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Education should focus on minority students, value, researcher says


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SALT LAKE CITY -- There is a country where students spend less time in class and rarely have homework or tests. They have hardly any high school dropouts or failing schools, and they have scored at the top of international tests for more than a decade.

Forty years ago, Finland was a poor country. As leaders worked to rebuild it, they envisioned a brighter future in technology and as such, developed a blue print for a better educated work force.

They set a tough national curriculum, required master's degrees for all teachers and provided up to three teachers per classroom. Finland spends $3000 less per student than the U.S. education system, and publicly funds education all the way through college, including graduate school.

Though the country's needs differ greatly from the U.S., one U. of U. researcher believes that Utah can take a lesson from Finland by placing a higher value on education, particularly that of minority students.

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"We need to keep having conversations about curriculum -- funding accountability that has to happen," said Enrique Aleman Jr., Education Leadership and Policy Studies researcher at the U. "But here is something that is free: it's a change of perspective -- our thoughts about communities you might not be used to."

In Utah, the fastest growing demographic and biggest minority is the Hispanic population. Hispanic students score behind their peers in all grades and subjects, and the gaps have stayed relatively the same over the years.

In an effort to narrow that gap, Dr. Aleman and his colleagues started a university-community partnership with Jackson Elementary in Salt Lake seven years ago. The partnership works with kindergartners in a Spanish dual immersion program. Students are given mentors from the University of Utah and they take field trips to see what a college campus is like.

"We are changing the expectation and the awareness of kids and families about what it takes and how early you should start thinking about preparing yourself to go to college," Aleman said. "It's an idea that's rooted in this idea of K-16."

He hopes this program will provide a model for how universities, communities and schools can partner together.

For information about upcoming education bills, go to the Utah Legislature's Bill Track page, and for volunteer opportunities visit Americorps and Read Today's websites.

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Nadine Wimmer

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