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Montana's education system needs an upgrade

by LLEW JONES
| March 8, 2022 7:00 AM

A decade of carrying innovative education legislation resulted in my selection to the National Council of State Legislature’s International Education Study Group, an outfit charged with studying the world’s highest performing education systems.

For several years, this group systematically examined education practices across nations, like Canada and Singapore, and states, including Massachusetts and Hawaii.

The bottom line is that America’s public education system, which fueled the world’s most powerful economy for over a century, including winning two world wars, is becoming dated. It is steadily falling behind other more modern industrial countries, especially in mathematics and career technical preparation.

Today laptops diagnose car and tractor problems, GPS guidance directs precision agriculture, restaurants take orders on smart devices and large logging machines cut timber. The expanding level of automation found everywhere requires higher employee technical skills, even at entry levels. COVID-19 accelerated the already rapid rate of technology adoption and forced parents and employers to engage directly in education.

A growing number of parents are not satisfied that the public education system is preparing their children for success in the 21st century workplace or with the tools to be good citizens. Employers are desperate for better skilled graduates. Despite often heroic efforts, teachers are frequently finding yesterday’s methodologies ill-suited to provide sufficient education opportunity today. School trustees are struggling to define stable modern learning processes that offer the requested enhanced student outcomes in career and college readiness.

The chaos of COVID-19 revealed to this broad group of stakeholders our current education model’s shortcomings. Parents, teachers, school trustees, employers and lawmakers, together now, are motivated to refocus education toward better student outcomes. Education practices that work in other nations and states will never directly translate to Montana.

But proven best of practices for producing high student outcomes will work if these practices are adopted thoughtfully and respectful of Montana’s unique culture. These modern best of practices do not require new buildings or huge additional investments, but they do require that parents, teachers, employers, trustees and lawmakers focus on the common goal of redefining and refueling America’s education engine to lead the world once again.

The unavoidable truth is that the current education model must undergo updating to remain competitive with the newer systems adopted across the modern industrialized world. The stakes have never been higher, given the global and domestic threats facing our nation. Now is the time to engage to ensure our youth are competitive in the workforce and are well prepared to be the informed citizen backstop of this great representative democracy.

Just as the Sear’s model of retail ultimately gave way to the Walmart model then to the Amazon model, America’s public education engine must modernize for our nation to again lead economically and stand once more as the world’s most powerful beacon of freedom and opportunity. Now is the time

The author is the Republican state representative from Conrad and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.