Students go back to school across the nation

Kids across the nation will be tested in new ways in 2012-13 year

Published: Monday, Sept. 3 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

"The core standards are more rigorous and build on mastery in each grade so that students graduate college career-ready," said Pam Goins, director of education policy for CSG. "The college remediation rates currently show that students aren't prepared for credit-bearing work, but the CCSS will prepare students to master the content and apply their knowledge."

Because they live in Utah, the Turpin children will be affected by another top education issue identified by CSG. Utah is one of 32 states granted waivers to the requirements of the National Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind. Five more states are awaiting word on whether their NCLB waiver applications will be approved, Goins said.

States receiving waivers were required to implement their own rigorous academic standards, accountability systems and educator evaluation programs. So, the Turpin kids are likely to see some differences in the way they are taught and tested.

Connor Turpin's participation in online schooling highlights another issue that will be prominent this year: increasing educational choices for parents and students. Goins said that public schools and districts have developed a variety of options for students in recent years, including open enrollment, charter schools, online learning, magnet schools and dual or concurrent enrollment in post-secondary courses. And, in some states, families can exercise choice by using public tax dollars to pay tuition for private or parochial school through voucher programs.

Emma's teacher, Tallene Huffaker, is one of the nation's 3.3 million full-time teachers. She presides over a bustling class of 37 fourth-graders at Antelope Elementary, a number that is more than double the average class size for public schools, which NCES lists at 15.2.

Improving teacher quality is the other key issue CSG identified for K-12 education. Across the nation, schools are experimenting with linking salaries to student performance, although the practice is controversial because of inequities in student backgrounds from school to school. Efforts to reform teacher tenure laws are also under way, empowering local districts to remove teachers from their jobs for an expanding array of reasons.

Overhauling higher education to ensure a competitive edge and grow the U.S. work force is CSG's other top education issue.

"The data clearly show that states prosper when there is an increase in the number of college-educated employees in the work force," Goins said.

Better alignment between K-12 curriculum and higher education expectations is part of the discussion, and Goins said that Common Core State Standards will help the process.

"The blame game must stop and both take responsibility for preparing and graduating successful students," she said. "Finally, there must be a commitment from post-secondary education to work more closely with business and industry to connect work force needs to create pathways of learning so that students are employable when they graduate."

Although education remains a political hot button, Goins said it is difficult to predict what education legislation will show up in Congress until the outcome of the presidential election is known.

"I anticipate there will continue to be increased discussions around college- and career-readiness, graduation rates, decreasing dropouts and encouraging innovation," she said. "The other key topics will likely be rewarding successful districts and states as well as offering more flexibility in the areas they determine are of greatest need."

The outcome of such discussions on the national front will shape Emma Turpin's school experience for many years to come, but after school ended Friday, she had other things on her mind.

School was great on Friday, Emma said, especially the science experiment that caused a soda pop bottle to explode. Cheering for her brothers at a Saturday football game was the next big item on her agenda.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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