The future of education in Utah must include more creativity and accountability but less bureaucracy, according to a strategic plan drafted by a legislative study committee and released Saturday.
The 30-member Legislative Strategic Planning Committee for Education released its mission statement after a three-day retreat at Snowbird.Public education in Utah must be restructured and must emphasize creativity, according to the plan's first draft. Parents and teachers must become more involved, as education shareholders, and must also accept accountability for the system's successes and failures, the committee members said.
The education system's mission "is to assure Utah the best-educated citizenry in the world and each individual the training to succeed in a global society, by providing students learning and occupational skills, character development, literacy and basic knowledge through a responsive statewide system that guarantees local school communities autonomy, flexibility and client choice, while holding them accountable for results," the mission statement adopted by the committee states.
Committee members - representing teachers, school administrators, the legislature, business and other interest groups - said the statement revolutionizes education in Utah.
Acknowledging that the mission statement and goals are broad, committee members also emphasized the statement is only a first step. The details, such as funding and how teachers and parents will share accountability, are yet to be filled in.
Every aspect of education in the state, including how it is funded, was "put on the table" for examination by the committee, according to Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, a legislative representative.
Barlow said while he doesn't believe making the major shifts in emphasis that the plan calls for will require an increase in funding or tax hikes, if more money is needed "we'll lobby hard for it."
What is needed, Barlow said, is to increase the per-capita income of Utah households to broaden the state's tax base. A broader tax base makes funding a superior education system easier, he said.
Utah Education Association president Lily Eskelsen, also a committee member, said she enthusiastically supports the committee's mission statement. "They're beautiful words," Eskelsen said.
"This statement is not going to be easily understood by everyone," Eskelsen said. "We're talking about choice and accountability, but accountability by everyone in the school system. We want to put the public back into public education."
Revamping the school system will make "educators responsible for student learning, nor for bureaucratic rules and regulations," said John Bennion, superintendent of Salt Lake schools and current chairman of the state superintendents association.
"The emphasis is on restructuring. The emphasis is on creativity and learning," Bennion said.
Eskelsen said the mission statement is broad enough that she believes it will address two top UEA priorities, teacher salaries and class size.
"How these issues are addressed will tell us how serious the public is about these issues," Eskelsen said. "The words are beautiful. They're a framework. The next step is to begin filling in the details."
The statement puts more emphasis on teachers as professionals, not "blue-collar workers on the assembly line of education," Eskelsen said, adding she believes it will boost sagging teacher morale in the state by restoring their self-esteem.
One of the strategies included for achieving the goals calls for "energizing our system of public education by attracting and retaining educators from among our best and brightest citizens through an aggressive plan to elevate its stature as a profession and compensate in a competitive way."
Gov. Norman Bangerter did not attend the three-day retreat or press conference but issued a statement endorsing the committee's statement.
"A clearly defined vision for public education in the next few years is critical if we are to prepare our citizens to compete in a global economy," the governor said in a statement issued during the press conference in the State Capitol.
"I believe that the work of this committee is a strong foundation for remaking Utah the model of education for the nation," Bangerter said.
Bangerter's education aide, Colleen Colton, shied away from endorsing a revamping of the funding system for education, saying the governor is committed to the current funding program in the upcoming legislative session.
The four objectives of public education in Utah, according to the committees mission statement, are:
-All students will achieve the objectives of their individually developed educational/occupational plans.
-Each student departing the public schools will achieve success in productive employment and/or further education.
-Utah education will be the standard worldwide.
-Utah will achieve the highest per-household income in America.