It's the kind of report card that would make any parent worry. Utah is barely passing when it comes to education, earning an overall grade of C-, according to Education Week's annual Quality Counts report.
The Beehive State ranks 42nd in the nation, down from 41st a year ago and 38th in 2010. The report grades states on a number of measures, from student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress to support offered to teachers.
Utah scored dead last for its per-pupil spending but, by one measure, ranked No. 1 for spreading education money evenly throughout the state. Overall, Utah earned a D+ for school finance.
"We may not have much, but everyone's getting a fair share of gruel," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah Office of Education. "We get dinged hard for school finance, but Utah's been the lowest per-pupil funded for years at this point. That, we can't really correct."
Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed spending an additional $134 million on Utah's public schools next year to cover the cost of 12,500 new students and offer teachers a small raise. Final budget approval rests with the state Legislature.
Utah earned its best grade, a B-, for its academic standards, student assessments and school accountability. But the state fell short on K-12 student achievement, earning a D+ largely based on the rate of students proficient in math and reading as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Utah received demerits for a graduation rate that declined by 7.4 percent from 2000 to 2008 and a widening achievement gap for students in poverty.
"Utah's education system has remained stagnant, and we're even starting to slide backwards," said Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education. "Utah has always had a very particular kind of demographic, and we haven't seemed to adjust as our student population has changed and their needs have changed."
Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent of education, said the report overlooked several things the state is doing to improve teaching. The report gave Utah a D in that area, but Hales is confident Utah deserves an A.
The report did not give Utah credit for such items as professional development opportunities, student-teaching for teachers in training, or mentoring programs for new principals because those things are not required explicitly by state law, even though they are common practice in Utah, Hales said.
"There's no law that requires [schools] to do that, but they still do it," she said. "Every education group puts together what they feel an education system should be like. This represents the thinking at Education Week."
Education Week is a national, education-policy newspaper published by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education.
The Quality Count report also docks Utah for not discouraging teachers from teaching subjects outside their fields, not paying teachers on par with similar occupations and not having a state-funded program to reduce class sizes.
Vicki Varela, communications advisor for Prosperity 2020, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce's education project, called Utah's ranking "really bad news."
"We have got to improve our performance. Our business leaders are desperately seeking well-educated graduates," she said. "Our students should be getting more education and a better education than their parents' generation. That's the American tradition."
Liz Zentner, president-elect of the Utah PTA, said she dislikes negative reports such as Quality Counts. The low grade, she said, belies the reality she sees in Utah classrooms.
"Because of the parental involvement and the incredible teachers we have, Utah's public schools are really fantastic," said Zentner, who lives in Granite School District. "There's no way to put grades on schools."
State education rankings
Utah scored 71.9 percent and ranked No. 42 in Education Week's annual Quality Counts report, which grades states on a number of different areas within education. To read the complete report, go to edweek.org.
The top five scoring states:
Maryland • 87.8 percent
Massachusetts • 84.2 percent
New York • 83.9 percent
Virginia • 82.6 percent
Arkansas • 81.5 percent