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Schools must face realities

The nation's schools are becoming increasingly segregated by race and class, according to a new Harvard University study. Increased segregation creates inequality among schools, particularly for low-income minority children.

Although Utah is largely Caucasian, demographers say the Beehive State is becoming more racially and ethically diverse. Economists say the gap is widening between the halves and have-nots.Now is the time to study how to better meet the needs of all learners. Utah will have the benefit of others' experiences; a wealth of education research in the area; and time to put together a plan to help even the educational playing field.

No question, it's a daunting endeavor. Social policy and history suggests busing isn't the answer. Parents don't like to bus their children -- particularly elementary-school age students -- far from home to attend school. It is particularly distasteful to families who feel they are given no choices.

As a matter of law, the Supreme Court in recent years has authorized the termination of long-standing desegregation orders.

The changing landscape calls for new approaches in education.

Some school districts are responding to that challenge. The Salt Lake City School District, one the state's most diverse, is attempting to address some of these issues through its five-year $12 million Vanguard Initiative. Schools in poor neighborhoods are transforming into community centers to help enrich the entire school community -- not just students.

Elsewhere, Utah educators are going back to school to learn new strategies to address the changing dynamics of schools.

The answer transcends enhanced training. In many school districts, veteran educators transfer from schools in impoverished neighborhoods to more affluent areas where they perceive they will receive more parental support and fewer challenges.

Often, they are replaced by young, inexperienced teachers whose personal backgrounds or education has not prepared them for the challenges of teaching diverse learners.

Policy makers should provide incentives to keep veteran educators in the places they can do the most good -- either by paying them more or offering them smaller classes.

Colleges and universities need to do a better job of training teachers to reach students from various cultural backgrounds. Disadvantaged children have very limited opportunities in life unless they do well in school. It is incumbent upon policy makers to develop plans that foster academic achievement in all of Utah's communities.