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John Florez: Compulsory education not the issue

Published: Saturday, Aug. 3 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The new structure would: downsize the education system, spawn innovation and creativity in teachers, students and the system and give local school boards the flexibility and responsibility for results in the educational achievement of their students.

Jessie L. Bonner, AP

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What's compulsory education? It's what politicians force educators to do. Every year, legislators hand down a myriad of laws to teachers and the message is: Follow the law, don't be creative. That's the problem with education.

Utah State Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, should be commended for wanting to improve student achievement; however, doing away with compulsory education is not the solution. It is not the student that's the problem; it's the outdated, assembly line and oppressive educational system that is unable to respond to the needs of our changing society.

Lawmakers, by their compulsory demand for so-called accountability, have turned education into a bureaucratic quagmire, where teachers are oppressed, fearful of making mistakes and not supported by administrators. Thus, the very commodities that are needed to succeed in today's new economy — innovation, creativity and imagination — are doused in our schools. That's unconscionable. Stop blaming parents and teachers and start creating a culture that encourages risk taking, failure and learning from mistakes.

It's the outdated organizational structure of education that is rudderless and lacks a clear vision, dispersion of authority and accountability — that's the problem. It has created a culture of intimidation, fear, unwillingness to risk, mistrust and lack of respect for staff, with students suffering the collateral damage.

The solution — a new organizational structure that can respond to the changes in our society based on the following principles: rewards for innovation and risk taking, with an environment allowing for failure; and allowing local school districts the flexibility to innovate, and to be accountable for their students' performance. Make education customer driven — parents and students.

The new public education structure ought to be as follows: The governor would be responsible for the general control and supervision; a five-member state board elected at large that would have the power to select and fire the state superintendent, and establish bottom-up planning, research and development, set academic standards, teacher development, create performance contracts for school districts to follow and provide incentives and/or cancel contracts for non-performance; local school districts would be allowed the flexibility to design/deliver education that meets local needs based on state performance standards; and contracting with parents and teachers to operate schools as limited liability companies.

The new structure would: downsize the education system, spawn innovation and creativity in teachers, students and the system; give local school boards the flexibility and responsibility for results in the educational achievement of their students; have results that would be clearly defined; and make education an integral part of the governor's overall goals for the state. Successful educational attainment would be based on performance, rather than seat time. The new structure with standards would eliminate needless regulations, where outcomes instead of process will determine success in education.

Lawmakers should be commended and supported for recently acknowledging the need for renewing public education to meet the challenges of change, and for legislative leadership being willing to formulate a new vision, mission and structure for education (SB169). That will work toward solving the real problem in education.

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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