Since expressing an opinion a couple of weeks ago on the stategic planning goals of the State Board of Education, I've had two responses. They differed substantially, proving once again that thoughts on education are both diverse and firmly held.
Everyone has the solution to education, and everyone's solution is different.At the crux of this particular conversation is the board's proposed mission statement, which prefaces a document outlining how a shift in focus in Utah's education system could be accomplished. That statement says that "Public education will empower each student to participate meaningfully in society as a competent, productive, caring and responsible citizen."
My reaction was that emphasis on the needs of individual students, while a noble thought and undoubtedly the ideal, could become very expensive, and that the strategy would quickly become pie in the sky when Utah couldn't afford it.
Dr. Colleen Colton, Gov. Norm Bangerter's adviser for education, called with a convincing argument that it is, in fact, an achievable goal. And within the state's financial limitations.
There is sufficient creativity within the education community, she suggests, to reshape the process and to do it within the state's means.
Her approach would be to set up some pilot projects at the school level. The administrators of these schools would be given a sum of money and asked to work within their school community to design programs to meet the mission's objectives. They would then be turned loose to prove they could do it.
Dr. Colton suggested that under these circumstances, some unique things would begin to happen. Teaching staffs might change, with a master teacher working in conjunction with a group of paraprofessionals in the classroom - where there could be even more students than there are in today's classes.
High-achieving and self-motivated students might even spend less time at school, working at home on special projects, while teachers spent more time with slower students. That would address the obvious differences in students' needs, she says. Teachers would quit teaching at a mid-level point that leaves students at both ends of the spectrum bored or frustrated.
If the pilot project produced impressive results, they could be replicated throughout the state, Dr. Colton says.
Sounds good to me, with one reservation. Such projects would probably involve progressive schools that would attract the most innovative leaders and the best teachers. Whether they could be reproduced statewide is questionable to me.
Then comes the letter from Joel Rees, a private citizen, who says he also is skeptical of the state board's goals, but for a reason different from the one I expressed.
Rees agrees that education is an enabling force that helps people achieve their innermost goals. But he doesn't think public education is the route to that end.
Students learn when, where, how and what they will, he says, and a "system" tends to overlook that fundamental fact. Public education evolved to provide the basics of education - reading, writing and arithmetic. After that, individuals were expected to add to their education on their own initiative.
With every addition to the public school curriculum, Rees suggests, the end of required basic education is postponed and real education of the individual delayed.
Throwing money at education problems won't solve them, he says. His solution, as I read between the lines of his letter, is to have a system to provide basic education and then complete the process at home with the resources available through libraries, industry and business, colleges and trade schools.
He admits that approach has a fatal flaw."There is one thing missing, and that is to convince parents to come home and do their part. Unfortunately, there is no systemic solution for that problem. Laws can't do it. Bosses could help, if they would, but most bosses think they have a vested interest in promoting the greed that keeps their workers doing overtime. Every real solution is an individual one."
And there you have it. Two solutions - diametrically opposed - to the problem. Obviously, changing education in Utah isn't going to be easy.