SALT LAKE CITY Education reform is a big topic, but how are some of those reforms working? That question brought top U.S. Education officials to Utah on a bus tour to highlight efforts to turn around a select group of schools.
In the past, federal funds were spread out among many schools. Now, under the Obama administration, that money is targeted and awarded through competitive grants. Ask math teacher Nate Auck about some of the hurdles to learning, and he has a common lament.
"A lot of the schools in the district have over 40 students in a classroom, one teacher with 40 or 45 students," Auck said. "It becomes really challenging."
But his school, Horizonte instruction and training center, recently won a $2.2 million national School Improvement Grant, which helps pay for more support staff, teacher coaches and instructors. So now in most of his classes he has another adult working with him.
"It helps with classroom management, it helps with grading time, it helps with just having multiple people that are interacting with the students at the same time," Auck said.
The school is in the second year of the three year grant, which also helps pay for additional assessment - in other words, testing. The aim is to turn around schools that are struggling.
"This is about giving targeted resources to do things in a dramatically different way than we've done before, and that required putting in place the conditions for success," said Jason Snyder, the deputy assistant secretary of education.
Principal Mindin Holmdahl says the effort seems to be bearing fruit. "It showed up on graduation, it showed up on test scores and it's shown up on attendance."
Students generally agree. "I actually enjoy going to school, coming to class," said Joana Aiono. "The way they teach, it's like they apply it to our lives."
In all, 14 schools in Utah have received more than $23 million in School Improvement Grants, to turn around schools and improve student achievement. That bus tour continues for the next week or so, making its way across country to the nation's capital.