Only when our cities were burning, with riots and civil disturbance in the 1960s, did the business leaders of the nation step forward to join government and other community leaders in solving our urban problems.
Now, it looks like Utah's business leaders are stepping forth to deal with our education crisis that we were warned about almost 28 years ago in "A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." They have started Prosperity 2020 to improve education for Utahns. As with business leaders in the '60s, they realize they have a corporate responsibility to make sure they have the workforce needed to succeed in today's global economy.
Business people make tough decisions every day and succeed because they apply sound business principles to their organizations. Yet, when trying to improve education, they lose sight of the most important commodity they bring to the table — their business acumen. They quickly succumb to the language of the enterprise, talking about partnerships, money and more of the same by listening to consultants who managed our failed schools in the past.
So they end up making a few adjustments — more money, teacher accountability, class size, — rather than dealing with the main problem: an outdated organizational structure that makes incremental changes for a world that is changing exponentially.
Simply put, it's a structural problem that requires structural solutions. To do less is to claim the operation was a success, but the patient died.
Mark Bouchard, a member of Prosperity 2020, and others seem to get it. They realize lawmakers micromanage education and make changes on a whim; that keeps our education system in constant chaos and immobilized. No business could survive in such an unstable regulatory environment, and with no clear vision about its core purpose.
Lawmakers neglect their responsibility to provide a clear vision and renew education's mission for today's changing world. They fail to define the expected outcomes our education system is supposed to deliver. They measure success by process and how well the system runs rather than measuring what happens to students when they leave school. Do they go on to higher education or find decent jobs? Successful companies are those that are customer driven, monitor progress and know how well their product is doing.
We must renew our schools for the digital world or become a second-class nation. Sixty-five percent of children now entering school will have jobs that have not yet been invented. So, it's not simply about money. It's about how we can prepare students for the new environment.
We can no longer afford tinkering with testing for jobs that won't exist. The digital world is strange to adults, but not to children who grew up in it. While the basic skills are important, the new economy requires knowledge, imagination, creativity and innovation, all of which are neglected in our educational system designed for a different era.
Our education system is rudderless and lacks leadership and accountability. Where does the buck stop: with the governor, the Legislature, state and or local school boards? Who sets policy? How is success measured? Now everyone and no one is responsible, so no one can be blamed for a broken system.
Business people that helped solve the urban crises of the '60s discovered money was not the answer. It was only when they used their political clout to elect and support lawmakers committed to carrying out their public duties that they got results. Prosperity 2020 leaders seem to understand that. However, if they don't deal with education's governance structure first, their good intentions will end up gathering dust on a bookshelf.
Prosperity 2020 leaders should be applauded and supported to get the job done.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.