I quite enjoyed last week’s joint meeting between the State Board of Education, the State Board of Regents, and many of our legislators. District officials, local school board members and concerned parents were there too.
I found it more productive than other education summits for one simple reason: policy makers at multiple levels were able to sit in in the same room and talk/brainstorm for a couple of hours.
Several discussions started that are worth continuing. (And, I promised Rep. Urquhart I would post my notes and thoughts.) These thoughts do not indicate any formal proposal or intended course of action at this point, and are not necessarily consistent with my views. They are simply items of discussion in a brainstorm-style session.
College participation and remediation
College attendance is down. I’ve blogged before about why I think this is true. Rising tuition—only one of many factors, in my mind—is getting the most play in the media, and was the most mentioned by discussion participants. (Are the articles triggered by public sentiment, or vice versa?)
A complaint we hear often from both higher education and business leaders is that not all high school graduates are adequately prepared for life after high school. UVSC is one of the louder voices, claiming that nearly one-half of their entering students require remedial math, and about one-third of the entering pool require remedial English. Despite accepting a good number of out-of-state students, UVSC says the remedial students are primarily products of Utah high schools. (Critics point out that UVSC’s entry requirements are slightly lower than a “fog the mirror” test, and argue it naturally tends toward a good amount of remediation.)
Tackling the issue of post high school participation and preparation, the group suggested:
A stronger emphasis on the core curriculum.
There was generally praise for the Board of Education’s recent strengthening of high school graduation requirements.
It was also suggested that some schools may be offering too many electives, that the quest for well-rounded students has gone a bit too far, to the detriment of fundamentals.
Some participants decried (rightly, in my mind) the practice of high school sports teams requiring students to take additional P.E. classes such as weight training in order to participate at the varsity level. Such requirements crowd out core instruction or career preparation courses.
Make curriculum available online
There was some praise of courses where lessons were available to parents. It was suggested parental involvement could be increased if course content were available online. (The core curriculum is online, but can be vague and riddled with edu-speak. Course content maps to the state-required curriculum, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true: it may be presented in a different order, or additional topic might be covered. Depending on the district, required curriculum could span multiple courses.)
The chicken or the egg? (or both?)
In my opinion, the best part of the discussion came when decision makers started asking for data. Two questions were posed.
First, can student preparation be tracked back to where their teachers were educated? In other words, are some colleges of education doing a better job than others? The answer is: we don’t know, but hope to find out shortly. Study tracking this particular question was started earlier this year.
Second, can the need for student remediation be tracked back to districts, or even high schools? Senator Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan) suggested colleges track the need for remediation and report the deficiency to the students’ home school or district. He suggested that if schools notified the ten districts producing the most students in need of remediation, the problem could be appropriately addressed before students graduate from high school.
Using the ACT
Sparked partly by suggestions from State Superintendent of Schools Patti Harrington, there was a good bit of talk about administering the ACT statewide, either as compliment to, or in place of, the UBSCT. Most saw value in using it, but there was some question regarding its place in the already over-full battery of tests given in school, and concern about the cost of providing the ACT for all students.
The ACT cannot fairly be used in place of the UBSCT for several reasons. It does not map to our state curriculum. We have no control over the content of the test. Of significant importance, ACT (the company) will not allow the ACT (test) to be used as an exit exam.
This led the group to ask if we’re adequately assessing what (whether) our students are learning. It was suggested that money for UBSCT remediation could be redirected to remediate the CRT, which is offered earlier. Someone also suggested that perhaps the CRT could be combined with or used in place of the UBSCT.
More high school counselors
The State Board of Education is including a request to fund more high school counselors in its budget in support of the newly increased high school graduation requirements. Discussion participants agreed that more counselors are necessary, and might aid in addressing college preparation as well.
If you’re still with me, you must really be interested in education … and this was only the morning discussion! I’ve left some good suggestions out, in part because I’m still suffering from information overload. Where should we go from here? What suggestions deserve pursuing, and who should be responsible for doing it? The discussion only holds value if pursued, so leave your comments below.