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Education, Part Two

Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius and John Gay are writing columns on important issues for today.

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January 13, 2014

This is a first in a series of columns on education.  It has been written that an idea is only one generation away from extinction.  We need to pass on to our children the lessons we have learned. 

Without an honest education which teaches the truth of history no nation survives.  An interesting fact from history illustrates this importance.  By the middle 1770’s, the larger majority of the colonists were literate.  They could read, write, cipher with great competence.  Primarily they were small business owners.  When Thomas Payne wrote and published Common Sense, it became, for the period, the most read and understood writing in America, even more than the Bible. The American’s competency was an essential ingredient needed in the rightful choosing or our miraculous government.  Without it, the American experiment would have never launched. 

The significance of education has not changed, yet in comparing the current results, America ranks 25th in comparison with other developed nations.  This is the result with central programs such as “No Child Left Behind” and millions being spent on education at the federal level. 

Thirty years ago the small nation of New Zealand sought answers on how to improve their nation’s education.  They “embarked on a fundamental reform of their primary and secondary schools based on freedom of choice and accountability.”  An editorial comment in the December 2011  Deseret News, says “[i]nstead 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.”  New Zealand instituted a powerful natural truth: competition breeds innovation, improvement, and results.  It also recognized that parents had a “fundamental right” to determine the way their children are educated and in the process brought to bear another important concept:  Freedom of Choice!  Parents could send their children to the school that the parent, not the state, believed was in the best interest of their children!

The results?  Staggering!  Thirty years later, New Zealand is now 7th in the world standings.  Their schools see significantly more money directly spent in the classroom.  Local parents now dominate the direction of their children’s education.  Class size has been reduced.  Schools that refused to change ended up closing their doors.  Of interest, few of the parents moved their children to different schools because what they saw was an improvement in their existing school, changes that improved the basics of the schooling being provided (reading, writing and arithmetic).

Today, in America, we are still plagued by students who are not educated.  Businesses are complaining that they need to train new employees so they become productive for the company.  Some cannot read and compute well enough to function in the business world, and don’t get us started on their command of the English language! 

Instead of continuing with our centralized approach to education, would it make sense to consider the New Zealand approach?  We’ll continue next week, but in the meantime, that’s something to think about!

Mark, Bill and John