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Utah has seen its high school graduation rate steadily rise, including best-in-the-nation gains in 2014 for the percentage of Latino students who complete their senior year.
And the Beehive State is now in the top 10 for eighth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card.
But a new report by Envision Utah suggests that those and other achievements either are lost on or fail to impress the general public.
An online survey of more than 1,000 Utahns showed that most participants were dissatisfied with their local school and the state's education system as a whole.
And 39 percent of respondents, a plurality, said Utah public education was in decline and inferior to systems in other states.
"Utahns are probably more pessimistic than the reality would support," Envision Utah chief operating officer Ari Bruening said. "It's not doom and gloom like you hear a lot of people talk about."
Envision Utah conducted its survey between July 25 and Aug. 4 as part of a project looking at public perceptions toward education.
Participants gave high marks to education as a tool to strengthen the economy and prepare individuals for meaningful careers. But questions on the quality and trajectory of the state's education system drew lukewarm responses, Envision Utah spokesman Jason Brown said.
"We're probably doing better than Utahns think," he said. "There's reason for Utahns to have more confidence in the system than they necessarily do."
Bruening said public education may be falling victim to Utahns' high expectations. When the public expects the best, he said, adequate results can give the appearance of failure.
"Utahns want to be in the top 10," Bruening said. "They want people to think of Utah as a hub for education and high performance."
But Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said improvement in metrics like graduation rates and test scores mask the difficult challenges facing schools.
Utah's class sizes are among the largest in the nation and getting bigger, she said. Teachers continue to be paid lower wages than their peers in neighboring states.
"When you look at the quality of education that teachers are able to provide," Matthews said, "it is diminished when the resources are spread so thin."
She said many educators would likely agree with the respondents to Envision Utah's survey that the quality of schools is unsatisfactory and in decline.
But she added that teachers continue to work under challenging conditions because of their commitment to education and the support and encouragement they receive from Utah families.
"Our Utah schools are amazing," Matthews said. "Our educators in Utah are some of the hardest working, most dedicated people I know."
In a prepared statement, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the perception of failing schools, bad teachers and disengaged communities is untrue.
He said Utah teachers are bright and hardworking, and that critical conversations are ongoing about where school performance is and where it needs to go.
"We have plenty of work to do," Herbert said, "but it is the work of building on the good that is already happening, not fixing a broken system."
State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said a lot of good things are happening in Utah schools, and educators can do more in telling those successes to parents and community members.
"We're starting to see positive movement in student outcomes," she said. "But we need to close achievement gaps and ensure that each student is ready for their future."
Percentage of Utahns who say the quality of schools is:
Getting much better: 2 percent
Getting somewhat better: 19 percent
About the same: 39 percent
Getting somewhat worse: 31 percent
Getting much worse: 8 percent
Percentage of Utahns who say Utah schools are:
Much better than other states: 4 percent
Somewhat better: 25 percent
About the same: 32 percent
Somewhat worse: 31 percent
Much worse than other states: 8 percent
Source: Envision Utah survey of 1,010 Utahns between July 25 and Aug. 4.