associates. It has a margin of error of =/- 2.7 percent. Dan Jones & Associates is an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.
Copyright 1998 Deseret News