There's seemingly no shortage of ideas to reform middle-level education in Utah, but recommendations proposed Thursday by a university professor and an intermediate school principal suggest tying some improvements to dollars.
One trial balloon floated before Gov. Mike Leavitt's task force on middle level education suggests giving bonuses to schools in which at least 80 percent of its teachers hold proposed middle-level endorsements.A draft given to task force members suggests adding $10 to each weighted pupil unit allocated to a school if it meets the proposed standard. The WPU is the state's basic education funding unit.
Martin Tadlock, assistant professor of elementary education at Utah State University, and Mary Kay Kirkland, principal of Alice C. Harris Intermediate School in Tremonton, cautioned their proposal was offered in draft form and serves primarily as a jumping-off point for the task force.
Their recommendations embrace the publications "Turning Points" and "This We Believe," that chronicle what middle-level education experts consider to be the best educational practices for young adolescent learners.
Tadlock said the principles are research-based. A recent five-year study of Illinois middle schools suggest schools that adopt developmentally appropriate curriculum and practices scored 10-20 percent higher on standardized tests.
The educators' proposals also recommends establishing a middle-level teacher endorsement, requiring six semester hours of graduate course work to be made available through the Utah State Office of Education.
The classes should include courses on the concept and philosophy of the middle school, curriculum methods and assessment, they suggested.
The task force agreed to mull the proposal until its next meeting in August, during which a full-blown discussion of the draft will be conducted.
Leavitt met briefly with task force members, in part to rally the troops, but also to impart some of his own philosophy about young adolescents that has developed as he's observed his siblings and his own children grow up.
"It's interesting to me how much of their pattern begins to emerge at 13, 14 or 15," he said. "Yet we're not placing the emphasis there. It called my attention to the need for this task force."
Leavitt said he recently read a study that concluded that a child who starts smoking marijuana is 75 times more likely to have a drug problem at age 21 than a child who does not smoke pot.
"That tells me you can afford to spend some money at age 12 to prevent that action because you will spend a lot more at 21 dealing with his or her behavior," he said.