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Study shows perception of Utah's education performance inaccurate

By Nadine Wimmer | Posted - Sep. 29, 2010 at 10:11 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- New Utah research contradicts a common sentiment in our state about how we're doing in education.

The perception usually goes like this: Utah does pretty well despite spending the least per student in the country, and we're still above average.

Research from the respected Utah Foundation concludes this is not true.

It's an unhappy surprise to parents.

"It's not a very good thought," said George Robinson.

"It is a little concerning, though. I had no idea," said Jodi Kennedy.


It turns out that we're not performing as well as you might think when we're compared against the states that are really like Utah.

–Stephen Kroes, Utah Foundation


KSL shared with these and other parents the study results that show while Utah's math and reading scores may be slightly above the national average, a true comparison is much less encouraging.

"What we've been saying for a long time at Utah Foundation is that we need to compare against states that are like Utah, because Utah isn't the average state," said Stephen Kroes with Utah Foundation.

In Utah, many parents are college educated, and there are lower poverty rates and fewer minorities.

Utah Foundation compared two decades of Utah scores to those of demographically similar states like Minnesota, Vermont, Wyoming, New Jersey, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

"It turns out that we're not performing as well as you might think when we're compared against the states that are really like Utah," Kroes said.

In fact, in every category Utah is dead last, or second to it.

Though not part of the study, researchers also say in this "apples to apples" comparison it's fair to look at funding.

Several of the comparison states are in the top 10 of per pupil spending. The second-lowest state still spends far more than Utah.

Researchers stress this isn't an indictment of Utah's education system, but a red flag.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway responded to the results by saying, "We always want to do better, but we do have to realize that in order to do better we're going to have to make certain kinds of investments."

Parents KSL spoke with agree.

"I don't think education has been a priority here for a while," said Kataya.

"We should be spending more to educate our children and prepare them for the future," Robinson said.

Utah Foundation says to follow up this study, it will look at how some of those similar states are spending their money to get results.

A full copy of the report can be found at the foundation's website beginning Sept. 30.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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