Downsize, customize, local control and accountable for outcomes. That was the gist of the report made by the “Education Task Force” created last year by Utah’s legislative leadership (SB169) “to provide long term education policies that would improve the state’s economic prosperity.”
But what if you lead and nobody follows? The task force report was supposed to guide legislators in formulating policies that would accomplish the mission it laid out by leadership. Somehow, legislators didn’t get the message they were supposed to follow the mission set out in the report. Even before the 2014 session started, there were already over 60 bills filed and more waiting on deck. None, or some tangentially, may relate to the task force’s mission. One member introduced an old bureaucratic monkey wrench – another governing board to integrate education and workforce data — the "Governance of the Utah Education Workforce Alliance and Utah Futures," (SB34).
It shows what’s wrong with education — a lack of leadership and discipline on the part of individual members. That’s why public education is in a state of constant chaos and mired in trying to implement the myriad of laws passed each year. It’s a sham on taxpayers because everyone knows — lawmakers and administrators – that no one can comply with all the laws that change each year. The rhetoric of politicians wanting less government, cutting waste, and more local control rings hollow.
The task force report pointed out the public believed the state school board lacked accountability. What it failed to point out is there is no accountability throughout the education governance system, starting with the legislature that is responsible for establishing and maintaining education. It’s the governance structure that needs to be renewed for today’s digital economy.
Until there is visionary leadership ready to restructure the governance that can downsize and customize public education and determine who is responsible for outcomes in education, the system will continue to flounder, be more wasteful and costly, with the losers being our students languishing in today’s classrooms.
The legislature should limit its ad hoc law making habits and instead give policy direction and monitor progress through legislative oversight. They should appoint state school board members and limit the state school board to three functions: establishing state academic standards, selecting and training teachers and creating performance contracts with local school districts. Local school districts then would be accountable for performance outcomes, rewarded for results, and contracts would be terminated for non-performance. This would allow for local school districts to customize their programs and be accountable to parents and taxpayers, and would promote innovation and bottom up planning.
The results would be downsizing and establishing accountability throughout the system. Most important, parents would have a say in determining their student’s education and receiving the support to do so. A successful education system is one that has a clear vision and invites all to participate in making it a reality. It should create an environment where teachers are eager to come and ready to motivate and challenge students to learn, and where students are ready to learn and move on at their own pace.
All we need are leaders who have a vision and are able to get their colleagues to work together and trust the wisdom of local citizens in helping determine the future of education for tomorrow’s workforce.
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast