Facebook Twitter

John Florez: Outdated U.S. educational system needs reform

SHARE John Florez: Outdated U.S. educational system needs reform

Board exams for 16-year-olds so they can go to college? Contract with parents and teachers to run schools? State takes over control for financing schools and the hiring and training of teachers? Limit school boards' authority to monitoring school contracts? Substantially improve teacher salaries while reducing benefits? And, what about paying teachers more for working in rural areas and in at-risk schools?

All sound radical, but tough times call for tough choices. Those are some of the recommendations in the "Tough Choices Or Tough Times" report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The recommendations come after the commission studied how fast the world had changed since its first report, "America's Choice, High Skills or Low Wages," 16 years ago.

The new report chronicles the mounting problems our country has faced since then, and makes recommendations designed to assist the nation and states with renewing our schools. This would help the United States to regain its ability to succeed in the new economy. According to the commission, "The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era. ... We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself."

One of the greatest threats to our quality of life is that we continue to rest and relish in our past successes. We keep believing we are an economic leader in the world; yet other nations such as China and India are emerging as the next economic powers by producing a more educated work force.

And Utahns are no different. Our experts keep telling us we are doing better, and political leaders seem content to make a few cosmetic changes, such as tinkering with vouchers and an archaic education governance structure, including school boards. They fail to focus on the real challenges confronting our society.

Globalization has changed the world's economic landscape, and other nations are taking advantage of the new opportunities brought about by change. The Internet, communication, new technology and demographics have empowered not only nations, but individuals as well. Creativity and innovation are the necessary currencies to succeed.

The digital world has made it possible for employers around the world to retain the services of educated and skilled workers anywhere in the global marketplace — and at less cost. While American engineers, on average, earn $45,000 a year, Indian engineers earn $7,500 a year — and there are more of them. The report estimates that China and India are graduating, with comparable qualifications, a combined 135,000 engineers a year compared with our 60,000. And it's not just about engineering. It's about mathematics, science and technology, as well.

China and India get it, as do other fast-developing nations. The advantage other nations have is that they are basically building their educational systems from scratch. While America's educational system was once the model others tried to emulate, many nations are now more effective in producing students with world-class standards. The United States is stuck trying to change an outdated system that has many special-interest groups concerned only about their survival.

The report is intended to provide a framework to begin a national dialogue to reform our schools. It has already drawn criticism from those within the system. But concerned citizens and their state leaders will find it important reading and a guide for taking action in educating our students for an ever-changing world. For more information on the report, visit www.skillscommission.org.

Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations and has 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