Solving Utah's dismal graduation rate: Two schools may have the answer

Incentive, aesthetic initiatives boost rates, but more needed

Return To Article
Add a comment
  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Dec. 16, 2012 6:35 p.m.

    Coach P,

    I don't understand how new teachers will last till retirement with all the stress, and accountability stemming from standardized testing.

    Are you saying new teachers have no retirement plans?

    As for me, it took ten years to reach the pay scale a new teacher starts with.

  • Coach P Provo, UT
    Dec. 12, 2012 7:28 p.m.


    It sounds like you taught school for a while as have I. I think you are probably fortunate enough to retire sooner than I will. But the bottom line is that we have to crystal ball the future for teachers coming into the profession or starting out. They will NOT enjoy the raises we enjoyed, especially here in Utah. They will NOT enjoy the benefits we got. New teachers won't even begin to have the retirement pension that we will get. I don't think this is fair.

    We can't sit and judge teaching by our experiences. It is harder and harder to recommend teaching as a profession because of what has happened the last few years and what is likely to occur later. So what are we getting more and more of in our state? Young single female teachers who do the profession for 1-5 years then leave--recycle the process. Even at the secondary level, male teachers are becoming less numerous. In the end this hurts children.

    Many of your suggestions up there DO have merit and I agree 100% with you on mandated testing but in some ways you simply don't get it.

  • Midwest Mom Soldiers Grove, WI
    Dec. 12, 2012 4:10 p.m.

    The teachers and schools are only doing what the think tanks and politicians are ramming down their throats.

    Look into opting out of all the testing, if you really want to change the "teach-to-the-test" climate in today's public schools.

  • raybies Layton, UT
    Dec. 12, 2012 5:46 a.m.

    Investing time and money in our latino neighbors to help them do better in school is a win for everyone in this state. They become better integrated into society, smarter, more capable of contributing long term, and away from influences that degrade our communities. It's a win-win.

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Dec. 11, 2012 9:35 p.m.

    Orem Parent,

    Here in south Texas, it's not a rule, but strongly suggested, that our failure rate does not exceed five percent. If exceeded, it leads to a professional growth plan involving much paper work, and documentation. It's much easier to just pass the students along. This varies by district, but I assume most do it, because high failure rate brings inspections from the state.

    As for administrators, it's just my opinion. Many seem to be better business administrators then teachers, and lack an understanding of what a classroom is like.

    As for school funding:

    * three schools can share a football field
    * use of parent volunteers
    * eliminate much of the costly programs, and use teacher assistants to circulate amongst three teachers for added classroom help.
    * mandated tests are very costly.
    * technology is highly over rated,and expensive. Students can use a library computer, or have their own.
    * teaching is simple- Three things---1. study habits 2. researching 3. putting student research into a presentable format. It's just that simple.
    * ask and allow businesses to donate. It's a tax write off, and when done right, is good advertising for them. I've collected tens of thousands by doing that.

  • Orem Parent Orem, UT
    Dec. 11, 2012 7:42 p.m.


    You couldn't be more wrong. I'm not evaluated on my failure rate at all. The only things I am evaluated on are the end of level test scores and the in class evaluation by my principal. No one looks at the passing rate of my students in public ed.

    I haven't met one administrator that left the classroom because they couldn't manage it. That isn't saying they are all good administrators. I have worked with several poor ones. The fact of the matter is 99% go into administration because they can get a $20,000 raise by doing so. It is simple economics for them and their families. Keep doing what you love (teaching) and barely get by or become and administrator and deal with the headaches of the job but provide a better life for your family.

    Enough funding will be reached when we are equal with the 49th place state in the USA. We are about $1,000 PER PUPIL below that.

    You can claim schools have enough money but they don't. Just because you keep saying it doesn't make it true.

    I agree in getting rid of the mandated tests however!

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Dec. 11, 2012 11:30 a.m.

    Hmmm? Two thirds of the state budget goes to education. Why are people pleading for more?

    Should taxes be raised? Are teachers the only ones who change professions, and nobody else?

    This is like the federal government. 16.3 trillion dollar deficit, and more funding is wanted. Double the funding to schools, and people will still want more.

    No matter how it's spun, or justified, we're looking at a bad case of greed. It's ruining our country. It's a shame.

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Dec. 11, 2012 9:38 a.m.


    Many teachers go on to administration because they couldn't manage a classroom.

    Orem Parent,

    Funding needs to be better managed, not increased. When is it ever enough?

    Grades are inflated, because teachers are evaluated by failure rate. Grades have become an entitlement, and the urgency to succeed has been loss. It reflects in our society, and has nothing to do with funding. Low funding is an excuse for poor educational management, and let's get rid of those tests.

  • JWB Kaysville, UT
    Dec. 10, 2012 11:59 a.m.

    Part of the teaching children or students is that deviant people have been arrested at various levels in the education field that have violated student and parent trust. We live in a time when the Press and Media advertises these cases in a way that takes away the trust that centuries of good teaching has marred. We need to build trust in the public education system. With the 100s of millions of students that have been taught with trust by dedicated and proven teachers, all it takes is one bad apple in any school to help break down that trust.

    The teacher hiring and periodic evaluation system needs to ensure without question the teacher certification criteria that their personal life is in agreement with their teacher credentials. It is a shame for the public and private education system to have the blight of these individuals in the trust and verification process.

    Our children's education is too important to let this integrity of the trust go down the tube. Administrators at all levels and parents of children who have the changes in attitude and personality need to clarify what is the problem with the child.

  • Third try screen name Mapleton, UT
    Dec. 10, 2012 9:57 a.m.

    So many issues:
    1) Howard Beal is on the right track. There are all sorts of people with teaching degrees who are working tech support and other jobs because it pays better. Right out of college they are going to work where they can make some money. Or they leave the state.
    2) Federal money is anemic but mandates from Washington control every facet of the process. Property taxes pay the bills but there is little local control. What's wrong with this picture.
    3) Immigration is from the third world. Parents have less education. Often they see education as a delay to getting a job. They think that you don't need to waste time in school to cut grass and wash dishes. Our chain migration policies will mean more of the same.
    4) Also related to #3 above is the literacy level of the parents.
    5) Most bilingual programs take too long because they are trying to preserve the native language and culture. That's a lot of wasted class time.

  • TiCon2 Cedar City, UT
    Dec. 10, 2012 9:37 a.m.

    Much of the problem is due to an outdated, inefficient and ineffective information delivery mode. With all the innovation in the past 150 years, we really can't figure out a better way to deliver crucial knowledge to the minds of our children? Why are we teaching the same way the Pioneers did?

  • eagle Provo, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 10:31 p.m.

    Thanks again Orem Parent for the kind words. I'll think on it (the letter thing)...

    I have predicted for years that sooner or later our "great Utah schools wouldn't look so great" after a while. I support public education and our teachers. I am a bit concerned, as I have said over the years in posts, that we are becoming a revolving door of young, mostly female teachers. Our changing demographics do bring potential huge benefits but also huge challenges to our schools. Decreasing class size is one way to meet these challenges as well as generally doing better with all our students. It is insane to read in these posts how many don't think 1) class size matters 2) having experienced teachers matter and 3) attracting and keeping excellent young teachers matter (because schools need them too but we can't just keep churning over teachers). Of course, we also get the simple solution to our ESL students which is "teach them English", but if it were only that simple.

    But in the end, our legislature holds the purse strings to make the proper investments. If it doesn't happen expect worse results and more blame aimed at teachers...

  • Orem Parent Orem, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:36 p.m.

    Howard Beal,

    About that comment of yours I quoted from....

    I would love to see it as a letter to the editor so more people will see it instead of just the few reading the posts on this story. You hit the nail on the head.

  • JWB Kaysville, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 6:13 p.m.

    The Governor advertised how great Utah was for the past 8 months before the election and a couple of weeks later, says he didn't know about this dismal effort. UPASS and NCLB for the past 10 or more years were to correct this type of situation but if tracking isn't done, how is the public supposed to know. He can get his $85,000 bonus but teachers and administrators are frozen, basically in their upward movement. The recession during the Governor's time is a factor but he was able to pay out $13M for the company that didn't get the bid.

    Parents? Charter and Private schools? Funding for freeways and not schools? TARP and bailouts? Legislature?

    There will be a lot of comments about this in the next couple of months and the President of the United States of America and his Department of Education is doing so much for schools, according to them, that we are so good. The President can spend $200M a day on a trip to India but can't find money for schools and educational programs.

    The Legislature and Governor always talk down to the great dedicated teachers who give time and energy to children.

  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 4:27 p.m.

    Thanks for the kind words above Orem Parent.

    In regards to grade inflation. It truly exists. But we have placed an emphasis on grades and test scores rather than learning. Just think of the average parent-teacher conference. From elementary to secondary it is either about test scores (usually the topic in elementary couched in terms like SEP scores and the like) or grades (parent asking: "what can my son or daughter to make up their grade?"). Rarely are their meaningful conversations about curriculum, teaching/learning styles or relevant items about the student and even home life the teacher might find useful in helping the child. By the time the student reaches high school, it is truly about the grade and conversations become short and simple and usually consist of "Johnny needs to do X, Y and Z and all will be well."

    Teachers, parents and students need to change the nature of these conversations. I'm not a big fan of testing, as some of you might know, because tests usually evaluate the lowest common denominator of learning, mostly because of the limiting bubble type of format (and putting the tests on computer doesn't solve that issue).

  • Claudio Springville, Ut
    Dec. 9, 2012 4:08 p.m.


    If you've truly been brainwashed into thinking the UEA and NEA are 1) unions (they're not), and 2) that they have any power in Utah, I feel sorry for you. There is no such thing as teacher tenure in Utah's K-12 schools. If you want to fire the teacher for poor performance, you can. The associations sold any potential "power" they had long ago to the state legislature. They are nothing more than a farce today, and any knowledgable teacher is all too aware of it.

  • Lledrav West Jordan, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 1:30 p.m.

    I like gramajanes comment above about the value of an involved adult. The article says schools are discovering that Hispanic students do better when an adult takes responsibility for that student, demanding attendance and not tolerating tardiness. Not being tardy is "a great culture change." "Two attendance trackers were hired for $25,000 to help get students to class"
    Like gramajane I am a grandparent. I raised 4 children who all excelled in public schools and all achieved college degrees. When I read these articles I wonder, "why do the teachers have to do the parents job?"

  • Chuck E. Racer Lehi, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 12:43 p.m.

    27 January 2012
    Students at Small High Schools Are More Likely to Graduate
    A new study published in the New York Times shows the value of smaller schools - about 100 students per grade - in big city settings. They found that these schools had a higher graduation rate. "The higher graduation rate at small schools held across the board for all students, regardless of race, family income...."
    Students in these schools are also more ready for college. "Small-school students also showed more evidence of college readiness...."
    You can find this article and research among MANY others at smallerschools dot org.

  • carman Wasatch Front, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 12:35 p.m.

    To Kings Court:

    You are right about the grade inflation here locally. We moved from back east where a true, unadjusted (i.e. for AP type classes) four-year 4.0 GPA was rare, with less than 1% of the graduating class typically earning perfect grades through high school, to here in Utah where it is not uncommon to have 30 or so 4.0 GPA's out of 600-750 students in a single graduating class (>4%).

    And if 40% of students are on the honor roll making an A- average GPA, why are less than 15% of graduating students proficient at a college prep level in four subjects, and more than half of students are prepared in less than 2 or less of four key dollege prep subjects? I think it is a good bet that 40% of students on the honor roll are not truly proficient in the math, science, reading and writing subjects that they are getting A's or A-'s in. It is simply more evidence that our expectations are too low for our students and our schools.

  • Chuck E. Racer Lehi, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 11:12 a.m.

    The best (and cheapest when all costs are included) way to solve this is to quit building the gigantic schools we are now building. A decent sized school (500-1000 students) reduces the dropout rate, violence, and drug abuse. It increases test scores and parent involvement. K-8 and 7-12 schools also do this because they can have enough students to make them efficient financially while having the grade level size lower. Our current jr. highs are terrible, because they cram hundreds in the same grade level where kids get lost. Check out the supporting research at smallerschools dot org.

  • carman Wasatch Front, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 11:04 a.m.

    p.s. I am a fiscal conservative in every sense of the word. But I am also trained in economics and understand supply/demand and the functioning of labor markets. When we underpay our teachers, and force the best of them to take jobs in administration in order to have a reasonable lifestyle, we will continue to see the best teachers leave the classroom. Some will migrate to administrative rolls (e.g. Assistant Principal, Principal, Superintendent, etc.), while others will go back to school and/or simply change careers. One of the better math teachers here in our district recently jumped to an administrative role for a significant bump-up in pay. This has been going on for years here in Utah. I have seen districts back east that pay their teachers TOO much. That is clearly not the case here in Utah where we generally underpay our teachers.

    p.p.s. meant to type "weak" in my earlier post.

  • Johnnyoh! ,
    Dec. 9, 2012 10:53 a.m.

    You got it backwards, the school system spends in those that do worse than Utah two and a half times per pupil, so it's not the money, it's the system from the UEA right up the ladder to the NEA, they carry the incompetent teachers, so it is not the money, it's the educations union.

  • carman Wasatch Front, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 10:31 a.m.

    I don't agree with Howard Beal often, but he is right in saying that Utah relies on its homogeneous population to boost its test scores. Favorable demographics, including education level of parents, # of two parent households, # of subsidized breakfasts/lunches, etc. are NEVER adjusted when the state/UEA compares our test scores with other states. When similar cohorts are compared, Utah students UNDERPERFORM the AVERAGE student nationally.

    There are 3 primary problems with Utah schools: 1) Too many young, inexperienced teachers (with a revolving door to save money), 2) Parents and teachers expect too little of our students. The point made above by Utah Teacher that the Lakeridge model is ineffective is correct. When we moved to Utah, our children were stunned that they could retake tests (multiple times!)and boost their grades. The grade inflation in our schools is stunning, and does not encourage the best from our students. From my admittadly limited vantage point, most teachers and parents here seem ok with mediocre effort and learning. 3) We are particularly week in math and science, both 21st century required competencies. We are setting Utah student up for future failure in life and in the 21st century job market.

  • Orem Parent Orem, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:48 a.m.

    Say what you want but it really is all about the money. Our teachers can't keep track of 35+ kids per class. Many are going to slip through the cracks. We have underfunded our system long enough.

    The poster "Howard Beal" said it beautifully in this post last week:

    "We relied on our homogeneous population and generally favorable family involvement to elevate our test scores in past generations while over time starving education. Now the demographics are changing and parents have less time to work with their children. The shaky foundation of our education has become exposed. Schools need more funding. Class sizes are enormous, teachers are underpaid and overworked. The Republicans control the legislature and have for a generation. It is up to them and only them to decide whether Utah's educational fortunes will be changed."

    I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him but I copied the post to my desktop since it was so eloquently written. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  • Utah Teacher Orem, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:43 a.m.

    The Lakeridge model is now being implemented throughout the state. My own kids went to Lakeridge and I wasn't impressed. Their model allows a kid to retake or redo an assignment as many times as they want until they get the grade they want. On the surface that sounds o.k. because you think that eventually the kids are learning the material if they finally get a passing grade. What it is really accomplishing is it allows the kids to never really LEARN the material. They just learn how to pass the test after it has been dumbed down enough for EVERYONE to pass. Now I am being forced to do the same thing at the school where I teach as are many others.

    What we need to understand is the hispanic culture is very different when it comes to education. Many come here with the view that education is important until you can get a job. Once you get a job, then it is all about being a hard worker. Nothing wrong with that but many don't see the need to graduate or go to college.

    I don't know how we go about changing a culture.

  • chinookdoctor PASADENA, CA
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:40 a.m.

    In school, poor and Latino students are told in subtle and direct ways that their cultures and the reality of their home lives are not honorable or valuable. In Utah where so much emphasis is placed, so I've observed, on pioneer heritage and the cultural beliefs of white LDS people, no wonder kids of color or immigrants do not do well; we don't feel welcome or valued in Utah schools or communities. When school becomes a place where Spanish bilingual education is considered a strength instead of ESL as a crutch for "illegals" who aren't willing to work hard and assimilate, I think we'll see the graduation rates and professional achievements of the Latino diaspora in this country take off. Speaking another language at home and having a broader understanding of multiple cultures is a boon to any organization. When I was running a company, and now in the hospital, I loved my employees who were from immigrant backgrounds because they worked hard, spoke other languages that we could use, were bicultural, and tough. If Utah started to embrace diversity, I think they could achieve a lot more in their schools.

  • JBQ Saint Louis, MO
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:37 a.m.

    Hispanics are some of the most disciplined of families. The problem is the language barrier. I have a niece whose grandmother was Mexican. She married an individual from Puerto Rico. They now have two cute daughters with a lot of discipline. They have a strong loving environment. If you would create a loving environment for violence decimated Hispanic families and solve the language barrier, then you would solve the problem. The problem however is that Hispanics are a wedge between the two political parties. Hispanics are predominantly Catholic and being used as a wedge by the Democratic Party. It is just as obvious that they are not accepted by the Republicans. As a Catholic, JFK appealed honestly to the Hispanic family.

  • DN Subscriber 2 SLC, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 9:03 a.m.

    Great job there Ogden school teachers and administration!

    It is refreshing to see people who actually look at the problem and figure out cost effective solutions, instead of falling back on the usual union crutches of "class size and money." Note that in the Las Vegas example, they fire teachers and administrators in the low performing schools, rather than making excuses and buying into the "seniority" and tenure schemes used to protect poor performers at the cost of hurting students.

    " the past there was little consequence for a student arriving late, or not at all, to class. Now, she said, students have responded to the incentives." is the money quote from the story. People will respond to high expectations when they are presented, and with modest reinforcements and punishments along the way. When schools make excuses and accept failure, or are afraid to criticize lousy attendance, performance or attitude, it merely fosters more of the bad.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Ett Salt Lake City, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 7:44 a.m.

    Student incentive, follow-through on at-risk students, Teacher accountability and parental involvement. I like it! It sounds more like the days when I was in school. Keep up the good work!

  • Gramajane OAKLEY, ID
    Dec. 9, 2012 7:40 a.m.

    As a sub school teacher, I think it was a book titled "The Last Dropout" that shows maybe what is the most important part of the programs to help kids graduate. That difference is having at least one nurturing respectful relationship with an adult who is interested in the student and believes they can make it. Obviously the best is if all people have the people in their lives be this kind of help, but they NEED at least one!! So, even in schools that are not doing this, one teacher can make a big difference. Even a neighbor or a member of their church can show this support. :)

  • Curmudgeon Salt Lake City, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 6:48 a.m.

    "Gov. Gary Herbert . . . cited poverty levels and language barriers as contributors to the low performance."

    Sure, Guv, blame it on poverty and language problems, which must be much worse in Utah than in all those other states that have poor Latino populations but do much better in graduating Latino students. Blame it on anything other than INADEQUATE FUNDING, something you and the Utah legislature could actually do something about.

  • ManInTheMiddle SANDY, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 1:29 a.m.

    This article is baffling - it is paragraph after paragraph of how great things are here and how we're improving blah blah blah - WE ARE 4th WORST in a country known internationally for our subpar education system.
    Please, double my property taxes. Please.
    Then take the funds and hire competent people to teach our kids. No reasonable person believes that we can attract and retain competent teachers for $30,000 per year.
    Our graduation rates are terrible because we hire the wrong adults.
    Ever run a company? Put a help wanted ad in the paper and see what kind of resumes you get when you offer the kind of money we pay our teachers.
    Further -part of the fix must include firing some/many of these bad teachers/administrators who never should have been hired in the first place.

  • Kings Court Alpine, UT
    Dec. 9, 2012 12:50 a.m.

    "Six years ago, 46 percent of Lakeridge Junior High School ninth-graders made the transition to high school with at least one "F" on their transcripts. Last year, that number was reduced to 2 percent in the Orem school."

    I'm concerned that the letter grade is becoming the focus and not learning. Are students getting easy passing grades in order to reduce the number of F's? If teachers are being pressured to not give F grades, the logically it would make sense to simply pass the students. I guess time will tell if students are really learning at more challenging levels, but I'm skeptical. I went to high school in the 1980's and it was quite a feat to make the honor roll with a 3.5 GPA. About 10% of kids made the honor roll with a 3.5 GPA cutoff. Nowadays, in Alpine School District, almost 40% of all students make the Honor Roll with a 3.7 GPA. That sounds like some serious grade inflation to me.