FORUM: Utah moves to head of class

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This is one of those awkward times when good news is bad news. When you’re predicting doom and gloom, and doing everything in your power to convince people the world is going to heck in a handbag, it’s almost embarrassing when the facts show just the opposite.

So we should feel sorry for Utah’s education establishment.

That would be the cabal of the rich and powerful teachers union, various egg heads from the state school board and governor’s office, and many of the large number of folks drawing a paycheck from the hundreds of millions Utah spends each year on education. This has to be hard for them.

After claiming at every turn that Utah education doesn’t work and that the state and taxpayers should be brought up on crimes against humanity for not throwing more money into the schools, the facts show Utah is not an example of educational failure at all. It is, as it turns out, the most successful state in the nation.

Utah’s rich and powerful teachers’ union is the biggest political kingdom in the state, more powerful than either political party and is approaching its 20th year of being the tail that wags the dog in Utah politics.

As recently as the last legislative session, Utah’s governor said the state’s education system was nearly in crisis and needed a dramatic infusion of money. Of course, that’s what every Utah governors says every legislative session. And the spending keeps skyrocketing.

But still Utah spends less per student than any other state in the Union. And that, of course, is a terrible thing.

Only it’s not. Sure, the rich and powerful teachers union— and the politicians who curry favor with it — insists that spending equals success. Over and over the barometer of educational success has been defined as how much money you spend. That has it completely backward, and is not supported in any way by the facts.

Just recently the district that spends the most money per student in the country — Washington, D.C. — fired its superintendent because it is also one of the absolutely worst districts in the entire country. Ironically, educational success and educational spending most often have an inverse relationship. The more you spend, the worse the school. The less you spend, the better the school.

That gets us to Utah. Numbers just out show Utah spends less per student than any other state in the nation. Yet, Utah has the highest graduation rate of any state. It even has the big-city district with the country’s top graduation rate — Jordan District, with 88½ percent of its students graduating.

And Utah does this while experiencing a flood of illegal aliens, a demographic group with the lowest likelihood of sticking with high school until graduation.

Let’s recap: Utah spends the least and gets the most. No other state is as successful at educating its children — doing it on less per pupil than any other state. This is pretty good proof that money doesn’t buy educational success.

Actually, family and culture determine educational success. If your family and culture expect and encourage and support learning, you have a far greater likelihood of educational success. Utah’s large Mormon population encourages education almost as a tenet of their faith. But whatever the reason, Utah is the best.

And the bad news about that is that an important arguing point has been lost by the state education industry. Whereas the rich and powerful teachers’ union would have people see average expenditure per student as the barometer of success, reality tells us that outcome is the barometer of success.

Utah has the highest rate of successful outcome in the country — with fully 83.8 percent of students graduating. By way of contrast, South Carolina is the country’s lowest state with a graduation rate of just above 50 percent.

What Utahans do is get the best deal on education in the country. When you put the least in and get the most out, you’re doing something very, very right. You’ve got the best bargain going.

And that’s bad news for Utah’s education establishment because its priority isn’t students, it is money. And you only get more money by preaching doom and gloom. And a report like this makes that very hard.

BOB LONSBERRY

Commentator and talk show host. See BobLonsberry.com.

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