Maybe when parents see their children turned down for a job because the only thing they have is a certificate of high school attendance, they will be outraged enough to act.

The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) released its test report on current high school graduates showing that one-fourth of students did not pass their new "competency" test. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, expressed his disappointment: "We have to remember this one-quarter of the students who didn't pass are the students who are left in the system. There's another 20 percent or so who have dropped out additionally. We're turning out young people into an adult world who do not have basic life skills" (Deseret Morning News, June 6).

What is unfortunate is that it doesn't matter, because USOE is testing for skills for an economy that no longer exists.

"The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era, an era in which most workers needed only a rudimentary education. It is not possible to get where we have to go by patching that system ...We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself," (Tough Choices or Tough Times, The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of The American Workforce).

Our nation's ability to compete in the world marketplace is rapidly being surpassed by nations that are gearing their education systems to do so. The result is they now have better-educated students than U.S. students in math, science and general literacy. The new economy calls for creativity, innovation, the ability to think abstractly, work with teams and the ability to adapt to change. Utah appears to primarily focus on teaching students to learn facts to pass tests.

Our policymakers do not seem to see any need for restructuring education for the global economy. Employers worldwide can now hire talent anywhere in the world, and more and more are looking beyond our nation. Policymakers appear content to satisfy the vested interest groups, rather than making the bold change needed. They have polarized our citizens by passing confusing laws on vouchers and testing requirements, and by micromanaging curriculum and imposing burdensome regulations, none of which makes sense or has anything to do with making sure our students are able to succeed in today's highly competitive world.

Some elected and education leaders are stuck on the "achievement gap" between minorities and white students; with a 25 percent failure rate revealed in the competency tests, maybe they should be concerned about the "international gap." As Tom Friedman has pointed out, we should be concerned about the "ambition gap" where Americans have gotten lazy and have a sense of entitlement; the "numbers gap" in that we are not producing enough engineers and scientists; and the "educational gap."

The USOE has shown its inability to change; and legislators, except for a few, seem unwilling to use their political capital to do anything but business as usual. The "Tough Choices or Tough Times" report offers voters innovative ideas for restructuring our schools for the new economy. It provides a beginning blueprint for action for voters and their legislators to start renewing our education system so our children are able to close the "international gap."


Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net