In our opinion: Excellence in education

Published: Sunday, Oct. 3 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ezekeial Palauni, left, Alejandrina Garcia and Liberty Afeaki all earned associate degrees.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

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Last week the Utah Foundation released a sobering report showing how Utah students are underperforming when compared to students in states with similar demographics. Although we sometimes take comfort in the fact that Utah's students perform better than the national average on standardized tests, the national averages are not great and when compared to states with similar ethnic, economic and educational attainment, Utah's students are simply not matching up.

The Deseret News has recently committed to making excellence in education an area of editorial emphasis. From our very first edition we have championed the importance of education. You can expect to see even more analysis that will help show how we can better live up to our potential.

Why is educational excellence such a concern to us?

As the United States emerges from a long recession, our global economy relentlessly demands more effective, more creative and more productive workers. For the most self-interested reasons of economic survival, our children need to be able to reason and communicate effectively so that they can solve the complex problems in our competitive marketplace. In order for our children to prosper, they require the finest education available.

But we would seriously cheat our children if we only emphasized the importance of education for developing market-driven talent.

Remembered as one of Utah's leading educators, LDS Church President David O. McKay taught:

"Character is the aim of true education; and science, history and literature are but means used to accomplish this desired end. Character is not the result of chance, but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, with virtue, temperance and brotherly love. It seeks to make men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life."

Consequently, our commentary and analysis will not only address how education develops talent for the marketplace. It will also address how well we train our children as citizens. We want them to become adults with hearts capable of seeing and pursuing the common good even more effectively than their minds can pursue legitimate individual gain.

In our coverage, we will be particular sticklers for accountability. Schools possess increasingly powerful tools for assessment. Thoughtfully measured and carefully analyzed results of student learning are key to helping us understand what really works in education. We expect that educators, as stewards of significant public and private support, will measure and account for how well their students are learning.

We also wish to highlight thoughtful innovations. Unfortunately, contemporary education has structural features that stifle innovation. There are high barriers to entry into the market for organizations wishing to providing promising new educational services. Subsidized monopolistic providers of education are too often shielded from competition by a complex regulatory regime that fosters standardization and risk aversion. The rigid labor contracts within education, intended to protect the integrity of teaching and research, have made it difficult for institutions to adapt to ever-changing requirements, let alone lapses in teacher performance. Such structural issues will receive particularly close scrutiny in our coverage because we believe that having an environment with the right incentives for thoughtful innovation will be one of the surest paths to improvement.

We want you as parents and citizens to have the most thoughtful analysis available for the decisions you make about educating the hearts and minds of the next generation. To that end, more than ever, the Deseret News will emphasize what is best in the pursuit of educational excellence.

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