John Florez: Empower citizens, change education

Published: Saturday, May 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Policymakers ought to welcome the opportunity for citizens to become involved at the grassroots level in creating new solutions for education.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Want to change education? Deregulate it and involve "digital natives," as Marc Prensky labeled them — the under 30 crowd that grew up with technology. They are the ones who understand how the technological revolution has changed our world and how our education system is stuck in the industrial era.

And how is it that we understand the power of free enterprise when it comes to business, where we free it to thrive; yet we stifle public education with a constant barrage of regulations?

Successful businesses are those that embrace a culture of risk-taking, innovation and an ability to adapt to change. What they need is a regulatory environment that is stable, fair and free of conflict. Sounds reasonable; however, when it comes to education, policymakers seem to lose their business acumen and listen to those who benefit from the bureaucracy, the so-called "stakeholders."

It appears some lawmakers are still trying to patch up an outdated education system that only adds to the chaos now endemic to public education. If public education were a private business with such a board of directors, they would be out of business; however, since it is a monopoly and it's only taxpayer money, board members don't have to worry about a return on their investor's money.

The bureaucracy by its nature resists change with its own defense mechanisms — stonewalling, deafness, ignoring. If it does respond, it is with a storm of reports full of bureaucratic language and details of what they do, rather than ever saying what they produce. That's why education administrators created the "data warehouse," so they can pull out any set of information to justify what they do, not what they produce. Education administrators take pride in their ability to warehouse data and guard it as though it is their own. It isn't. It's the people's. We paid for it and should have free and ready access to it.

The technological revolution now gives the average citizen the ability to have the data necessary to become informed and to offer solutions. It allows for bottom-up planning, rather than for top-down directives by the experts who are foreigners to the digital revolution now taking place. Policymakers ought to welcome the opportunity for citizens to become involved at the grassroots level in creating new solutions for education.

The new education system ought to allow for innovation, risk-taking, the ability to adapt to change, and yes, allow for failure. To retool education for the 21st century, lawmakers should consider some ideas Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, has set forth in his book, "Citizenville": make the system absolutely transparent. Make it possible for people to use data to share and crowd source, involve people using their own terms and allow people to bypass government so they can solve the problems rather than wait for the government to do it for them.

To change our education dinosaur, maybe we can start with lawmakers treating education as they do business, eliminate needless regulations and create a culture of risk-taking, innovation and allow for failure. Lawmakers ought to ask the "digital natives" how to retool education for the world they know and tear down the doors of the "data warehouse" educators have created. Make it freely available for citizens who wish to come with ideas, applications and tools to share with others to improve education. Information is power and it ought to be put in the hands of citizens.

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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