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Editorial: Utah should have kept teacher mentoring program

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 06:37 pm

[Video from Envision Utah's My Education, Our Future series.]

The hole Utah would have to climb out of if it were to become merely average in our state's per-pupil spending is so deep that our elected officials are always on the lookout for shortcuts, work-arounds or gimmicks that might make up at least some of the gap.

That's commendable. Until one of those gap-fillers gets eliminated, for no discernible reason, other than that some lawmakers apparently got tired of it.

That's what's happened to something called Peer Assistance Review. That was a state-funded program that pays school districts extra money so they can assign experienced teachers to work with rookies, part of a larger effort to deal with the woeful rate of teacher turnover around Utah.



The recent session of the Legislature ended the program, with key lawmakers explaining that the six-year-old plan was meant as a pilot and that, if local school districts liked it so much, they could pick up the funding themselves.

Which might make some sense, if school districts weren't already starved for cash. And if one of the reasons for the horrid rate of turnover among the state's teachers wasn't the constant flood of disrespect that flows from the Legislature.

And if the Legislature hadn't already shown itself to be so keen on filling the teacher gap with people who didn't earn education degrees but who have some fire to teach anyway.

It's called the Alternative Routes to Licensure, and it's based on the theory — or maybe just the hope — that people who are really interested in reaching out to the next generation can learn by doing.

But even its advocates generally allow that that approach is unlikely to work unless superintendents and principals can assign experienced teachers to take the newbies under their wing and guide them through the part of teaching that isn't about subject matter — which the alternative teachers may well have down cold — but about getting students to sit still and learn, a skill that few of us truly have.

That is part of the reason why turnover in the teaching ranks in Utah is so frightening. A University of Utah study showed that, of the teachers who entered the state's schools in 2007, more than half were out of here by 2014.

The challenges found in Utah classrooms are overwhelming: burgeoning class sizes, increasing numbers of students who have learning disabilities, who don't speak English or who don't have the support of stable households. The best bulwark against disaster is a corps of dedicated, experienced, highly trained and, most of all, supported teachers.

The whole thing was a mere $400,000, all of it snapped up by the Salt Lake City School District. If anything, the program should have been expanded, not eliminated.

 

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