John Florez: School board should retool education for the new economy

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

American businesses have taken Grove's advice and retooled themselves for today's economy. Utah's state school board members would do our state well to do the same.

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Andy Grove, former chairman of Intel, once said, "If you are not paranoid, you are out of business." So it may be with the state school board.

American businesses have taken Grove's advice and retooled themselves for today's economy. Utah's state school board members would do our state well to do the same.

In 2001, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) commissioned GMT of America, Inc. to conduct a study to determine to what degree the USOE, "...is efficiently and effectively meeting its constitutional and statutory responsibilities." State school board members might begin the retooling by reviewing the findings of that study as a starting point.

The GMT study found: The regulatory role of USOE was not clearly defined resulting in inconsistent enforcement of its regulatory responsibilities leaving uncertainty throughout Utah's educational system; that it should implement a system for interpreting and informing local school districts of the requirements of state legislation; and that it lacks a method for tracking the enactment of statutes and regulations and linking them to agency operations. Most critical, it found no evidence the USOE had a planning process and accountability system, thus preventing any formal evaluation of its policies, programs and assessment of its performance.

Utah's educational governance structure has become unwieldy with layers of legislative committees, commissions and elected officials involved in trying to oversee and manage public education that is supposed to be the responsibility of the state school board under the Utah constitution. Responsibility for the supervision of Utah's public education has become so dispersed that it's impossible to determine and establish accountability for results — or even determine what the system is supposed to produce.

America's educational organizational structure was designed for an industrial era. Now, the new economy has made our old way of doing business and governmental institutions obsolete. The old economy relied on mass production of goods and services. The new economy requires quality, variety, customization, convenience and timeliness. It now must have "high performance work organizations" which will create quality jobs and require a higher skilled workforce. Today's students were raised in a digital and social network world and our schools must be retooled to build on those experiences.

The retooling process starts with the current committed state board members taking the time to understand how the world has changed, creating a vision of what they want our educational system to become, and renewing its mission accordingly. If they won't, who will? One of the challenges organizations face is the tendency for self-congratulation and the inability for self-examination. "Organizations go to seed when the people in them go to seed. And they awaken when the people awaken," (John W. Gardner).

There will be those who will resist change and criticize board members for wanting to disrupt the status quo. However, in today's environment, standing still is not an option. What board members will need is to remind themselves that change comes from outside or by leaders willing to risk trying new ideas and listening to others outside the system.

The future of our nation and our children depends upon our being able to deliver a highly educated, skilled, creative and innovative citizenry. To do less is to relegate our nation to a second-class nation. If board members don't take a leadership role in retooling public education, Andy Grove may be right, it may be out of business.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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