The impacts of COVID-19 will reach beyond just the economy. We have students who will need the help of skilled and dedicated teachers to get them back on track after a school year that may have been less productive for some students, despite heroic efforts by educators and parents to minimize the impact of distance learning. Additionally, amid these heroic efforts, incredible advantages may have been learned, we should take a close look at the efforts made to see if there are best practices that can be implemented as education evolves. As governor, education will be a key component of our economic recovery efforts.
Utah’s long-term economic prosperity depends greatly on our ability to educate our students and prepare them to compete in a dynamic global marketplace. I think we all — educators, students and parents — have learned a great deal about the important role we all play in that effort over the past few months. I hope we all have a greater appreciation for the great work our teachers do, how important school is to the social development of our students and the role technology can play in helping our students outside the classroom. Let us use the experiences COVID-19 has forced upon us to be useful laboratories of what can be done differently to support teachers, empower students, and engage parents.
Our teachers do a tremendous job and they truly care about their students. We need to ensure they get the support they need, be it in professional development, classroom resources or giving them the freedom to utilize their talents without burdening them with unnecessary over-testing of our students. Just as I did when I was governor before, I will work with educators to ensure they get what they need to do their jobs effectively, I will fight to ensure they are treated and compensated like the professionals they are and I will champion efforts to ensure that what they are teaching is forward-thinking and that it prepares our students for the world they will compete in and to be lifelong learners. education system.
I support our public education system, but I also love innovation. As a dad of seven kids, one thing has become very clear to me: all kids learn differently. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all model that can always find that spark of genius that resides in every student. Some kids learn best in public schools, some in charter schools, some in accelerated courses, some while being homeschooled. We need to empower parents to find the right fit for their children. I won’t be satisfied with any education system that isn’t doing everything possible to help everyone reach their full potential.
This starts by keeping curriculum decisions at the most local level possible. The federal government has no business dictating what is taught and how it is taught, nor should they be allowed to withhold federal funding from states that stand up for their right to lead on education. When I was governor, I took Utah out of the federal No Child Left Behind program, much to the chagrin of then-President George W. Bush. You can expect me to stand in strong opposition to any effort by the federal government to meddle with Utah’s education system.
Likewise, the state should demand high-quality education, but must trust local school boards and educators to teach their students. We need to cut back on the standardized testing and give teachers more time to creatively engage with kids. Educators are at the crux of our public education system’s success or failure and we must treat them like the dedicated professionals they are. If we have all learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s just how tough it can be to inspire a kitchen table full of students — much less an entire classroom. Our teachers need on-going professional development opportunities and we need to be able to advance their compensation level without losing the best teachers to administrative roles.
COVID-19 has shown us that our rigidly structured K-12 system can be very agile when it has to be. Utah has been a leader of the school choice movement, and I would like to see us take some of the lessons we’re learning from this great experiment in remote learning and make permanent improvements to the system. This would mean more hybrid learning environments, more innovative options, and more opportunities to attract talent and resources to the project of educating the next generation.
Finally, the end result must be the focus of our educational priorities. We want highly-skilled, well-rounded students who graduate with the confidence and ability to compete in the global economy we now live in. Education must continue to evolve just like our economy is evolving. Students today are digital natives who are growing up in a world in which they can ask a question out loud to a disembodied robot and get an answer. Once fundamentals are established, we need less memorization and more emphasis on skills that will continue to be valuable even as technology increases. We can ensure our children are ready for the workforce by empowering businesses, educators, parents and students alike to reevaluate education priorities to ensure our students are prepared to succeed when they graduate.
As governor, I’ll work to ensure all Utah students have the opportunity to succeed.
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