OGDEN -- Utah's large class sizes, underfunded schools, parental burnout, grade inflation and dissatisfaction with local school district leaders were all discussed Tuesday night at an Ogden town hall meeting, as was the problem of local students who arrive at Weber State University requiring remedial math classes.
The meeting, attended by 30 or so community members, was titled Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education and was sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, specifically by AFT Utah.
Panelists were Martell Menlove, Utah's superintendent of public education; AFT Utah President Brad Asay; Lisa Arango, Davis School District high school teacher; Ruth Stubbs, Weber State director of Educational Access & Outreach; and Turner Bitton, candidate for Ogden City Council. The discussion was moderated by Doug Gibson, of the Standard-Examiner.
"Class sizes in Utah are a concern for many people, and Utah classes are significantly larger than in many states," Menlove said, adding that class size is a major factor in achievement level.
Menlove said reducing class size is very expensive, and administrators and legislators may tend to favor programs that promise "more bang for the buck." Menlove suggested parents and other community members should contact their leaders with the message that large class sizes are unacceptable.
Responding to a question about Utah's status as providing the lowest per-student funding, Menlove noted that Utahns' large families mean fewer adults are paying taxes that support the education of more children.
Asay suggested contacting district superintendents to express concerns and "... sitting down at a table and working out solutions."
Stubbs said that often parents want to be involved in improving their children's education, but they don't know how.
"We need to let them know how, and we need to talk about what schools can do to get parents involved," she said.
Bitton said he sees a decline in the family and believes it is based on economics.
"Parents have to be more involved with work, and may hold second jobs," he said. "Burnt-out parents translate to burnt-out students."
Martell stressed that if they have problems with how their local districts are handling issues, they should take it up at the local level.
"Go before school board meetings, or stay after, when the superintendent or board members might have time to talk."
Several panelists talked about grade inflation, and the pressure to give failing students passing grades. That causes a problem for colleges, Stubbs said.
"Higher education relies on grade point averages to see if students are college ready," she said. "Students arrive with 3.5-plus GPAs, then need remedial math. Students need to be better prepared. And if not by GPAs, how can we measure college readiness?"
Arango said she measures her students' learning by their engagement and their critical thinking on topics.
"It seems like test grades just show they jumped through all the hoops," she said. "How can we make grading more meaningful? I don't have that answer."
Asked why students seem to show less respect in the classroom, Menlove said it is societal.
"Public education reflects society," he said. "We need to come back and look at ourselves."
The panel's answer to most problems outlined seemed to be public and parental involvement.
"We've got to make sure our children are the most important thing," Arango said. "We've got to be more aware of who we are electing and what they are doing."
Gibson pointed out that only about 10 percent of Utahns vote. Bitton said Utah needs to focus on problem solvers at the next election and demand solutions at the local level.
Menlove said involvement is the key.
"The Utah education system is a tremendous system," he said. "Utah has the highest ACT scores of any state in the nation for states with 100 percent participation. ... People need to understand where they can have the most impact -- and be involved."
Asay said this week's event was just the first of several town meetings AFT plans to host in the area.
Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at