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John Florez: Get legislators out of running schools

Published: Saturday, July 12 2014 5:56 p.m. MDT

Until a vision for Utah education is created, along with structural changes, Utah legislators will continue to interfere in the management of public education. And our students will be denied a world-class education.

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Until a vision for Utah education is created, along with structural changes, Utah legislators will continue to interfere in the management of public education. And our students will be denied a world-class education.

Utah has too many leaders who have shown no vision, and merely tinker with a system that is driven by vested interests. We have governors who create commissions, and lawmakers who pass a myriad of laws that spend money to keep a system to nowhere. Hopes were raised by the 2013 Legislature that formed a task force of legislative leaders to establish a vision for the future of education in our state. However, they seem to spend more time listening to warmed-over ideas by vested interests. Meanwhile, lawmakers ignored the task force’s charge and kept passing more incoherent laws.

What we have now are lawmakers who spend $3 million to start a data alliance between K-12 education and the Utah Department of Workforce Services that fattens the bureaucracy, instead of money to be used in the classroom. Other lawmakers spend money by requiring school grading and testing that has no class management value and prevents teachers from teaching time with students. Nevertheless, each year the Legislature passes over 60 laws to give the appearance they are improving education, yet only clog the education bureaucracy even more.

Our education system continues to teach students for past economies instead of today’s digital and technological world where innovation, creativity and higher skills are needed; yet, teachers are forced to spend time on testing in schools that teach by the old DMV method — “Next!”

We should trash the old system and create one for today’s workplace that requires workers who are curious, empathetic and able to learn and work in groups of diverse backgrounds. Utah should learn from employers, such as Google, that look for workers with “the ability to process on the fly … and at the appropriate time, step in and lead.” (Thomas Friedman, “How To Get a Job At Google,” New York Times, Feb. 22).

What Utah needs is a leader who has a vision of what our education system ought to be and involves citizens in making it a reality. That responsibility should rest with the governor, the top leader of our state, who should articulate a vision and goals for the state that include education, and use political capital by rallying the citizens to support their agenda for the state.

One of the problems is timid politicians tend to defer decisions to committees and hope the ultimate solution might surface. As such, there is no accountability throughout the system — everyone and no one is responsible for decisions; starting with the governor, legislators, state and local school boards.

The top leader of our state must articulate a vision, goals and budget for education. The Legislature must focus on policymaking and stop its tendency to manage schools — that is the responsibility of the state school board. To expect a legislature comprised of 104 elected individuals to create a common vision is unrealistic. Let them debate the policies regarding the governor’s vision and stay out of managing schools.

We can design the ideal education system, but in the end it’s up to the citizens to elect leaders who they believe have the political will and courage to guide the state’s education into the 21st century.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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