Some of the state's movers and shakers of K-12 public education didn't mince words while discussing how to improve the future of education in Utah.

Members of a panel addressed hot-button issues this past week, including local control, large school districts versus small, and the power of the Utah Legislature.

"Frankly, we have a Legislature which acts like a giant school board, deciding the general control and supervision of education," said Kim Burningham, past chairman, Utah State Board of Education.

Panel members also suggested education improvements, including boosting alliances between lower and higher education, and better enabling kids to compete in a global high-tech society.

"We are preparing students for a future we can't even envision yet," said Kim Campbell, president, Utah Education Association.

The panel event Tuesday was co-sponsored by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Utah Foundation. It was held at the University of Utah.

Addressing what changes are needed in school governance or organizational structures to promote educational success, Burningham said, "What you're really asking is where should the power be for supervising education."

He didn't hesitate to bring up the recent voucher debate and the state school board refusing to go along with "the pressures that came from the Legislature."

Burningham continued, saying he agrees with reducing large school districts such as splitting Jordan School District. However, equalization is important, he said, otherwise you have "rich district and poor district."

He mentioned there is talk in national education publications of a growing trend toward federal control of education. "I still believe education is best locally taken care of," he said, except in certain situations, such as state core curriculum, for example.

In discussing preparing students for life after high school, panel member Christine Kearl, education director, governor's office, said the K-16 Alliance has been focusing on steering students through the pipeline to higher education. "Those conversations don't just end with the twelfth grade," Kearl said.

Campbell said many of the jobs the students are preparing for don't even exist yet. They need critical thinking and communications skills. "The teacher quality issue becomes paramount," she said.

Collaboration, mentoring and professional development are all imperative for teachers — along with salary improvements, Campbell said.

Andrea Rorrer, director, Utah Education Policy Center, summed up the panel's statements, saying, "We have a lot of dedicated individuals ... who really want to have a thriving educational system." She is also assistant professor of Education Leadership and Policy.

Utah Foundation is a 60-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Salt Lake City. Its goal is to provide research on issues to educate voters and candidates alike. The mission is to increase quality of life in Utah. For more information, go to

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