Who is running education in Utah these days?
The question is germane because the times call for some well-defined leadership while, it seems to me, there's some confusion as to who should be carrying Utah's educational ball, when, and how.The time element is critical because the state is standing on the brink of significant change.
Call it reform. Call it restructuring. Call it renewal. Whatever you call it, there's a move afoot to change education in Utah.
During an excellent conference at Highland High School last week, state school officers outlined some of the ways change might occur. Attendance and participation outstripped expectations, evidence that interest is high among Utah educators and education-promoters.
At the root of it all is a mission statement and philosophy outline - the Shift in Focus. The document was developed by a broad-based commission and accepted by the State Board of Education this winter. Now it is going the rounds of the education community for review, study and comment.
I have to admit to being a convert to the concept. The first time I heard its basic premise - individualized education for every Utah child, I called it something like "pie in the sky," a new plan that would call for huge infusions of money.
With time to look more closely, I begin to see the potential, much of which could be accomplished within the financial limits Utah seems always to face.
Having been converted to the concept, my concern has shifted somewhat. Now I'm not asking so much "will it work?" but "who will make it work?"
Strong, vital, dynamic leadership is essential for a cohesive effort, instead of the higgledy-piggledy patchwork that might occur without such leadership.
At the time when the demand for exceptional leadership is evident, however, there is some disarray in the system.
There is dissension in Utah's education community beyond the normal friction that is bound to exist between governance levels.
At the above-mentioned conference, Gov. Norm Bangerter announced several directions that Utah education is to take over the next few years. His proposals parallel the Shift in Focus. Why didn't such proclamations come from the State Board as the major steward of the plan? Or at least as a joint declaration from the governor and board?
The governor, who has declared himself an "education governor," has a stake in forming policy. He also has created an advisory committee, a youth "academy" and other programs. They aren't bad ideas, and may even be good ideas, but their creation - or at least their execution - would seem logically to fall within the bailiwick of the state board.
The Utah House of Representatives has manifested discontent with the present method of selecting the state board, an indirect attack on the way the board functions. Many legislators, in fact, see the Legislature as a "super board" for education and some say that's board enough to do the job.
The splintering of the Education Coordinating Council, the baby of Superintendent James R. Moss, is a manifestation of deeper problems between him and his board in their relationship to local boards and local superintendents.
Dissatisfaction and distrust among all the entities involved, from the governor and Legislature down through the state board, superintendent, and state office and on to the local level, are causes for concern.
Perhaps reform should begin at the top. Why don't all the interests of education get together, define their roles and then function within those definitions?
I'd have to be really naive to suppose it possible to eliminate all friction at the points where governance levels meet. But isn't it possible to establish some broad guidelines and decide who is going to do what?
There are already such guidelines, many would say. Maybe they're out of date. Obviously, they aren't working as well as they could. Perhaps a new direction in education calls for new relationships among educators.
Without some unity, without some leadership, without an end to divisive infighting, progressive change in Utah's schools will stumble along happenstance, never realizing its true potential.
Let's not shortchange our kids. If something is going to work, someone has to make it work. And in this case, it will take everyone, working cooperatively, to make it work.