I have been saddened in recent months with what appears to be a lessening of the commitment people have to the public schools in Utah. Joseph Rosenblatt's recent talk to the Salt Lake Rotary Club left me with enough pain that I have to reply.
His conclusions appeared to me to say that the public system isn't working mainly because of teacher "unions" that are so powerful that teachers are not accountable. I'd like to answer each point from my experience.The "accountability" issue is easy to defend. The NEA has called for evaluations of teachers for almost two decades. The UEA sponsored SB100 was introduced by Senator Barlow in 1987 and was expanded to include administrators in 1988 (SB159).
The UEA pushed hard to introduce career ladders as a reward for both merit in the classroom and extra assignments that enhance the quality of education.
As I travel in the United States I am asked by other educators and school board members how have we developed our career ladder program so rapidly with local control. They really are amazed. We are the model of the nation in this area of paying SOME teachers more money who do things better than other teachers.
It is particularly distressing to hear that we have thousands of poor teachers in the classrooms. I know that is not true. Yes, there are poor teachers. Many teachers are excellent and truly merit very significant increases in salary. Many other teachers are solid quality professionals and deserve a significant salary increase.
Everyone thinks that he or she is an expert on education; however, education today is not what it used to be. Teaching is a highly skilled profession.
Mr. Rosenblatt said that money is not the issue. I would like to disagree. For only three-fourths the money, educators in Utah are producing a "product" that measures a little better than the average of their competitors in other states. Any industrialist that can do that will be a multi-millionaire and have hundreds beating the door down to find out about the "better mousetrap."
Admiration was expressed for the Japanese educational system. It is true that their classroom size is larger than our classroom size. It is fair to look at all of the facts. Do we supply our teachers with the technology that the children get in Japan? Did Mr. Rosenblatt point out that Japan pays teachers more money than engineers?
We can teach more kids in our classrooms. We can not do it without the proper resources to do it. If you continue to increase classroom size without finding the necessary equipment and books to properly do the job, you can not compete with Japan.
The issue of seniority is no longer true. Yes, it was true 10 years ago. It is not true in 1988. The career ladder system does reward teachers, not based on years of service. Probably half of the schools in Utah have teachers who make about what the principal makes.
Teachers in Utah are the best bargain in public administration in the United States. They excel far beyond the resources that the Legislature supplies them. They take a significant number of brutal attacks from well-meaning people who want what is best for the children of Utah.
It is from teachers that we now have the "Core Curriculum." Utah teachers teach more Advanced Placement students per capita than any state in the Union. They are innovative. The career ladder is causing change to come into Utah like never before. It is from a teacher that we got "Extended Day" teaching. Extended day and A.P. teaching alone have saved this state millions of dollars a year already. Isn't that productivity?
I agree with Mr. Rosenblatt totally that higher education is productive and useful, the economy is improved and motivated by what universities do for us. Money spent on education is an investment.
When our problems become significant, it is important that we cooperate and find solutions. We can not afford to have educators and business people taking "cheap shots" at each other.
I suggest that we use the surplus to build a better business base, putting half of the surplus into one-time money for technology and up-to-date textbooks, and the other half into the promotion of business in Utah so that we can increase state revenue enough to educate the children we have in abundance.
I must comment on appointed school boards. I may be biased, as I am a school board member. Isn't it a slap at the intelligence of the people of Utah?
It is the old non-democratic argument that the people are not smart enough and need some one to do it for them. Who is going to do the appointing?
Mr. Rosenblatt asked for a Bill of Rights for parents and children. I agree, we need one. Add to it a Bill of Responsibility. All rights require responsibility. What this state needs is responsible businessmen, legislators, teachers, and, yes, parents that will face up to problems and offer realistic solutions that will require effort and resources. Our kids deserve it.
(Raymond G. Briscoe is a former high school teacher and college professor, a member of the 1981 Governor's Task Force on Education for the 80s, and is a member of the Davis County Board of Education.)