Jay Evensen's editorial Sunday, May 30, confused me. He seemed to be attempting to make the point that Utah teachers had "no excuse" for the recent drop in test scores. Along the way, however, he littered his path with unjust criticism, contradictions and downright misleading information.
He recounts how a lady who taught Title 1 in her school believed the program to be a success because she was having success. He goes on to cite that according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 58 percent of the nation's low-income fourth-graders cannot read. He does not state whether this is an improvement or not, nor whether any of these children were even served by Title 1.Mr. Evensen goes on to say that what really bothered him was the attitude the Title 1 teacher displayed, which was that low-income students will never be able to perform as well as the upper-income students. While I don't condone this attitude either, I do think that since the main support for Mr. Evensen 's rejection of this attitude was to profile the success of seven others who had also had individual success, it was a contradiction to discredit her belief in the Title 1 program on that basis.
The most disturbing assertion made by Mr. Evensen was that the explanation teachers had given for the recent reading test score reduction was invalid. He indicated that Utah's minority population had grown by 45.8 percent between 1990 and 1997. He claims, apparently, that this could not be the case because he had been able to fish out from his "conservative think tank," the Heritage Foundation, plenty of cases in which principals of schools with economic adversity had achieved remarkable academic success. This is misleading because:
First, we must not confuse the nature of the challenges here. These exemplary schools Mr. Evensen showcased had earned "Salvatori" awards from the Heritage Foundation for their achievements but they primarily dealt with inner-city, geographically stable, yet economically disadvantaged, African-American students, who represented a challenge educators in their school system have faced for a long time. Here in Utah, we face largely transient, sometimes low-functioning, primarily Hispanic students who have only recently been recognized as a concern worthy of special attention.
The idea that money is not at issue here is misleading. To use Mr. Evensen's "road" analogy, this would be like cutting highway funds because crews discovered too many potholes. Performing "miracles on a shoestring" is nothing new to Utah teachers, but it is telling to note that a recent salary comparison published by the American Federation of Teachers showed the average New York teacher (where two of the Salvatori award schools were located) earned 61 percent more than the average Utah teacher.
As long as self-deceptive, elitist rationalizers like Mr. Evensen continue to pretend that it won't take money to address the new types of special needs many of our minority and low-income students have, we will continue to see a decline in test scores and the overall educational quality of our schools.
Salt Lake City