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John Florez: It's time to rise above mediocrity

Published: Saturday, July 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

One of the big automakers had a problem with leaking windshields. The management studied the problem for quite a while but could not find the problem. Then one day they asked one of the assembly line workers why he glued the windshield the way he did. He quickly answered that he did it this way because if he glued it the other way, the windshield would leak.

Maybe if we asked teachers how best students can learn, our schools would not be "leaking." Except for parents and students, teachers are the last to be asked what's best for kids. Politicians keep listening to special interest groups — the stakeholders — who come up with self-serving solutions that keep the education industrial complex well greased.

Just think of all the spin-off industries feeding off education — publishers, consultants, researchers, etc. All have a stake in keeping the status quo — and more of it.

Want to see creativity, entrepreneurship and marketing at their best? Watch the lobbyist who offers the latest "silver bullet" to lawmakers to fix education, target programs for drop out prevention, offer minority initiatives, fix the achievement gap and develop online learning and treatment programs.

Legislators don't bother to understand how spending on their pet projects has no relevance in preparing students to compete around the world for jobs that can be done anywhere on the globe.

Unfortunately for students, our politicians seem content with mediocrity at a time when other nations are pushing for excellence. Lawmakers have spoken; they voted to build roads to keep the old industrial economy going, instead of investing in education for children.

What is lacking is political leadership willing to assume responsibility for our faltering public education. They have the constitutional responsibility to oversee and the power to change education, yet none of them are willing to step up and say where the buck stops.

State Sen. Stuart Reid tried to pass a resolution making the governor ultimately responsible for education and was defeated. Legislators seem content to keep the education governance structure so no one can be blamed for decisions.

The chairman of the state Senate Education Committee seems to quickly latch on to the latest fix without an understanding of how it promotes the purpose of education in today's flat world. Case in point, several sessions ago legislators funded merit pay, yet failed to show how it related to state educational standards. Funding for the project was abruptly ended.

Today, we find the chairman cheering on the Ogden School Board to implement merit pay and end collective bargaining. Now, he wants to study collective bargaining. How will that help students acquire the new skills needed to compete in the global economy? Lawmakers continue supporting an educational system that prepares our students for $9 per hour jobs when other nations are preparing their students to get, do and create the good-paying jobs anywhere in the world.

Lost in the whole education debate is, "What's good for kids?" Teacher unions are no different than politicians; their first concern is to hold on to their jobs — keeping the status quo for both, that's job security.

It's our children's future they are sacrificing and we are watching it happen in slow motion. Simply contacting your legislator is meaningless. They listen to their campaign contributors.

Let's not settle for mediocrity. It's up to us to fix our schools so they no longer leak.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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