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Schools must change to meet demands of global economy, official says

What if public schools became contract schools, guaranteeing kids would do well, treating teachers like professionals with different and flexible compensation packages and offering preschool and more help for disadvantaged kids?

Maybe then they would meet the demands of a global economy.

That is the message William E. Brock, former U.S. Senator from Tennessee, U.S. Trade Representative, Secretary of Labor, and member of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, brought to the legislative Education Interim Committee Wednesday.

"I'm terrified for the workforce of tomorrow," said Brock, noting U.S. high school graduation rates have gone from No. 1 in the world in the 1960s and '70s, and now lagging behind 13, maybe 20 nations.

He said it's not for lack of trying to improve. Education spending has increased 240 percent in 30 years. But national test score gains are miniscule, and 68 percent of high school freshmen are finishing school, and 18 percent who go on to college earn an associate's degree within three years, he said.

The system must go from preparing students for assembly line jobs to readying them for a workforce where 95 percent of jobs demand some type of post-secondary education.

Some commission recommendations are on the table for Utah legislators, including merit pay and more pay for teachers in tough or hard to fill jobs.

"It's nice to know we have support for those ideas from your group," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper and committee co-chairman.

The commission on the Skills of the American Workforce also recommends schools do the job right the first time, which could save $60 billion a year in what colleges spend getting students ready for college work.