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John Florez: Education for today's marketplace

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Lawmakers are responsible for the "establishment and maintenance" of education. They should redesign the organizational structure of education for today's digital economy that promotes innovation and delivers "just-in-time" education that is customized and customer driven, not system driven.

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Would Lee Iacocca have been successful at selling cars if he had over 100 board members telling him how to do it? Yet that's what we expect the state superintendent of education to do with 104 legislators constantly telling him how to run education.

Utah state legislators keep trying to fix education and tend to blame others for its problems — administrators, teachers, parents, students. The fact is Utah legislators, under Article X of the state constitution, are responsible for public education: "The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of the state's education systems including: (a) a public education system, which shall be open to all children of the state; and (b) a higher education system. Both systems shall be free from sectarian control."

The reality is lawmakers are victims of their own past successes. Our public school system was created during an agrarian period, for a different population that met the economic and educational needs of the times. Since then, along came the industrial revolution where minor changes and adjustments were made, and education was still successful in meeting the economic needs of the times. Now the world, with globalization and the Internet, has changed dramatically, leaving education outdated since we are all interconnected and living in a whole new world.

To blame a single group for our problems in education would detract from the real problem: our outdated organizational structure designed for a different era. It's the archaic organizational structure that has set us up to fail. As we keep making incremental changes, the world has changed exponentially. In the meantime, our lawmakers keep looking to the "stakeholders" who run and benefit from keeping the system the way it is and come up with the same solutions. That's like Lee Iacocca's employees telling him to make the same model of cars though there's a new consumer base. Thomas Friedman has pointed out we are all immigrants in a new world where doing the same will no longer meet the challenges of a constantly changing world. We now live in a digital world, with new technology, where the currency needed to succeed is imagination, creativity, innovation, higher skills and becoming constant learners.

As our lawmakers move to retool public education for a new economy, they must make it customer driven rather than process driven since those who benefit from the status quo will tell them to do, "more of the same." They should ask the customers, parents and students about how they value the quality of education they received. As Richard Murnane and Frank Levy, Harvard and MIT professors, point out, instead of looking at internal measures such as test scores, they should do as businesses do, "... (look) at how its products fare in the marketplace." What happens to their students two to five years after they leave school? "Schools, unlike businesses, almost never look at how customers value their products. Unless they do, Murnane and Levy argue convincingly, advocates of school reform are just shooting in the dark," (Newsweek, Sept. 30, 1996).

Lawmakers are responsible for the "establishment and maintenance" of education. They should redesign the organizational structure of education for today's digital economy that promotes innovation and delivers "just-in-time" education that is customized and customer driven, not system driven.

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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