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Let's build a new education model

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

We need a new model for education that will prepare us to compete in the global economy.

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Stop trying to spend more money to fix an old education system. Remember the old days when we'd keep pouring money in an old jalopy and finally had to get rid of it and get a new one?

Well that's where we are with education. No matter how much money we pour into it, just like my old jalopy, it doesn't get us where we need to be. And just like my buddies who had good intentions to help me fix it, we have well-intentioned lawmakers doing the same with public education.

We need a new model for education that will prepare us to compete in the global economy. That will require leaders who understand how our world has changed and create a vision to meet the challenges our nation and children will face. For years, lawmakers have added more laws and programs that on their own are thoughtful, but may have no coherence as to how they complement and improve an outdated system. What now exists is a plethora of ideas and policies that by adding new ones is letting education crumble from its own weight. The system now has more useless bureaucratic layers lacking accountability and where responsibility for managing the system is diffused throughout the system.

Fortunately, we now have lawmakers, such as Sen. Stuart Reid, who see the need to clarify who is responsible for education. He is proposing the governor have control over public education (SJR9). As lawmakers deliberate the new structure, they ought to articulate a renewed vision and goals for public education. This will allow them to integrate the many policies and programs they now are considering and bundle them so they complement each other in a cost-effective way. Inviting Prosperity 2020 in creating the vision for education could be productive.

Important legislation on items such as pre-school, skills training, teacher preparation and higher education ought to be considered as to how the state can prepare individuals, young and old, to succeed in the new economy. That requires higher knowledge, skills, imagination, creativity and innovation. Such changes, and the downsizing of the current system, would allow local schools the flexibility to risk and use their creativity to respond to the needs of their respective districts.

As a former secretary of labor once said, "In the past, job security … meant working at the … same job for a lifetime. Workers (today) will be called on to change jobs — and perhaps careers — three, four or more times during the course of their employment. Now job security is more dependent upon the willingness and ability to learn, change and grow," (former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin).

Many of the new jobs will not require a college education, but will require high skilled workers such as in the revived industrial sector — installing, operating, repairing and the creativity necessary to improve equipment. School-to-work programs should be reconsidered, where students can realize why math, reading and problem solving make sense. In addition, educators must learn from their students that have grown up in the digital age with social networks and crowd sourcing worldwide.

In the new digital world, our old institutions are obsolete and policy makers and expert educators must have humility and be willing to learn and change with the times. And while money is important, retooling our educational system must first be done. Stop spending money on the old jalopy.

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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