The current governance and incentives give well-intentioned, hard working Utahns the average results that any subsidized, bureaucratic monopoly is capable of providing. Unless Utahns choose to allow competitive disruption of this massive but aging monopoly that we call public education, we cannot expect anything dramatically different than our current mediocre results.
Parents should, through meaningful choice, have the right to send their children to a school that meets basic educational objectives. Accordingly, parents need the means to transparently assess finances, methods and results so that they can meaningfully exercise that choice.
In the late 1980s, New Zealand, a small nation of a little more than 4 million, embarked on a fundamental reform of its primary and secondary schools based on choice and accountability. Instead of tinkering on the margins with an unresponsive national bureaucracy that delivered poor results, New Zealand — in one unified bold move — turned every school in the nation over to a local board of trustees, gave every parent the right to send their child to the school of their choice, and allowed centrally-provided per capita funding to follow the enrollment choice of the family.
The results speak for themselves. Although there was actually little disruption in enrollment patterns, there was a tremendous increase in the sense of competition between schools and the sense of ownership by parents. Under hyper-local governance, more dollars went to teaching. According to Maurice McTigue at George Mason University, "Since reforms were implemented, some 67 cents of each education dollar is spent in the classroom, which is more than double the previous amount. Parents play the dominant role in the educational choices for their children. Learning has improved, and classroom size is down."
Some bemoan that a few schools failed under New Zealand's model of accountability and choice. We, however, consider the elimination of schools that are not meeting student needs to be a benefit, not a problem.