During the recent election campaigns, the future of the Utah State Board of Education was again discussed. This has been a constant topic of debate for several years and I feel that the time has come for someone to clear up the misconceptions and answer the challenges to what the board has done and is doing for education in the state.
I have served on the State Board of Education for six years and have been active in national organizations of state board members during that time. I have always found the state of Utah to be on the leading edge of technology and innovation in the nation.The question then arises as to why we continue to have the discussion of the need for a state board. Why is the board perceived as not accomplishing anything? Is it because it hasn't fulfilled someone's personal agenda, or is it because it doesn't always vote the way people want, or is it that the board has not accomplished anything?
The answer to this question could very well be yes to all parts. There are personal agendas of both members and constituents that have not been fulfilled. There are votes that don't always go the way everyone would like them to, this is called political compromise. And, yes, there are times when the board has not accomplished anything.
However, in looking at my six years of service, I am able to see many areas where the State Board of Education has proven to be necessary and even vital to the continuance of the system of public education in the state. Being an elected, non-partisan board makes it a representative of all the people of the state and especially of the students. This non-partisan representation is necessary if the total educational process is to be addressed away from the political arguments of the legislature and governor's office.
In the last six years the State Board of Education has completely reformed and adopted a core curriculum for the entire state; established more stringent graduation and promotion requirements in all grade levels; begun the establishment of statewide mastery tests in all subject areas; adopted requirements for subject matter certification of teachers; adopted a strategic plan for the future of education which will completely revise the education system in the state; employed a forward looking, long-range planning State Superintendent of Public Instruction; and supervised the reduction of staff in the State Office, and the organization of a new Rehabilitation Agency.
While these may seem to be business as usual changes in the system of public education they have completely revamped the way people are looking at the system.
When the state board adopted a core curriculum it also adopted end-of-level testing that would be required before a student could move from early to later elementary grades, from elementary to middle or junior high school, and from junior high to high school. This will result in students who are no longer socially promoted, but who are required to learn the curriculum before they can be promoted.
In a recent publication of the National Association of State Boards of Education, the leaders of the state boards nationwide called for an end to the seat-time requirement for completion of courses.
Once again Utah led the way several years ago. While the subject matter certification of teachers seem to be a very minor item, there were several districts in the state that prior to the implementation of this rule, used a teacher for anything that was taught in the school, whether he knew the subject or not.
This is not a problem in some areas, but when a teacher tries to teach science or math, and the students know more about the subject than the teacher, it is a problem. Also, trying to use a teacher in the elementary grades who does not understand the child's intellectual development cycles could cause problems in the student's image of school. The districts now hail this minor change in the certification requirement as one of the farthest reaching changes the board has made.
The new strategic plan of the board has just been adopted this year. It looks at the system of education from the earliest days to the present and then develops a plan for the future. This plan adopts many of the current changes that the board has made and puts them into a concise but far-reaching reform of the entire system. This will call for implementers who can see beyond the current system to a future that can be implemented now.
One of the major drawbacks that face the State Board of Education is that, although the nine members of the board are able to come to consensus on issues, it requires a major amount of time for those decisions to be implemented in the educational field.
The real proof of the current state board will come in the future, in what education will look like in the next 10 or 20 years. I feel that the future will prove that this state board of education did accomplish many things to change and improve the public education system in the state of Utah.