here to visit Utah's colleges & universities.
common with other nineteenth century Americans, many Utahns
desired formal schooling for their children. But desiring
education and schools, is not synonymous with actually
having education and schools. Social, political,
and economic conditions can thwart aspirations and reduce
educational commitment to expressions of rhetoric. Even
mandates for education that are rooted in religious ideals
are frequently modified by inescapable realities.
Utah schools in the nineteenth century reflected the patchwork
quilt of aspiration, apathy, rhetoric and actual commitment
which characterized much of century's education at the
national level-some communities were pockets of educational
excellence and others displayed only minimal commitment.
Some parents wanted as much formal schooling as was possible
for their children; others were hostile to book learning.
There were also communities (such as Draper and the Second
Ward in Salt Lake City) stretched themselves economically
to support schools. Much depended on local economic circumstances
and the personal commitment of local ecclesiastical leadership.
Most elementary schools in the 1850s and 1860s were organized
on the basis of Mormon Wards with the church meeting house
serving as the school house during the week. These ward
schools differed widely in their curriculum offerings
and the quality of their teaching. They were in essence
quasi-public Mormon schools, controlled by local trustees
appointed by Mormon bishops; they reflected Mormon community
values, used Mormon scriptures as supplemental texts and
supported in part by tuition from patrons and local taxes.
As early as 1851 the office of territorial superintendent
of schools was created, promoting the centralization of
school policy and curriculum at least in theory if not
in practice. During the pioneer period up to 1869, in
the words of John C. Moffitt, "very little was done
in Utah for education beyond the rudiments of learning."
By the time the transcontinental railroad had made Utah
more accessible to the rest of the United States in 1869,
some semblance of system appeared as the ward schools
evolved into district public schools, although they were
still basically Mormon oriented schools supported by local
taxes. Eventually these schools became the nucleus of
the federally mandated publicly supported territorial
district schools which came into existence with the passage
of Utah's first Free Public School Act by the Territorial
Legislature in 1890. There was some initial opposition
to these compulsory secular schools on the part of the
Latter-day Saints, but eventually they came to be accepted
as part of Mormon accommodation to mainstream America.
In addition to the development of the district schools,
between 1867 and 1900 some one hundred private elementary
and secondary schools were established by Congregational,
Presbyterian and Methodist mission boards. Their initial
aim was to "Christianize" Utah's Mormon children
a well as meet the needs of the growing number of non-Mormons
who were settling in Utah. Few of them persisted after
Utah adopted a free school system; however, they played
a significant role as models for public schools and for
the professionalization of teaching. The Episcopal Church
established the first private denominational school, St.
Mark's, in 1867. The Catholic Church also maintained St.
Mary's Academy (1875-1926) and St. Mary's of the Wasatch
(1926-1970), Judge Memorial High School (established in
1921) and St. Joseph's High School in Ogden (established
in 1929). Currently there are several hundred home-schools
operated by individual parents, and a variety of private
schools-religious and entrepreneurial-have been established
in the last few years.
Public secondary education did not exist until the last
decade of the nineteenth century and did not become a
viable part of the system until the second decade of the
twentieth century. In 1910, 58 percent of Utah's 16-to
17-year-olds were enrolled in high school and by 1940
the percentage had risen to 86 percent. In 1991, over
23,715 students graduated from public high school--representing
90.3 percent of the 12th-grade students.
Partly in response to the increasing secularization of
the district schools and the perceived threat posed by
Protestant mission schools, the Mormon Church in the 1870s
and 1880s organized a private secondary school system.
However, because of economic exigencies, by 1933 the LDS
Church had discontinued its support of private secondary
schools in Utah, turning some of them over to the state
for a nominal fee. Public secondary schools were made
more acceptable to the Mormons because of the organization
in about 1912 of a parallel released-time program funded
entirely by the LDS Church which allowed Mormon students
to integrate religious education with their public school
studies through attendance at LDS seminaries built adjacent
to high schools. Although most Utah school districts gave
students graduation credits for attendance at seminary
classes, a 1981 Federal court ruling disallowed such credit
as being unconstitutional, while upholding the constitutionality
of the released-time program.
Education in the nineteenth-century Utah was shaped in
part by the conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons.
During the twentieth century, however, it is just as evident
that it has been shaped less by local circumstances than
by the national social, economic and political environment
and mirrors very closely national educational issues.
For example, the demands for a business-like approach
to the management of the burgeoning school systems led
to demands for more efficiency in the management of tax-money.
This in turn led to demands for consolidation and centralization
of schools--two movements which typified the early twentieth
century and for which Utah was praised nationally. Utah's
response during the Progressive era gained it national
attention and its concern for the welfare of children
in and out of school was described by one national historian
as "social uplift with a vengeance." In the
late 1930s there was a national trend toward increased
state funding of education, and once again Utah shared
in this movement to improve the economic lot of teachers.
Over the years a variety of legislative measures had been
adopted to promote equalization in the distribution of
state education funds, resulting in a patchwork quilt
approach to the problem of equality of educational opportunity.
In 1946-47, under the leadership of the Utah Education
Association, efforts by a coalition of educational, civic,
and business groups succeeded in passing amendments to
the Utah constitution and in consolidating the many funding
measures so that the quality of the equalization formulas
was improved. The object was to establish a state-wide
standard which would provide equal educational opportunity
for all students and at the same time spread the financial
sacrifice more equitably among the state's taxpayers.
As a result, Utah was put in the forefront of the national
movement to provide equal opportunity and tax equity.
From the mid-twentieth century concerns over such national
priorities as defense, veteran's training and equal opportunity
led to increased federal involvement in Utah schools.
As teachers throughout the nation became more aggressive
in the 1960s in their demands for increased compensation,
Utah's teachers captured national headlines with a state
wide strike and the National Education Association placed
the state under a sanction to keep teachers outside of
Utah from breaking the strike. With the return to the
traditional curriculum emphasis in the 1980s, Utah adopted
a structural approach to its reform focusing on graduation
requirements, curriculum control and teacher incentives
such as career ladders. During much of the twentieth century
the focus in Utah's public schools has been upon the way
schools can help fit students to the economic and social
needs of American civilization. At the same time, and
somewhat paradoxically, the schools are expected to meet
the individual needs of the students. Utah schools have
followed these national patterns.
In this respect education in Utah during the twentieth
century is not particularly unique. The state is too much
a part of the social, economic and political matrix of
the times, too integrated into the highly complex technological
civilization to bear a unique fingerprint in terms of
its educational development.
Public schools in Utah do, however, present the state
with some unique problems because (as of 1992) education
consumes a larger proportion (48.4 percent) of tax revenues
in Utah than in any other state. This is in large measure
due to the Mormon emphasis on large families and a consistently
high birthrate. And it also means that Utah has the lowest
expenditure per student in the nation ($2,993 compared
to the national average of $5,261) but the state also
ranks fifth in the percentage of personal income expended
for education. As the twentieth century comes to a close
the greatest challenge facing Utah is how to balance between
the demands of its burgeoning population for quality education
and resources available. With one of the most highly consolidated
school systems in the nation, Utah actually does more
with its resources than many other states. It has the
highest proportion of its population in public schools
(98.2 percent) than any other state, and leads the nation
in the percentage of the population over twenty-five years
of age with a high school diploma. As a consequence of
an emphasis on large families, however, the education
system also must bear the burden of having the highest
pupil-per-teacher ratio in the nation: in 1992 it was
23.8, as compared with the national average of 15.9. Its
teachers rank forty-fourth in the nation in terms of salary
levels, but when career ladder awards are included they
The burden on Utah taxpayers for the support of education
is significant; however, but in spite of a vigorous campaign
waged to cut taxes in 1988, the electorate defeated tax
limitation proposals by a wide margin. Historically, the
establishment and perpetuation of schools in Utah has
been contingent not only on aspirations and ideals but,
on the availability of suitable personnel, facilities,
and, most importantly, financial support.
Frederick S. Buchanan