Utah's education system needs a fundamental change of focus to prepare students to meet the challenges of the future, State School Board members agreed Friday.
Board members accepted a report by the Strategic Planning Commission which would put the student at the center of education, rather than the system.The plan has been in preparation for more than a year and a half and, with board acceptance, now will begin the rounds of education, public and other agencies for study and comment. No timelines have been established to put the plan into effect, though the commission hopes to begin reshaping Utah's system in the early 1990s.
The basic premise of the plan is contained in the commission's mission statement: The purpose of education is "To empower Utah's children to function effectively in the society in which they will live."
That society will be different from the industrial society that was the impetus for the current education system, said Robert Bennett, chairman of the planning commission.
"The industrial model worked for a long time. It doesn't any longer. That's no one's fault," he said.
The student-focused plan calls for a basic rethinking of education. It would change the roles of students, teachers, parents and administrators. It would entail a decentralization of education decisions, making the local school the point at which many such decisions would be made, with input from all of those concerned.
The six primary goals of the plan include:
-Involving students as full partners in their own education and making them accountable for their actions.
-Enlarging parental and community involvement to enhance school and student success.
-Establishing a curriculum and instruction delivery system with measurable outcomes.
-Ensuring that every school is an effective learning center with a positive learning climate.
-Increasing sensitivity, effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction of teachers, administrators and other educational professionals.
-Increasing educational productivity through technology.
While the first four goals could be achieved without additional expenditure, Bennett said, the last two might call for more money in the system.
Basic to the plan would be an individual Student Education Plan, developed by the student, parents and instructors. This would allow for consideration of individual differences in students, the plan says. The plan for any one student could include not only classroom work, but involvement in other programs outside the school setting, including business-supported vocational training.
They would advance as they were ready rather than according to age and accepted grade levels. Graduation would be more an individual event based on competency.
The role of parents would increase significantly, with their value as "first teachers and lifelong mentors" recognized.
Superintendents, principals and teachers would become managers of their learning centers. Schools would operate on a year-round basis, eliminating the concept of the "school year."
The plan envisions cooperative efforts among families, parents, the community and schools to meet the student's needs. Schools "need not be equal," except in the matter of access for any student who could benefit from a particular institution's programs.
Increasing rewards for educators - while requiring accountability from them -would "result in long-term returns for students and citizens," the document says.
Bennett said the strategic plans gives the state a tool to overcome the inertia that perpetuates a system that no longer meets needs.
While board members in general were positive about the plan, some felt it fell short in some details. Valerie Kelson suggested that it should require that school financing be tied to performance.
Board Chairman Keith Checketts said, however, that "too much specificity at this point could be counterproductive." As the plan circulates among those who are interested, changes and additional insights are likely, he said.
Member John M.R. Covey also asked, with the complexities of society and of education increasing, if there may come a time when schools cannot "continue to do everything for all students."
"The assumption that schools should do everything is one of the problems," Bennett said. A student-focused system could allow for dropping programs that don't meet direct student needs, he suggested.
The board expressed concern that all elements of education and government feel ownership in this major change in educational direction. The board will finalize the document only after it has been broadly circulated.