When we see the word "education" we are apt to think of the school we went to, or the one our kids are going to. From a legislative perspective it becomes all too easy to think of education as a very big and very high priority budget item. A teacher or principal might be inclined to think of their job. All of these are valid perspectives, but ultimately they miss the point. A child's education, in fact all of our education, is going on all the time. In school, at work, at church, or even while playing our education goes on. I look over at my ten-year-old son on the computer right now and I see that he is learning how to build a virtual building. It may not amount to much, but he is developing a sense of design and proportion. Maybe this will feed into a desire to explore the world of architecture. The rest of my family is out on a walk, getting to know each other and taking in a little bit of the outdoors. I am practicing my writing skills and working on creating an interesting and persuasive essay to convey some of my thoughts on education.
Starting with that broad look, I start to narrow my scope to children's education. That's where the state spends a big chunk of tax money and where we spend a significant amount of time crafting public policy. Clearly getting the education question right is vitally important to us. So what exactly is the right answer to ensuring that a child gets a good education. More fundamentally, what does a good education even look like?
As soon as I try to define what a good education is, I hit a roadblock right off the bat. What amounts to a good education for a budding engineer would be wasted on someone interested in accounting. Someone who scores well on tests and can pay attention for long periods of times needs an entirely different approach than someone with any level of autism spectrum disorder. Even among my own five children, coming from exactly the same gene pool, I see very wide variation. So, it becomes clear to me that what a good education is has a lot of dependence on who we are talking about. Yes, we can come up with some broad commonalities. All but the most disabled can and should learn to read, write and do basic mathematics. But, beyond that, ideas diverge rapidly. Some believe that every child should learn to play a musical instrument, others believe that some level of science is important. And the level a child should achieve in a given area is by no means a settled discussion.
Through all of this, however, there is one nearly universal thread. Each child has two parents who are engaged and involved in the child's life. There are two people in that child's life who most likely care for and know him or her better than anyone possibly could. They can see who is the budding artist, or scientist or author. They can know who is struggling academically and who is just coasting. What that tells me as a policy maker is that the first and most important plank in my education policy has to be parental involvement and empowerment. All other considerations have to be secondary to this. This not only makes good sense to me, but numerous studies show that the single best predictor of a child's success is parental involvement.
Unfortunately, passing legislation mandating lots of parental involvement is waste of time. We have a large and complex education system. Giving parents the tools and desire to work with their child in successfully navigating it requires looking at many facets. Just a few things are strengthening community councils, increasing transparency of school operations and student progress, giving parents the ability to customize their child's education, and creating collaberative tools to aid parents in working with teachers. The list could go on for a long time, but I firmly believe that any time we get parents more involved in a constructive way, we will have a better educational outcome for our kids.
The other major plank in my education platform is getting highly qualified, motivated and well compensated teachers in the classroom. Looking back on my own experience in school, I can say without hesitation that a good teacher fostered a love of learning and had an effect far beyond the classroom. A poor teacher was simply endured and quickly forgotten. Utah has a unique and difficult situation with regards to education and funding, but I believe that we must always look for ways to get well-qualified, motivated and compensated teachers in front of every child.