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Bust school myths

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One of the functions of a newspaper is to provide factual information to foster the debate of the day. That was the purpose of a recent Deseret Morning News report on myths surrounding east-side and west-side schools in the Granite and Jordan school districts. Veteran reporters Lee Davidson and Jennifer Toomer-Cook crunched school data to determine, among other things, differences — if any — in class sizes, education attainment of teachers and facilities east to west.

Their analysis busted some myths. For instance, class sizes are slightly smaller on Granite District's west side than the east side, due in part to Title I funds that low-income schools receive. In Jordan, the numbers are virtually equal.

The analysis also debunked a long-held myth that the west side has more behavior or crime problems at schools.

However, the report did confirm other long-held views that east-side schools employ teachers who have more experience and higher levels of education attainment. The data partially confirmed that there are more special programs for talented students on the east side of the respective school districts.

Interestingly, these are not all predictable trends. For instance, less experienced teachers may bring more enthusiasm and improved teaching techniques to the classroom. That can be an advantage over teachers who trot out the same lesson plans year to year.

While Granite District has more special programs on the east side, it takes a concerted effort to help transport students to make opportunities available to them. Jordan, meanwhile, is attempting to add more gifted-and-talented programs and an International Baccalaureate program on its west side to help shore up differences

The full report, "Mythbusting: Are the stereotypes about east-side and west-side schools really true" is a must-read for parents in both school districts as the respective movements to split the Granite and Jordan school districts gain momentum. A vote by the Salt Lake City Council whether to put these issues before voters could come as soon as July 31.

This report should help elevate the debate from emotional stereotypes to hard facts and numbers. The report helps to clarify areas in which the school districts have made progress in ensuring educational equity. It also points out areas where each school district could improve access to certain programs or student success in existing programs.

Whether it's the school voucher debate or the school district split discussion, the first casualty in public discourse about education issues often is the truth. "Mythbusting" can be considered one guide in centering the debate on reliable information and sound analysis. That's a far better recipe for good policymaking than raw emotion.