As Utah's school population has become increasingly diverse, it only follows that the state's school system has a plan of action how to address the needs of minority students. In particular, there is a need to ensure that poor and minority children are not disproportionately taught by rookie or unqualified teachers.
In fact, such plans are required by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind law, legislation Utah has resisted as a states' rights intrusion.
But Utah has not yet submitted its plan, which may put the state's Title I funding at risk. Utah receives $53 million from the federal government to assist low-income and struggling students.
The Deseret Morning News has shared many of the Utah State Office of Education's frustrations with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The federal legislation attempts to deal with public education on a cookie-cutter basis, which doesn't work in a state where many schools are small, rural and isolated. Early on, the testing component of the federal program labeled some schools as failing to make adequate yearly progress, despite long histories of academic success.
But the teacher equity plan should be viewed differently. Utah schools are dealing with a population boom, and unlike previous booms, the student body has become more diverse than ever. The state and local school districts need solid plans to ensure the needs of poor and minority students are met and that children who attend school in lower-income neighborhoods have experienced and well-qualified teachers.
The teacher equity requirement is a condition of receiving Title I money. Seemingly, in a state where every education dollar is a precious resource, the State Office of Education shouldn't want to do anything that could conceivably put Title I funding at risk.
Again, one of the problems with No Child Left Behind are uniform requirements that fail to account for the wide array of public schools. Many of the reforms appropriately target at-risk, inner-city schools, particularly those in large cities that have provided a woefully bad education for poor and minority students. But in the West, where schools literally run the gamut of one-room houses to very large suburban high schools, across-the-board requirements and plans simply don't work. That's where the states need an appropriate degree of flexibility.
But that means the state must devise a workable strategy that addresses the intent of the No Child Left Behind law yet meets the needs of poor and minority learners at the largest schools, the tiniest schools and all those in between. We look forward to the scheduled submission of Utah's plan on Oct. 1.