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“We’re putting children through a system that makes it all uniform, but you need to have them in a system that allows for creativity,” he says. “We want a system that brings out the uniqueness of children and lets them embrace their natural inclination to learn. Children are bored to death with the idea of learning. We need to get a child where they are interested in learning and let them guide the process.”
Whether a child is a visual, auditory or hands-on learner, Monson feels the standards should adapt to ensure every student is successful. Instead of trying to regiment the learning process, he would like to see the standards be broader in substance and application, and rigorous, yet adaptable.
He is also uncomfortable with the level of federal involvement in the Common Core standards and worried that the strict regulations reduce the ability to change or revise the criteria. He would like to gain input from different communities, work with higher education in the state and create guidelines that still fit national requirements but address individuals’ needs.
“We’re not saying we have to be reinventing the wheel; we’re just saying come up with standards that fit the unique situations of the kids.”
But Hales says the standards are more flexible than people realize. Some districts may choose to use more online instruction, while others might teach with traditional textbooks. Testing can be done more frequently to gauge progress, or schools can rely on final testing for results. And while there is flexibility on how concepts are taught, the part that isn’t flexible is what the kids need to know by the end of the year.
The Sutherland Institute is certainly not the only group to raise concerns about the Common Core and federal involvement in Utah’s educational system. Some fear the schools are now controlled by the federal government or that the National Security Agency is using its resources through computer programs to gather biometric data on Utah students. And the idea of federalism vs. state rights often comes up in discussions.
Hales has heard it all. “The feds have absolutely nothing to do with the development of these standards. The [federal] government has no role in Common Core.” She says there are no federal strings attached to the program and that local educators still control curriculum.
Cusumano says what he needs is time. He used to be able to spend several days teaching a math concept, but now he has two days, tops, before moving on—leaving many of his students behind.
“Fourth grade is such a transitional period,” he says. “It’s the biggest learning transition, especially in math with multiplication, division and decimals. They’re just learning so much more and trying to grasp difficult concepts in a short amount of time. Time is of the essence in a student’s learning experience. But we can’t take the time to help them.”
On the Job
Business leaders have a vested interest in guaranteeing an educated workforce, and organizations like the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Technology Council have stepped in to offer support and fundraising assistance. As
Utah teachers are instructed to get more results with less funding, these business partnerships are invaluable.
Prosperity 2020 Chair Mark Bouchard wants the students leaving Utah’s public education system to not only continue their education through college, but to receive degrees that will help them, and the state, be competitive in the future. If standards are not increased, he says, educators will do a disservice to kids who are now participating on a global stage.
Through the Prosperity 2020 Business Promise, the organization will send 20,200 volunteers into classrooms by engaging the business community. These volunteers will mobilize to improve workforce literacy and support the goals set by educators. Additionally, Prosperity 2020 will direct philanthropic opportunities to students and schools that might need an extra lift.
The goal is to place Utah at the top of the country for overall education within the next 10 years by supporting initiatives that improve reading scores, math and science learning, and increase high school graduation rates and college careers.
“The more prepared young professionals are to come into the economy, the more they can impact the business community,” Bouchard says. “The workforce of the future will have a much different skill set than the workforce of the past. Tech jobs are an important part of this Utah economy. Gov. Herbert wants Utah to be a top 10 STEM center in the next few years.”
As companies like Adobe, Google and eBay move to the state and search for qualified employees, Bouchard wants to supply them with the best minds in the country. Stricter math guidelines help give Utah students the skills to fill those high-paying tech jobs. “There are so few professions where English and math aren’t key components in whatever career students want to excel in. Whether you’re working with a sixth grader, a ninth grader or a senior, they can’t excel in science if they don’t have a mastery of mathematics.”