October 13, 2008

Lawmakers’ Patchwork Rules Hurting Education

By John Florez

Bridge to nowhere? How about an education to nowhere? That's what the Utah Legislature has been doing -- wasting time and money over how public education should operate -- yet none can tell us what it is supposed to produce; it's all about process, rather than results. It's the education to nowhere.

We are "A Nation at Risk," warned the National Commission on Excellence in Education decades ago of our outdated education system; yet our lawmakers continue to ignore the warnings at the most critical time of our nation's history -- the need to prepare our students to succeed in today's global economy. We need only to look at the financial crisis we are in for the failure of our national leaders, to see what ignoring does. Our state education policy and lawmakers tell us our education system is doing better and all they need is to make a few adjustments here and there, add more money, change school boards, add vouchers, more testing and better pay for teachers.

Now the latest idea is "merit pay" for teachers, with the assumption it will improve the education of our kids. Utah lawmakers gave one-time funding to pilot merit pay for teachers; and, even though legislators complain about the State School Board, they directed them to come up with a plan for implementing the program. True to form, the board did "pass the buck" to local school boards interested in the few dollars they would get if they came up with a plan for defining what constitutes teaching that merits more pay. Some districts chose not to participate, figuring it was more trouble than it was worth, and fearing possible wrath of some teachers and the union. What this exercise in futility shows is how slick some policymakers and bureaucrats are in avoiding blame -- spreading the responsibility throughout government so thin that no one can be held accountable.

What is most dangerous is that it puts our children and our nation in peril at a time when a key part of the solution to our financial crisis is to invest in the most valuable resource we have, our people and their ability to make our economy succeed. We now see many of our students lacking the world-class education to succeed, while other nations are passing us by. And we will continue down that slippery slope until citizens demand the reform of our system, and parents make an equal demand on themselves to help and have expectations of their children to learn.

All the busy work and patchwork fixes lawmakers keep coming up with to improve education only compound the problem. They fail to understand that the most important element in education is the quality of the teachers and creating an environment in which they can practice their profession without all the regulations and second- guessing on how they should teach. Teaching is not only a profession, but an art; the ability to motivate, challenge and have students experience the passion for learning. That cannot be legislated; matter of fact, it's legislation that has killed education in today's schools. That's one reason education today is a road to nowhere.

Legislators should take the time to determine the direction of education for the 21st century. And it starts with recruiting the best and the brightest college students to become teachers, compensating them at the front end as successful businesses do and treating them as we do other professionals. Treat them with respect and trust their ability to bring out the talent and curiosity every child is born into the world with. Imagination and creativity, along with the basic skills, are required for America to succeed. Let teachers teach.

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]

(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.