Keeping our promises: Part 4

Utah State Board of Education Chairwoman Debra Roberts, District 15

In my previous blog entries I have spoken about the imperative of public education as a foundation for our understanding of who we are as American citizens and about the educational promises that we must keep.  I would now like to turn to the future and where we need to go from here.

As we build upon the foundation of Promises to Keep, we are constantly looking to the transformation that must take place in how we educate children to meet their needs in this ever-changing world. We must recognize that every child learns in a little different way, has different interests, needs, talents. Too often in the past we have had one-size-fits-all instruction and curriculum that has not helped our students lift themselves to their individual potential. Our phenomenal Utah teachers are recognizing this more and more in the way they work with students, the way they present the core curriculum. We must do more to support this shift in focus from groups or classes of students to individual students.

At the same time, we are working with the first generation who does not remember a world without computers, cell phones and numerous other technological advances. Our instruction must embrace the world of our students and use technology to help them learn to think, communicate and interact in this new and challenging world. While the educational premises, the foundational promises are in place, they must be enhanced and strengthened with the technology at our fingertips. No more is it a matter of cramming growing minds with facts, but helping them progress within individual capability to find information when they need it, process and interpret that information, link it, build upon it and use it within their individual roles in life. We must teach them not only to know, to think, but take that knowing and thinking to contribute to the world around them. That means that the learning that takes place inside and outside of school must be linked, that instruction must be based on real-world problems and solutions.

This kind of transformation will demand the best of our educational system, the best of our families and our communities.  It will require changes in how we view teaching and learning; openness to different schooling models; broad use of the technologies the vast majority of students use at home but sometimes aren’t even allowed to bring to school; and acceptance that diversity, while bringing challenges, also brings great opportunity.

Our challenge now becomes: How do we get there? I believe we begin by strengthening each of the four core promises outlined in Promises to Keep: Ensuring literacy and numeracy, providing high quality instruction, establishing curriculum with high standards and relevance, and requiring effective assessment to inform high quality instruction and accountability. And as we do so, we must embrace a new educational paradigm, which will require an unprecedented focus on technology, individuality, collaboration, flexibility and diversity.

The challenges are intense, but I truly believe if any state has the capacity to get there, it is Utah. Our commitment to volunteerism, the collaboration prevalent throughout the K-20 arena and our willingness to embrace technology, as exhibited by the infrastructure in place for Internet connectivity across the state — all undergirded by our heritage of commitment to educational attainment — will push us to get where we need to be.

To borrow a phrase from Robert Frost, we indeed have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep …

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