Short basketball players and underfunded public educators have one thing in common - they both need a little ingenuity to put the ball through their respective hoops.
With no extra millions to throw at Utah's educational problems, now is the time to practice management by creativity, Utah State School Superintendent James Moss said Monday.The public education system, adopting the short athlete's game plan, is going to start issuing report cards detailing the successes and failures of local school districts, Moss promised, as part of an effort to increase accountability to local patrons.
"Frankly, we are not a rich state," Moss told University of Utah students at the Hinckley Institute of Politics. "We don't have a lot of money, but we do have a lot of kids. Sounds like the Sizzler advertisement, doesn't it?"
Educators will probably never get the kind of money they would like to decrease class sizes and bring high-tech to Utah classrooms. And while Utah's baby boom is slowing, the bulge of its new elementary population will continue to stretch classrooms as they progress through junior high and high schools.
While most residents are aware of education's funding woes, fewer are aware of Utah's education successes. Moss said Utah now leads the nation in the number of students attending year-round schools.
"That's saving the state of Utah literally millions of dollars each year," he said. Because of the year-round calendar, which is a more efficient use of school buildings, only two new public schools are currently under constructions. An upcoming challenge will be to accommodate extracurricular schedules as the current bulge of elementary-aged students grows up.
Utah has the highest percentage of students taking the ACT college admission test, yet has a passing rate above the national average. Utah's advanced placement and concurrent enrollment programs are nationally recognized for their excellence. And the state's career ladder program for teachers is a model for other states.
Utah can boast fewer administrators per pupil than any other state in the nation. For the past 20 years, each year the number of administrators has declined. "That means there is, compared to other states, no fat in administration in Utah," Moss said.
"We in Utah have built-in advantages. Candidly, I believe we have parents who care and students that try."
Utah's mostly homogenous school population and its stable families give educators a head-start compared to other states, with fewer at-risk students. And newly funded programs designed to intervene in helping troubled students at younger ages will help. "Schools cannot become a depository for all society's social ills."
Moss said that the current wave of American educational reform should borrow the best ideas from other systems, such as the good old-fashioned discipline of Asian education. But he said American schools teach problem solving, creativity and critical thinking skills, skills that often can't be measured.
"No other success in life can compensate for a good education," Moss advised the departing students. "It's a good investment. Don't miss out on that."