Currently Utah has a subject-driven education system with inadequate financial support. The results, at best, are average or below on any measure. This is an unacceptable education condition for the children of our state. Establishing high-quality education requires that the state implement student-oriented education. If this is accomplished, the benefits to Utah and its children will be substantial.

The differences between subject-dominated education, as currently practiced, and student-oriented education, as proposed, can be readily articulated:

Subject dominated education: The Legislature and State Board of Education establish a curriculum that becomes the boss of teachers, requiring them to try to make students uniform in knowledge and skills. Teachers, parents and students are slaves to the specified curriculum that is required for graduation. Parents, students and teachers have little or no voice in what is to be learned. Teachers are not valued as professionals and not allowed to make decisions to guide the education of each student outside of the parameters which have been set.

Results: Although most of the students graduate from high school, only a small percentage of them develop their innate talents and gifts. Many students do not like school and some drop out before graduating. Bullying and school induced suicides sometimes occur.

Student-oriented education: Teachers unite with parents and students to use a curriculum of thousands of subjects as their servants to help students develop their unique talents, interests and abilities to grow as individuals. Teachers, parents and students are in charge of curriculum in student-oriented schools. Students keep portfolios and other records to show when they are ready to graduate and be contributors to society. Teachers are valued and respected as professionals who have the expertise to work with parents to guide students and to draw forth outstanding student achievement.

Results: Students love school. There is no bullying. Nearly every student develops unique talents and excels in some area of accomplishment. Graduation is personalized with each student giving an elaborate presentation of knowledge attainment, talents developed, services rendered and a plan for being a contributor to society. Teachers are valued and respected as professionals.

If the citizens of Utah and especially legislators and state school board members can get a clear vision of what student-oriented education is, we can begin to take steps leading to it. The main concept is simple — curriculum is determined by the needs of students. That’s it. No more standardization and useless testing. Individual talents, interests and aspirations are recognized and developed, and basic skills are learned better and at the right time for each student. All high school courses will be elective and no class will contain any student who does not want to be there.

When we change to student-oriented education, teachers will be able to perform as professionals, trusted to provide a more joyful and effective school experience for all children. Curriculum will be developed that supports the individual interest of each child. Utah will be the only state where teachers are highly respected, where parents are in partnership with teachers and where students enjoy going to school. As a result, great teachers from all over the country will want to teach in Utah. Professional working conditions will attract the best, even if salaries are not the highest. Pride in our schools will move the legislature to re-dedicate all income tax revenues to public education. Properly funded and implemented, student-oriented education will become the envy of all other states.

M. Donald Thomas

M. Donald Thomas is a former Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and now a national education consultant,

Lynn Stoddard

Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal, author and conference speaker,