New Feature: Utah ‘Genius Panel’ Focuses on Education

icons V1 02Utah Policy Daily has convened a “Genius Panel” – a group of thoughtful Utah leaders who will respond to questions on important public policy topics. Each week a question will be sent to them. They can choose to respond, or not, depending on the question and whether they feel they have something insightful to say.

Responses will be published each Monday in UPD.

This week’s question:

Changes enabled by advanced technology have disrupted many businesses and industries, including communications, publishing, taxi services, television, telecommunications, and so forth. Are public education and higher education now being disrupted, and how should our education institutions and the Legislature respond?

Larry V. Lunt, businessman, former State Representative, state Republican chair, and brigadier general, retired. The disruption by technological advances of public and higher education has begun, and it will accelerate in the future.  This is not only how it is, but it is also how it should be.  Higher education in the future will be driven by online and distance learning.  Western Governors University and BYU-Idaho are examples of this.  The cost of higher education is unsustainable and online, and distance learning greatly reduces the cost of buildings and staff.  Competency testing and evaluation will increase.  The end results are more important than the means by which those results are achieved.

Parents, educators, and policymakers need to be more aware of how technology is shaping the rising generation.  More effort needs to be made to help young people understand acceptable uses of personal devices in the classroom.  Technology will increasingly be an essential part of the delivery of public education.  Hopefully, this will make public education more market-driven.  Open market principles can be a great benefit to the education of our young people.  To implement more open market principles in public education will require a willingness of parents, educators, and policy makers to be willing to accept change because change will come.  The question is how hard will it be for stakeholders to adjust to change.   

Robert Spendlove, State Representative and Zions Bank executive.Technological innovations are improving lives and making our world a better place to live.  However, these technologies are also causing disruptions to those who can’t change and adapt quickly.  We all collectively benefit from advanced technology, but the maker of an obsolete product or process can be hurt when society moves on.  

The traditional education structure is based on the concept of in-person classroom instruction, using textbooks, lecture, and testing to educate.  However, modern technology has enabled greater use of customizable virtual instruction and real-time assessment to help students learn.  

This doesn’t eliminate the need for teachers.  In fact, it can help make teachers more effective and give them the tools to transition from lecturers to learning facilitators.

Policymakers should work closely with the education community to identify the most effective ways to embrace and incorporate advanced technology into the classroom.  Students are already prepared for this change and are already thriving in the new disrupted world.  

Teachers and administrators, however, will continue to struggle to keep up with the change.  That is why policymakers must also do all they can to prepare and train teachers and educators with the skills to adapt to these new technologies.  

Maura Carabello, public affairs and communications consultant and owner of Exoro Group. Disruptive technology may be great to advance innovation, technology, and new thinking, but for some societal systems, it can leave both a wide wake and a list of unintended consequences. I think institutional policy-making should be steeped in clear principles and rely on knowledge of experts in the field.

Legislation resulting from fear and emotions, anecdotes, single outlier instances or slippery slope arguments make clunky laws that mire institutions and often restrict good choices of individuals and organizations. Laws seeking to anticipate every instance are not as valuable as good intent language and focused policy objectives – this is even more true for rulemaking in new territory when the technology may be changing as the drafting is going on. 

Good new policy (specifically in this scenario focused on technology) addresses the larger issues, sets the position of the institution and allows for a nimble and customized response from the implementing agencies.  This approach serves to amplify the progress of disruption while protecting our community’s values, established rules, and foundations.

Boyd C. Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute; former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee. American education is facing stagnant national scores, low Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, ineffective federal initiatives and—in higher education—outrageous student loan debt. Families and students are looking for changes in quality, flexibility and outcomes are a driving force in the disruption. 

The knee-jerk reaction at the state and federal level is to throw more money at the problem despite a mountain of data and an ocean of evidence that show such a strategy rarely produces positive results.  It is vital to remember that disruption is rightly responded to with innovation rather than a mere investment of money.

A marketplace of educational options and a culture that respects the unique, individual learning needs of students is step one.  Then driving specific policies that create a free market of education choices for parents and students is required.

For example, five states have implemented Education Savings Accounts, allowing parents to access state funds to customize their child’s education. In higher education affordability and accreditation are areas needing reform. Bad federal policy is the root cause of much of the dysfunction, and legislation like the HERO Act could be transformational.

Utah’s Legislature should drive policies giving educational institutions incentives to adopt innovative, flexible programs that meet student needs. Likewise, our policies should allow parents the freedom to look at innovative options outside of the traditional educational institutions as well.

Todd Weiler, State Senator and corporate attorney. Yes, I expect that public and higher education will continue to be disrupted by technology. I saw a silly movie decades ago where college students were placing tape recorders in their classroom rather than sitting through the lecture. Eventually, even the professor followed suit.  The end result was a room full of recorders, without any people. 

That scene was a cheap attempt at satire, but may have also been strangely prophetic. We may no longer need a teacher to repeat the same lectures over and over to a room full of students. 

The classroom of the future may be virtual in almost every sense. Computer adaptive testing is already helping teachers identify the precise nature of the subject with which a student needs help.  

Human teachers will never be completely replaced. Not should they be.

Rich McKeown, former governor’s chief of staff and CEO, Leavitt Partners. Education is in need of disruption.  We are stagnant in our thinking and our approach. Technology has permitted nearly seamless flow of information and hosts remarkable content.

It is time to marry technology and public education and disrupt it by systems that drive positive change.  Measuring education attainment by competency rather than credit hour is the driver.   Applying the Western Governor’s University model by measuring competency and utilizing technology would drive such change.  Additionally, it would permit students to accelerate and find ways to adequately lift those who are falling behind.   

LaVarr Webb. I believe education is in the process of disruption. But progress won’t occur automatically. Education needs reform, choice – and more money. We won’t become a top 10 state for education if we’re last in the country in per-pupil spending. We need to pay teachers more, provide more technology, expand early childhood education and embrace other reforms. Improvement will come incrementally, not with some magic bullet. Excellence in every phase of education will cost more money.

The investment is worth it. Education is the future of our children, grandchildren and the economic well-being of our state.