Originally published in Deseret News.
We don’t need the destruction of public education — we need a disruption and transformation of public education. With an eye toward individualization, every child down every street in America must have the opportunity to learn in a way that unlocks his or her potential.
I hope you share my exasperation with the strident voices at both ends of the education debate. Those loud and usually shrill voices ensure we all stay a safe distance from actually solving the problems and challenges our education system faces today.
Those who believe public education is an evil system are wrong. Those who believe we shouldn’t raise another penny for education are wrong. Those who believe bureaucrats in Washington and powerful unions have all the answers are wrong. Those who advocate that more money alone will fix education are also wrong.
Will we need to invest more in education? YES! AND — before we make such an investment — we should have a serious and elevated conversation about what it is we are building, how we will invest, what we will measure and what we will achieve for our students as a result.
The promise of a renewed and elevated education dialogue rests on two main ideas: (1) Education requires that we meet the unique needs of the child, and (2) education calls for the empowerment of parents, students and taxpayers to create learning paths as unique as each student.
World-renowned expert on disruptive innovation Clayton Christensen of Harvard University recognizes the need for significant disruption at every level of education. He regularly challenges educators, administrators, business leaders, policymakers and parents to engage in a different kind of conversation about what we are trying to accomplish in education.
The impulse to improve education is a noble one, but approach is as important as intent. Some education advocates perennially call for more money in schools. Such a reform sees only half the problem with the status quo and half the opportunity to transform it. Money alone does not create improvement. Money is only as good as the ideas and innovation it funds.
We should invest — and possibly even increase our investment — in ideas and innovation that give students the opportunity to choose an educational path that meets their unique needs. We should not simply invest in the current system or be satisfied with incremental improvement in a system that is inadequate to meet the needs of 21st-century students. Teachers and administrators are the champions of education. They work tirelessly to guide students to their potential. On the door to a teachers lounge in an elementary school, I once read a quote that said, “We the overworked and underpaid have been done so much, for so long, with so little that we now believe we can do anything with absolutely nothing.”
Teacher shortages and dissatisfaction have increased in recent years, for a number of reasons. Exhaustion, exasperation and too many talented teachers exiting public education are a result of teachers daily experiencing the frustration of burdensome regulations, extraneous requirements and a lack of meaningful reform.
It’s time for serious disruptive innovation in education. Education needs big, bold ideas. It needs transparency and accountability. It needs adequate funds focused on the needs of 21st-century students. Education needs leaders, inside and outside of the system, who will question outdated assumptions and engage in a different conversation about where we are, where we are going and what we will need to do to build tomorrow’s education system — beginning today.
I have never met anyone who is satisfied with mediocre results for our students. We may disagree on the methods, policies and processes, but we can all agree that we must put the uniqueness of each child first if we are going to build a public education system that will last.
That is where we must begin. Every Utahn should participate in an elevated conversation about the future of education.