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How can we improve public schools?

Most Utahns probably agree that Utah public schools do a lot of good but need improvement. Among other problems, we often hear of falling test scores and insufficient funding. These problems and others are rooted in two main factors: what motivates decisions about education, and who makes those decisions.

Right now, many decisions about public education are based mostly or purely on money. For example, the way teachers are paid and the type of courses offered seem to be driven first by monetary considerations – like how much money teachers and schools will get – and in second place is the need to provide the best learning opportunities for children. These misaligned priorities are often a result of who is making decisions.

Parents and local school leaders – those closest to students and therefore in the best position to know their individual needs – should be making these important decisions. Instead, district and state officials, and worst of all federal bureaucrats, mandate strict guidelines schools must follow, making it very difficult for them to adapt instruction and programs to the needs of children. Also, groups like teachers unions fight to protect the interests of teachers rather than the interests of children.

To improve Utah’s public schools, we need to make education more student-centered – rather than money-centered – and shift decision-making power from upper-level bureaucrats to individual schools and parents.

What can we do about it?

To make public schools more student-centered, education funding should be linked to the instruction and performance of students. Ideas like education savings accounts, student-based budgeting and performance-based pay for teachers and administrators can lead us in this direction. Also, students and parents should have more opportunities to shape their educational path rather than being squeezed into a one-size-fits-all system. Digital learning opportunities are one way to help reach this goal; they allow students to learn any time, any place and at their own pace.

To shift decision-making power down to schools and parents, we need to reduce the influence of interest groups like teachers’ unions, give principals more authority over their schools, and give parents more say in how schools are run. We also need to opt out of federal education programs and make sure the views of state school board members reflect the values and priorities of Utah families.

These changes are only a start, but they’ll go a long way to helping children in Utah’s public schools obtain a more complete, individualized education.

Dig deeper:

Policy Paper: A Comprehensive Approach to Teacher Incentive Pay

Policy Paper: Federal Intervention in Public Education: Is It Good for Utah?

Policy Paper: Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education

Policy Paper: Fostering Innovation in Utah Schools: Common Elements of Educational Success

Report: Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations: The Historic Dilemma Over Utah’s Education Identity

Article: Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice

Treatise: Saving Education and Ourselves 2011: The Moral Case for Self-Reliance in Education

Newsletter: Restoring the Vision of Jefferson and Franklin to Utah Public Education

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