There is a visionary movement afoot in Utah where education is concerned, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday.
But educational reform is not an easy process and Utah, like all the rest of the states, is "waiting for a miracle to happen," said Nelson Smith, acting director of programs for the imporvement of practice in the federal department.
Smith referred to Utah's Shift in Focus document, a major policy formula that has been adopted by the State Board of Education and is now being dispersed widely through the education community.
The document was the purpose for Tuesday's meeting which brought together more than 600 educators, school board members and other education-watchers from all over the state. Besides general sessions, more than 70 workshop sessions were held in Highland High School, centered on various aspects of education reform.
A slight upward trend in student test scores is one indication of improvement, he said. Also encouraging are such indications as a reduction in dropouts among black students, curriculm improvements and more equality in offerings to and more equality in offerings to various ethnic groups.
Smith said curriculum content is a central issue. What to teach children has to be defined. "Don't shrink from this debate," he said. "Everyone has a stake in defining what kids need to know."
Defining curriculm and the broader isssues of "cultural literacy," however, doesn't mean all children should be taught in the same way, he said.
The consistent intrest of an adult in a student's educational process is important to that student's success Smith said. Such suppoprt doesn't always come from inside the student's family. Students need to know the teacher, too, has their interests at heart.
Teachers need the latitude to become more professioal, he said, defining professinalism as the ability and license to make decisions. Too many strings on this ability stifle the educational process.
The public and governments are demanding more accountability of educators, Smith said. Test scores are only one measure and not the full requirement of accountability of educators, Smith said. Test scores are only one measure and not the full requirement of accountability. Smith said parental choice in education is getting more support across the country. If one school does not meet a student's needs, there should be options for going elsewhere, he said.