SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert says he needs all local and state educators to be on the same page in raising student achievement if Utah is to meet the goals he set out with the "On Pace 66% by 2020" initiative to ensure at least two thirds of the state's adult population have an advanced degree or certificate by the turn of the next decade.
Herbert and key state education leaders hosted the first-ever education faculty meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and used the venue to praise educators, set goals and to push for teamwork in meeting the goal. The governor was joined on the panel by K-12 Superintendent Martell Menlove, Utah College of Applied Technology President Rob Brems and Commissioner of Utah State Higher Education Dave Buhler.
The governor said the state is currently on pace to meet the goal, but he said there must be 4 percent growth every year in degrees and certificates to meet the benchmark.
"We've made a lot of progress, but we still have a ways to go. I believe setting some additional goals will help us arrive at our destination," Herbert said.
He set goals for educators in the K-6 level, particularly in areas of reading, talked about benchmarks for math and English for middle school students and said at least 90 percent of Utah high school students need to complete a customized education plan.
In a question-and-answer session after prepared presentations, Menlove said one worrisome area for educators at the middle school level is math. He said failure in middle-school math classes is often a precursor to failure in other classes as well, and usually results in a student dropping out. He openly worried about a large percentage of minority students who, he said, are limiting their choices by opting to take less rigorous classes in high school.
"They are closing doors of opportunity to them as they are leaving high school," Menlove said.
Brems and Buhler also addressed concerns about minorities and women in overall achievement.
Buhler said Utah colleges are addressing minorities and women, but he admitted that graduation rates among women and minorities fall below the state average in population. He stressed that Utah students need to be academically prepared in high school and, secondly, be financially prepared to address college costs and learn to explore all of their options when looking at upper education. He urged students to go to www.stepuputah.com for more details.
Brems stressed the advantages of the UCAT system. He said the classes are affordable, designed to be shorter in duration than traditional degree programs and result in students raising their income-generating opportunities.
The governor also addressed areas of financial concern in education, acknowledging that Utah teachers are doing more with less, and saying he would work with the Legislature to continue to explore funding options.
Pressed by the Standard-Examiner as to whether he would consider raising taxes as a means of generating more funding for education, Herbert said raising taxes can sometimes be an obstacle to that goal.
"We're growing the economy. That's the best way to help the system," Herbert said.
The summit didn't go over well with state Democrats, who issued a statement at the conclusion of the conference and what they described as a series of "softball questions" lobbed at panelists.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, state Democratic Party chairman, asked about how the state was going to find funding and resources to meet the goals. He pointed out that the state is last in per-pupil spending.
"We are losing an entire generation of kids, with close to 50 percent of our Hispanic and Latino children expected not to graduate... ," Dabakis said. "Get your head out of the sand, Governor. Our state government and our state Legislature are failing our schools. We need real leadership to get us out."