Plan focuses on reversing Utah’s downward trend in reading, math, high school completion and college degrees to ensure the state’s quality of life
Business and community leaders unveiled a five-year plan to elevate Utah into the top ten in U.S. educational systems, at an Academic Excellence conference held at the Grand America Hotel, Tuesday, Oct. 28. Business, education and opinion leaders collaborated on the plan that provides a framework to move Utah forward in reading, math, high school completion and post-high school certificates and degrees.
“Across America, the most vibrant economies put education first, and this five year plan is a big step in that direction in Utah,” said Richard Kendell, former commissioner of Higher Education and Education First board member. “Countless research shows that a person’s earning power and the economic strength of communities are directly tied to academic achievement. Consequently, our children’s education is critical for creating a legacy of prosperity for Utah.”
Utah’s education system is in on a downward trend according to some of Utah’s key academic metrics highlighted at the conference. For example, Utah’s standardized test scores have not fallen, but peer states have innovated and left Utah behind. Utah’s fourth grade students ranked 22nd in the national in math and reading, and eighth grade students ranked 27th in math and 13th in reading.
The plan, derived from extensive collaboration with educators and policymakers, includes the following goals to raise Utah to the top ten in five years:
1) Improve 4th and 8th grade math performance with technology devises, technology-based math assessment tools, endorsements and technology training for teachers, professional learning communities and STEM endorsements for teachers.
2) Improve 4th and 8th grade reading performance with K-3 reading curriculum, professional learning communities, voluntary pre-school, community schools, support for at-risk students and optional full-day kindergarten
3) Increase High School graduation rates with additional counselors and mentors, counselor training, student advocates, academic couches and tutors
4) Increase post-secondary certifications and degrees with rewards for colleges that increase completion rates; access and outreach initiatives for underserved students; programs that meet high-wage, high demand workforce needs; financial aid and scholarships for lower and middle income students
Governor Gary Herbert, businesswoman Gail Miller, and Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie voiced their support for education. Data show that young people who graduate high school and go on to achieve degrees and certifications, are more likely to become leaders, innovators and achievers, and are better prepared to support the growth of crucial business sectors including technology, science, health and medicine. Utah is globally recognized for its pro-business climate and remarkable economic recovery in recent years, but there is room for improvement. Much of Utah’s forecasted job growth is for low-wage jobs, Utah’s GDP has grown, but only modestly; Utah’s household income has stalled for the last 15 years; and of the state’s 20 largest employers, most are government and only four are private sector companies.
“In order to continue to be an economic powerhouse, Utah needs to make strategic investments and reforms,” said Beattie. “That is why we’re making the education of Utah’s children a top priority, by developing this five-year plan.”
The plan calls for an investment in education of $672.5 million over five years, which is described as affordable by collaborators.
The conference also featured compelling success stories by Utah and out-of-state educators who have innovated to boost academic achievement. Sara Krebs, M. Ed., Literacy Coordinator for Cache County School District, described the impact working in small groups can have in helping children achieve reading proficiency rates 10-20 points higher than the state. Gina Butters, principal of Roy High School spoke of the collaborative effort of elementary, junior high and high school staff to help more students graduate from high school. Melissa Miller Kincart, assistant commissioner for outreach access in the Utah System of Higher Ed, described the state’s innovative and nationally-recognized approach to training school counselors to better prepare students for college. David Pattinson, founder and CEO of David Pattinson’s American Future, a non-profit focused on developing solutions to youth unemployment, described his innovations to improve the career planning and development process for youth. And, Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University spoke, of his numerous, highly-cited studies on the effects of class size reduction, high-stakes accountability, value-added assessments of teacher quality and other education-related topics.
Alan Hall, chair of Prosperity 2020 summed up the day by saying, “This conference and five-year plan are a starting point for moving Utah’s academic achievement forward. The plan is a work in progress, and we welcome business owners, elected officials, educators and parents to get the plan, get involved, and get behind this movement to take Utah’s education system to the next level. We cannot be complacent. Our children and our children’s children deserve the very best.”
To read the plan and see video and written highlights of the conference, visit Educationfirstutah.org. To keep up to date on the top ten education movement, follow #UTED2Top10 and @Education1stUT on Twitter.