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Public education gets 'road map'

A state task force says it has come up with a road map — including differential pay for teachers — to improve the education Utah children receive in public schools.

The report and recommendations from the Utah State Board of Education Educator Quality Task Force would focus on recruiting and retaining good teachers, monitoring and mentoring them once they're in the classroom and evaluating principals. The recommendations, presented Friday, are considered perhaps the most comprehensive Utah has offered on the issue, associate state superintendent Ray Timothy said.

"It's an in-depth look at what we need to be doing in the state of Utah not only to meet the supply of teachers, but also enhance the quality of our educational force in the state," he said.

Now, officials have to sit down and figure out how much it's going to cost, and what to do first.

The task force includes school board, district, university and private school officials, the Utah Education Association, and other educators. It was chaired by Timothy and Phyllis "Teddi" Safman. She is an assistant commissioner in the Utah System of Higher Education.

The study has roots in a 2003 examination of educator supply and demand, Timothy said.

Student population growth in Utah is expected to increase by more than 140,000 students in the next 10 years and by nearly 50 percent in the next 20, the report states.

But Utah might not have enough teachers to school them all. It is expected to be short 1,200 teachers a year.

In 2003, Utah lost more than 1,700 teachers, believed to cost the state $24 million in costs of training additional teachers and the inexperience and continuity glitches associated with high turnover, the report states.

Utah's teacher attrition rate is about 11 percent. One-third of new teachers leave during their first three years on the job, consistent with a national trend. Thousands of teachers and administrators are nearing retirement age. Diversity is of particular concern: While about 17 percent of the student population are non-whites, less than 7 percent of educators are.

"There is common consensus among researchers and educators that the single most important factor in determining student performance is the quality of the teacher," the report states. "Efforts must be made to recruit to Utah the brightest and most capable of teacher candidates and to provide the support they need for success in the classroom."

The report includes two dozen recommendations. A sample:

Raise teacher salaries, but also measure and compensate teachers "based on their classroom performance, including the academic gains made by their students."

Work with ethnic minority communities and through teacher scholarships in recruitment.

Review effectiveness of teaching colleges and make sure they have capacity to meet future demand.

Seek money for a full-time beginning teacher mentor program, then study its impact on teacher retention and share best practices.

Help teachers seeking rigorous National Board Certification by covering their fees and offering salary bonuses.

Offer principals additional training and mentoring and evaluate their performance annually.

The board also voted to examine rules governing the release of substandard teachers so they don't remain in the system too long.

Now, a group will meet to create a three-phase implementation plan. Putting it all in action could take up to five years, Timothy said.

A cost analysis also will get under way.