What's wrong with education? One hundred and four legislators who make a plethora of policy changes each year. That's what's wrong.
Mark Bouchard, a member of Prosperity 2020, a statewide movement of Utah's business leaders to improve our education system, hit the nail on the head, "Every session, bills seek to manage curricula, terms of employment, commissioner selection, software purchases, even the contents of vending machines. A private business subjected to this kind of pressure would be 'doomed to failure.'"
Yet legislators keep piling on more laws with cosmetic fixes that only create chaos and are more costly and ineffective. They don't take the time to understand how the world has changed and how our educational system must be renewed to respond to today's digital world. They are the problem.
Lawmakers continue to make policy du jour, based on a whim or what a constituent brings up as the latest fad. Sen. Michael Waddoups set the tone for the quick fixes when he cautioned, " … lawmakers are obliged to listen to their constituents." Such a trite answer trivializes the problems legislators create. How do they justify passing laws based on what one constituent says, then ignore thousands of constituent signatures who want to change campaign-spending laws? It says volumes about lawmakers' commitment to working for the public good.
Sen. Aaron Osmond is the latest to offer the same silver bullet to fix education, teacher tenure. He says, "The real problem isn't morale or recruitment, but rather the fact that right now there's no incentive for teachers to perform at all." He obviously has not talked to front-line teachers who will tell him about the oppressive and overregulated environment in which they teach.
Then there are legislators who keep trying to pass laws on class size. Other lawmakers passed laws requiring greater accountability, transparency, grading schools and teacher performance. However, they have failed to establish what is the core purpose of education and how to measure what our education system produces. They compound the problem by grading how well the system runs, not what it produces. Teachers are the scapegoats for the failure of legislative leadership.
Our schools were designed for the industrial revolution where repetition, sequential steps and mass production were required; they haven't changed much. Today's children grew up with the Internet where they are challenged with the distributed information economy of the 21st century, yet they are tested on how to live and work in an economy of the 20th century. We keep turning to education experts who managed the outdated system and tend to rehash and tweak old ideas. They dismiss the digital world today's children take as a given. Adults discourage multitasking, yet children today are sharing, social networking, able to connect information from one network to another and cloud computing.
It's what the digital economy requires: collaboration, sharing, imagination, invention and innovation. Yet our schools continue to test for the old economy, instead of preparing students for jobs yet to be created. The renewal of our education system will require bold structural changes as well as rethinking how our children have learned to live and use the tools and resources of today's interconnected world. Students are limited by adults' ability to allow them to explore, share and imagine the world they will create, and by educators and policymakers who continue to believe the old classrooms and lesson plans are still relevant.
If concerned business people and parents want students to be prepared to succeed in the digital world, they better fix what's wrong with education and elect lawmakers who have the courage to retool our schools for the digital era.
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.