Upgrading Schools for a Digital World

Upgrading schools for a digital world by John Florez

If 65 percent of children entering school this fall may end up in careers that haven’t been invented, why do lawmakers think evaluating teachers annually will improve education?

According to a MacArthur Foundation study, 65 percent of students in today’s classrooms will be doing jobs that have not yet been created. So why do lawmakers want to evaluate teachers based on a system that is teaching kids for a world that no longer exists? Today’s students may not be doctors, lawyers, genetic counselors or app developers. “Even those digital-age careers will be old hat. Maybe … (they’ll be) … plying a trade none of us old-timers will even recognize as work,” according to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the MacArthur Foundation (“Education needs a digital-age upgrade, New York Times, Aug. 7).

The problem isn’t teachers. The problem is we have leaders who have not taken the time to understand how the world has changed. Our educational system is still educating students for jobs of the agrarian and industrial eras designed around production, grades, memorization, testing and time clocks. The new economy is driven by knowledge, creativity, innovation and imagination.

All jobs that can be automated, digitized or outsourced are gone, and the only security one has about a job is the ability to adapt, create and reinvent. Davidson says, “We can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they’re developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it.”

This year Utah lawmakers passed a law requiring annual evaluations for all teachers, believing the reason we had declining education rates was because of bad teachers and that annual evaluations would improve public education. They have directed each school district to develop its own teacher evaluation program. Such patchwork fixes to education not only create more needless and costly regulations for schools, but also divert and mask the main problem with education — it’s an old system that has not changed to keep pace with the times.

The Utah State Board of Education will soon be rolling out its own two-year study on teacher evaluation methods that will require schools to follow conflicting regulations — one by the state and one by the Legislature. It’s an example of why our schools are rudderless and in constant chaos. The board is once again creating a top-down planning process rather than involving front-line teachers in developing a fair and meaningful evaluation system.

Our policy makers should be humble enough to take the time to do what successful leaders do if they are serious about retooling our public education for the global economy: try to understand how the world has changed and what the future might look like; educate and inform citizens about the challenges they face; share a vision of what needs to be done; and invite the public to work to seek common solutions. Imposing power and demanding things only breeds contempt and resistance and shows a lack of trust and respect for the individual.

America is experiencing a leadership vacuum where our leaders are more concerned about ideology and egos, exploiting the fear of a changing and uncertain world for their own political gain, rather than calling upon the best in people. Our nation is crying for leaders who can understand how our world has changed and pull us together as other leaders have done in troubled times.

If we know 65 percent of the children starting school this month will be doing jobs yet to be invented, how can we allow them to languish in schools we know will fail to prepare them for their new world?

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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