Utah students perform just above the national average, according to the latest state results of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
That makes us what, middle of the road? A hair above the 50th percentile? Our third-graders, in fact, were below average in language and mathematics on the Iowa test.
Is that acceptable? Is that good enough to make us and them competitive worldwide?
If it's not, what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about ethnic minority students whose performances are well below average?
Each time the latest test results are published, there is predictable introspection and hand-wringing. Some Utah school districts, largely in response to the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have done things differently and better for their students, particularly ethnic minority students who traditionally have lagged behind their Caucasian peers. Those efforts need to be applauded and supported. The most successful strategies need to be replicated statewide. As a state, Utah students need to be better than "average."
This a problem crying out for leadership. Why isn't someone establishing high expectations of Utah schools and students? Why don't people in positions to affect change, such as State Superintendent Patti Harrington, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., legislative leadership and the state school board, stand up and say, "It's not acceptable to be just 'average.' Our schools will be above average and we will close the achievement gap within five years. If we don't achieve our goals, heads will roll because it matters that much not just to our state but to every student's future success."
Are leaders so afraid that Utah won't make the grade that they're reluctant to stick out their necks? Is job security really more important than setting higher achievement goals for students?
Utah hasn't been the place for bold education reform. Some people point fingers at the Utah Education Association, saying "The union would never go for that." Others blame families. "If education isn't a priority in the home, there's only so much the school can do." Still others say, "Utah schools are among the worst funded in the country. The Legislature must think it's OK that Utah has some of the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation."
Reality is, there's a kernel of truth in each of those arguments.
But when was the last time aside from piecemeal initiatives that a Utah leader stood up and said, "From this day, we will all commit to doing things better and doing things differently?" Or, "We, as Utahns, are not satisfied with 'average.' We have higher expectations. Everyone from the governor to the community volunteer will play a role in getting us there. These are my expectations. Here's the road map?"
It's time to quit wringing our hands. It's time for Utah leaders to step up and own this problem of being "average."