Editorial: Reform needs cabinet status

As Governor-elect Peter Shumlin assembles a team that he hopes will help him grow jobs and effect long-term change, we repeat two previous appeals: the need to select an outside agent of change as the next Commissioner of Agriculture (we covered those reasons in a guest editorial on Page 5on Monday) and the need for substantial reform in our educational system — a move that could be highlighted by making the commissioner a member of the governor’s cabinet.As it is, the commissioner is appointed by the State Board of Education with the approval of the governor. He is, in a word, beholden to two masters, thus lessening the prospect of bold initiatives or structural reform. It is a position more attuned to protecting the status quo, than entertaining constructive reform; that nibbles around the edges, but has not the authority to upset the apple cart. The benefit is that it removes the commissioner from direct political influence and might lend consistency if a commissioner were to remain in place between governors.In reality, however, the role has been so ineffectual that not even the energetic efforts of Commissioner Armando Vilaseca have been able to achieve even modest steps of reform. But is there really the need? Listen to the Vermont Board of Education in its paper on “the transformation of education in Vermont,” published in 2008. “Because the world’s accumulated information is estimated to literally double every two years, next year’s kindergarten students who graduate from high school in 2022 will be entering a world that has 128 times more information than exists today. The challenge for students is no longer related to an absence of information, but rather, to its over-abundance… America’s education system (including Vermont’s) is simply not adapting quickly enough to what has become a knowledge-based economy… To achieve (the challenging objectives we face) Vermont’s schools cannot merely be readjusted. They must be genuinely transformed.”What does that transformation entail? Here’s a snippet into that world: “A transforming educational system will be less bound by schedules and facilities, and instead, will promote more flexible learning environments. Student success will be measured not by the number of courses completed, but by what students know and what they can accomplish…”The topics to be discussed are significant, including: longer school days, a longer school year; performance-based outcomes; expanded early education (pre-kindergarten) and more training for adult education; plus more opportunities for Vermont high school students to attend college through CCV or merged programs that resemble the junior college system popular in other states. The key to such reform is to step far enough away from the details of the current situation to grasp the big picture, to ask ourselves: “What is the goal, what is the ideal?” If we can start from that perspective and find common agreement on the end product, then the challenge to get there is far easier: we just have to work backwards and iron out the details along the way.Moving the commissioner into the cabinet, of course, won’t solve all problems. But it allows the governor’s office to call the change its own and to put a spotlight on the issues as only the governor’s office can do. That’s what’s needed to get the public’s attention, and their cooperation, if Vermont’s schools are to meet the needs of tomorrow’s economy.Angelo S. Lynn

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100