Education can never fully succeed as long as children come to school hungry, distressed or deprived, says State Superintendent Jay B. Taggart.
Taggart, who spoke during a Hinckley Institute of Politics session Wednesday at the University of Utah, recounted a visit he made recently to a Salt Lake Valley school. At lunch, he was served a second piece of pizza as a respected guest, but he slipped it to the child who sat beside him. The girl was obviously still hungry after the usual lunch."In statewide testing, we test that child who needs a second piece of pizza. The most important thing she needed was not education, but more to eat," said Taggart.
"We have a half million kids in our schools, each an individual, many with problems. We have whole classes of `little match girls.' " Those differences make statewide testing problematic, he said.
The State Office of Education has adopted five initiatives to try to improve the system statewide, Taggart said. They include:
- A nine-district consortium that will concentrate on developing effective occupation-oriented programs so high school students leave school prepared for either additional education or work. One high school in each of the nine districts will develop a program that addresses its specific needs.
- Encouraging each district to implement the state's core curriculum and assessment program. In recent statewide tests, those districts that have fully put the core into effect had higher scores.
- Promoting "teaching for results." Instruction should be repeated until it is mastered. Some rural school districts have been very effective in implementing "outcome-based" programs.
- Increasing the involvement of parents in their children's education. "Where parents are involved, children do better. The state office is developing several approaches to encourage parents to become actively supportive of their children."
- Improving the image of education in Utah. "We don't think we've told our story very well. I feel strongly that excellence is an attitude. We've done very well and we want people to know that."
The failure of society to appreciate and honor teachers contributes to a morale problem, Taggart said.
Relationships between public and higher education are good in Utah, he said, even though the two educational levels have to "fight for the same dollars." Viewing education as a continuum through adulthood would further enhance the relationships and promote efficiency, he said.
Oft-repeated assumptions that Utah's educational administration is top-heavy are "old wives tales," Taggart said. The state, in fact, has the highest student-administrator ratio in the country. A large high school is a microcosm of society with many problems, he said. "One administrator can't do it."
Taggart also defended the Utah Education Association, which has had a high profile with the media during the current legislative session.
"They're getting a bad rap," he said.