In response to your June 5 editorial concerning open enrollment in Salt Lake City schools, let's first understand that open enrollment enables equity. Open enrollment insures each student the opportunity to choose any class or participate in any program regardless of location. That's equity!
There are currently a combined 189 district course offerings at each of these individual schools: Highland has 51, East has 55, and West has 83 - unique courses in the Salt Lake City School District at the high school level.The students, at the schools that offer these courses, have already registered for these courses. These courses are unavailable and denied to all students currently locked into the other high schools.
We have no doubt that "equity" may sound like a noble concept to some. For those of us who value individual rights and responsibility, it is quickly recognized for the limiting concept that it can be within the confines of a school district with limited funds.
It provides neat little square compartments for all pegs to fit into at the lowest common denominator. What happens if you happen to be a round peg?
The Salt Lake District has a philosophy that every high school should be a college preparatory high school, at any cost. Your editorial stand supports and encourages this "status quo" philosophy. Why?
The cost is a 28 percent drop-out rate and an additional 33 percent of students, who by self declaration, are not going on to any further education, and whose needs are not met. Most, if not all, of these students leave school with little or no job qualifications.
The result of this folly is that many of these individuals depend on society to meet their lifelong basic needs. It is time that we begin to value these students and their potential contributions to society. These are students with varied talents, abilities, and interests. These are students who, by and large, need something in addition to the traditional liberal arts education.
It is essential for everyone to acquire basic skills. Beyond that, it is not really necessary for everyone, unless they so desire, to read Plato, Socrates, or Cicero, etc., but they should have the opportunity to lead full, productive, contributing, and successful lives.
We should take the opportunity to build programs that would encompass and meet the need of the non-college bound, the college bound, and the high-risk students. Programs like an academy of math and science, and academy of fine arts, a strong vo-ed program, a high-tech school, and academy of business and finance, etc. should be developed.
Many of these programs could be developed with concurrent enrollment at the university and community college level; thereby, planting a seed for further education and dove-tailing expenses. Would this approach require hard work on the part of this administration? You bet!
The Wall Street Journal, April 4 editorial ("School Daze") suggests "If administrators and teachers are held accountable for their results, it follows that quality of the system's product should improve." Our administrators, teachers, and I might add, the school board, should be held accountable for quality.
Let's take note and learn from the educational reforms of Minnesota, Tennessee and other progressive states in educational reform. Utah doesn't have to fall on the lower rungs of the education ladder. The Minnesota legislature has just passed a "choose-a-school policy," a state-wide open-enrollment law.
About Minnesota, Charles Glenn, top official of the Massachusetts Department of Education, says "Competition is one of the strongest things going on in school reform. The exciting potential of Minnesota is that it can break down not only racial barriers but also barriers between affluent and non affluent, city and town."
Students deserve the right of choice; it's their future. Noted in the "School Daze" editorial was that "Young people only get one pass through the educational system . . . Education is a large, complex enterprise and no one - parents, principles or, we might add, teachers' unions - has a corner on how best to do it.
James H. Miller, executive director of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, wrote "The public is far ahead of the educational establishment on the issue of parent choice in education. It is hoped in coming years the quality of education will be improved as parents' positions become public policy."
There are few guarantees in this world, and certainly the Salt Lake District cannot guarantee the success of the new-boundary, closed-enrollment school system after tearing the community apart.
If the school district were run like a business, we would be seeing mass termination of administrators and board members. Rather than spending the time, additional money, and effort to create a positive, progressive, and intensive educational reform, they are procrastinating.
They are willing to use additional money, up to three years of time, and much of the effort of the teachers and administrators to make the boundary transitions. This is a "city at risk," and the school board is more interested in creating a Noah's Ark than a spacecraft.
We are talking about our most precious resource - our children. But we can go beyond talking and actually do something. Isn't it time we start to make schooling match the needs, abilities, and talents of students, instead of trying to force social reform in the schools?
We could develop the best of programs and let students and parents choose. But, under "equity" without open-enrollment, we can't.
And as you suggested, the district should keep a close watch on what happens to school populations and academic achievement at the three high schools.
We suggest the district (parents, teachers, administrators, business, residents, city fathers) should scrutinize whether or not there has been progressive or digressive reform, because the Salt Lake District Board and Supt. John Bennion should be held accountable.
We would also suggest that the editors for the Deseret News should more broadly educate themselves on a national and international scale about educational reform before they decide to take sides on the issue. They might come up with some good ideas.
(Joan M. Armstrong is founder and director of the School of Performing Arts Research Foundation. C. Philip Bamberger is a Salt Lake businessman who serves on many civic and cultural boards.)